Lithograph for Metropolis

Imagine you are a treasure seeker, looking for that long-lost artifact that may only exist in the myths of an ancient culture.  You’ve scoured the globe, pored over cryptic tomes, and funneled countless resources into your search with just the tiniest shred of hope that this fantastical relic is within your grasp.  Then one day, while digging deep into the archives in a musty, dungeon-like basement of an Argentinian museum, you trip over an old, rotting crate with undecipherable writing on it.  You pry open the top and you find yourself staring at that one object of your desire, your obsession for these long years.  Now you can present it to the rest of the world so that everyone can share in its wonderful glory!  This experience, this story, is the story of the film Metropolis.

Metropolis is the most influential science fiction film of all time.  Written and directed by German auteur Fritz Lang, the film has a history as epic as its plot.  At the time, the production was the largest and most expensive ever, boasting approximately 35,000 actors and nearly bankrupting the powerful German studio UFA.  The film takes place in the futuristic city of Metropolis where the rich live in the lap of luxury in towering, Art Deco skyscrapers while the poor toil in factories underground.  The workers are looking for the Great Mediator, someone who will help them rise up from the underground and gain equal footing with the ruling class.  The film tackles serious social and religious issues that some considered too taboo for the general audience.  So after its German release in 1927, the film was heavily edited down to around 90 minutes, a huge cut in the original 153 minute running time.  This version skewed the plot beyond recognition and generally caused the film to be dismissed during its wider release (renowned science fiction author H.G. Wells wrote a scathing article denouncing the film).

As time passed, the edits to the film were soon considered lost forever.  This was not uncommon for this era of cinema.  First, the film stock of that era was extremely flammable and several fires destroyed entire vaults of films.  Second, studios also would intentionally destroy these films because they were considered worthless once the silent era was over.  So there was little chance of recovering the missing scenes of Metropolis.  Once the film entered the public domain, there were dozens of releases of varying lengths and quality but none of them really captured the story and themes of the original film.  The best restoration of the film came in 2002 when Kino International released a 124 minute version of the film with intertitles explaining the action of the missing scenes.  Fans of the film would have to accept this version as the most complete version.

Cut to that Argentinian museum in 2008: a film historian found a version of Metropolis that ran much longer than any version to date.  The cut was verified as a legitimate version of the film and the F.W. Murnau Foundation began an extensive restoration, adding over 25 minutes to the running time.  This new, 147 minute version of Metropolis with the original score is as close to complete that we are going to get.  From everything that I’ve read about the new version, the new scenes really add another layer to the plot and characters, completing Lang’s original vision.

Now 83 years removed from the original opening, Metropolis travels to Philadelphia for a run at The Ritz at the Bourse beginning on July 23rd.  Ritz at the Bourse is located at 400 Ranstead Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, 19106.  There is a garage directly next to the theater and they will validate your parking!  If you are a science fiction fan or just a cinema fan in general, you have to see this film.  This is the beginning of a genre, a film that has influenced Blade Runner, Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and everything else in between.  Check out the official site for the restoration to learn more about this film’s history.  Don’t miss out on this unique cinematic experience!!

Maria in Metropolis
Maria in Metropolis

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