July 2, 2008

"Rediscovered"! Metropolis.

Metropolis For film historians and cinephiles in general, this could easily be the story of the year. The ZEITmagazin has just posted at its site a preview of a piece running in tomorrow's edition that confirms the existence of the original version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. "The most important silent film in German history," they announce, "can, from this day forward, be considered rediscovered."

Frankly, I'm beside myself. In one of the first pieces I wrote for GreenCine - nearly six years ago now, long before there was a Daily - I profiled the diligent and talented folks at Alpha-Omega who had completed the most recent restoration. I've had an irrational thing for this seemingly irrational movie since I first saw it, oh, 20 years ago or so. But of course, what I saw back then was, at most, three-quarters of the version that premiered in Berlin in January 1927. The rest - cut by Paramount for Metropolis's run in US theaters - has long been written off as lost forever.

No more. The lowdown: In 1928, Adolfo Z Wilson, head of Terra, a distribution company, secured a copy of what Die Zeit is calling the "long version" (is it really Lang's original cut? I'll be buying the magazine tomorrow; more then) and took it with him back home to Buenos Aires. Manuel Peña Rodríguez, a film critic, then acquired the film rolls for his private collection, and there they stayed until he sold them to a national museum in Argentina in the 60s. A copy of these rolls then wound up at the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires.

Paula Félix-Didier, who's quietly relayed this sequence of events to Die Zeit journalist Karen Naundorf so that the story would break in Germany, took over direction of the museum this January. Félix-Didier's ex-husband heads the Film Department of the Museum for Latin American Art in Buenos Aires and he heard from a fellow who runs a Cineclub there that when he last screened Metropolis, he was amazed at how long the film ran on. That's when they delved into the archives and discovered the scenes no one believed would ever be seen again.

Die Zeit is also running a gallery of stills from the missing scenes. It'd be improper for me to simply translate the captions, but I can tell you what's up with each of these images. I'll keep it short, so some familiarity with the film will come in handy:

  • 1: Schmale (Fritz Rasp), Joh Fredersen's spy, follows Freder. The scene helps clarify what he's doing in the film in the first place.

  • 2: A master of ceremonies applies make-up to a young lady; the significance of this scene escapes me, to be honest, but fine.

  • 3: This is a big one, though. In the sequence in which the workers' underground city is flooded, children fight for their lives; for the first time, we can see that the water comes from the above-ground city.

  • 4: Maria flees; this should help explain why the workers fall for her doppelgänger, the Robot Maria.

  • 5: Maria, fleeing some more.

  • 6: And more.

The Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation will be working with the Archive in Buenos Aires to restore the rediscovered scenes and make them available to the public. Says the widely respected film historian Martin Koerber: "However poor the state of the material may be, the normal viewer will now be able to discern the original intention of the film with all its supporting characters and sub-plots. The rhythm of the film, too, will be revived."

Updates, 7/3: First off, the Magazin presents quite a package. There are several pages featuring stills from the newly rediscovered scenes; the story of the three film canisters containing them is retraced in detail; and in another piece, Rainer Rother, director of the Deutsche Kinemathek and Berlinale Retrospektive programmer, Anke Wilkening of the FW Murnau Foundation and restorer Martin Koerber discuss the value of the find.

On the site, however, nothing's been added other than a collection of critical reactions to Metropolis when it premiered. Movie City News, though, has noted that the FW Murnau Foundation has issued a press release in English.

I was pleased to see that the story made the news on state television last night; for the time being, though, I won't add much more here until I can get a sense of perspective, that is, decide how much and what to relay from the Magazin that would be of genuine interest to readers who haven't been quite as obsessed with this film as I have over all these years. In other words, I'm still a little too giddy for proper perspective.

I should note that , as Die Welt is emphasizing, we still do not have the absolute, complete version; Rother estimates that what's been rediscovered represents around 85 percent of what had been considered lost for good. Still!

Kate Connolly reports on the story for the Guardian while Peter Bradshaw comments: "New scenes may make more sense of the head-spinning narrative.... Or perhaps it will all just be more fascinatingly strange and perplexing than ever."

Updates, 7/4: Spiegel Online has translated David Kleingers's take on the discovery; he runs the German Film Institute's filmportal.de, which has a nifty page devoted to Metropolis as part of its section on Weimar Cinema.

Christiane Peitz talks with Volker Schlöndorff about the find for the Tagesspiegel. Also in German: Bert Rebhandl in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; and Welt Online talks with Rother.

Update, 7/5: The Frankfurter Rundschau runs a sobering report on the state of the copy found in Argentina. First, that's precisely what it is: a copy, 16mm, made as a "back up" of sorts to the 35mm nitrate original - which is still missing. Second, it's in terrible shape - but the FW Murnau Foundation has high hopes for the quality of the image that might be drawn from it.

Update, 7/7: Starting with Eisenstein's Bezhin Meadow, Ronald Bergan revisits the mysteries of other missing masterpieces.

Updates, 7/8: Enno Patalas has been working with Koerber and Anna Bohn on a reconstruction of the original cut, that is, a document of what the cut would look like without the newly rediscovered scenes. For the taz, Bert Rebhandl asks him how well the find and the expectations match up. The good news, for the sake of such work in the future: pretty well.

Ardvark notes at Twitch that Kino will release the restored-as-much-as-currently-possible version on Blu-Ray next year.

Update, 7/9: Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell post a whopping wrap-up of Il Cinema Ritrovato, the festival of rediscovered and restored films in Bologna. Among the highlights are notes from a briefing on what's known so far regarding this version: "Contrary to some reports, virtually all the missing scenes are present on the Argentine print, the single exception being a small portion at a reel end."

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Posted by dwhudson at July 2, 2008 12:20 PM



Posted by: Dave McDougall at July 2, 2008 2:03 PM

Really amazing that we're still finding stuff like this after all these years.

Any chance that we'll finally find the last reel of "The Magnificent Ambersons" now? I mean, it seems like anything is possible.

Posted by: Bob at July 2, 2008 3:24 PM


I can't wait to see it!

Posted by: Jerry Lentz at July 2, 2008 4:19 PM

What thrilling news! I hope there are not too many obstacles in the path of screening this in theatres with as large a screen as possible, as soon as possible.

Posted by: Brian at July 2, 2008 5:12 PM

There will always be treasures to be found in international vaults. I just hope that after the "Metropolis" discovery,film sleuths in Argentina will unveil a rumored original "Greed" that was supposed to be hiding somewhere in Latin America.

Posted by: fabiano canosa at July 2, 2008 9:43 PM

My great wish is that Bezhin Meadow, a copy of which was seemingly buried by Eisenstein somewhere in the country outside Moscow, will be discovered one day. From the reconstruction of the extant stills and the screenplay, I believe it to be one of the cinema's missing masterpieces.

Posted by: ronald bergan at July 2, 2008 10:55 PM

If this is true, this is one of the best film news stories in years. The quality of the stills is a bit worrying, but I think I'll put up with that just to have the film survive at all.

Posted by: James Russell at July 3, 2008 1:32 AM

My God! How many MORE versions will they find? LOL

Posted by: J Greg at July 3, 2008 7:21 AM

Have you ever considered how odd and amazing it is that a movie no one still alive has ever seen in its complete, original form continues to loom so large in our collective pop-culture consciousness?

Posted by: Joe Leydon at July 3, 2008 9:34 AM

This is great news. Hopefully, they haven't found any lost Giorgio Moroder tracks along with it...now, I'll resume holding my breath for Tod Browning's "London After Midnight"...

Posted by: Robert L at July 3, 2008 1:11 PM

Perhaps not so odd or amazing; no one alive has seen the Venus De Milo or the Great Sphinx intact either, yet they remain iconic despite (perhaps in part because of) this.

Posted by: Brian at July 3, 2008 1:59 PM


I'm as happy for me as I am for you - great to feel your enthusiasm. I just received the Kino version of Scarlett Street in the mail, so am hoping to have my own Fritz Lang focus at home this w/e!

Enjoy the details of Metroplois as they come to hand...

Posted by: via collins at July 3, 2008 9:25 PM

At this very moment, Giorgio Moroder is phoning Pat Benatar and Billy Squier.

Great news David, thanks for the detailed coverage.

Posted by: Filmbrain at July 4, 2008 8:23 AM

I've read that close to 70% of the material in archives (of all types) has not yet been processed. (Don't have a source for that figure off the top of my head.) Add to this the material that is never even looked at and it certainly makes me hopeful that more finds like this will occur.

I'd, of course, settle just for the scene in Vertigo where Kim Novak turns to look at Jimmy Stewart in Earnie's that Hitch pulled at the last moment. (A glimpse of it can be seen in he original theatrical trailer at 1:24.) A nice print that hasn't been "restored" would be cool, too, though. Haha.

I'll be waiting with bated breath until I can see the new/old Metropolis. Fingers crossed for the discovery of the 35mm original. *groan*

Posted by: Dan at July 7, 2008 7:54 PM

Anyone know where I can get a copy of Die Zeit in NYC? Dying to read the magazine, but can't find a newsstand that carries it!

Posted by: Mark M at July 8, 2008 8:27 AM