One of the greatest films of the silent era is Metropolis. A Gothic science-fiction tale and social critque, it is now taught in both film and literature courses in colleges and universities and continues to influence filmmakers today. But the version everyone is familiar with is a truncated one, director Fritz Lang’s original 210 minute version of the film having been edited down after its January 10, 1927 premier in Berlin.
The estimated 25% of the film that was removed has long been thought lost, until now. The German magazine ZEITmagazin has announced that a version of Metropolis has been discovered in Brazil which contains approximately 85% of the footage that had been previously thought lost. The magazine details how the film came to be an ocean and a hemisphere away from its European home. Brazilain film distributor Adolfo Z Wilson saw the film in Berlin in 1928 while in Germany and secured himself a copy, which he took back to Buenos Aires. Wilson eventually gave his copy to Manuel Peña Rodríguez, a film critic, who in turn would sell them to a national museum in Argentina in the 60s. Meanwhlie, a 16mm copy of that print made its way to the collection of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires. The location of the original 35mm print is still a mystery.
Meanwhile, the film made its way around a majority of the rest of the world where various distributors, most noteably Paramount in the United States, made various cuts to the film, footage being discarded along the way. Efforts have been made since the 1960s to restore as much footage back to Metropolis as could be found. The most recent restoration in 2002 brought the film’s run time up to almost two hours. Calculations as to how much of the film was still missing have been hampered by the fact that there has been some controversy over the frame rate that Lang intended the film to be played back with. (Film projection speeds had not been standardized at the time the film was produced.)
The rediscovered scenes will be undergoing restoration by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation in Germany. The Foundation has released an English-language press release here. As can be seen by the photos taken from the 16mm print that the film is in rough shape, but thet Murnau Foundation is hopeful that a high quality image can be recovered.
The newly discovered footage restores many scenes to the film, adding new subplots and further expanding already existing storylines. Some of the footage expands on the flood that threatens to destroy the workers’ underground city in the film’s climax. It shows the children of the worker class in danger and further soldifies the point that the deluge originated in the upperclass city built over the workers’ catacombs. Other scenes elaborate on Maria’s capture by the mad scientist Rotwang and help explain why her robot double is so easily accepted by the workers of the undercity. Still other scenes restore a plotline concerning a spy sent by the ruler of Metropolis to keep watch on his son who has been showing sympathies towards the exploited workers in the catacombs below the city.
Kino Video has already announced that the new footage will be part of their Blu-Ray release of Metropolis previously scheduled for next year. Kino has previously released the 2002 restoration of the film on DVD.
You can see some short snippets of a few of the recovered scenes in this news report from German television.
Every year, the chances of rediscovering a classic thought lost grow a little slimmer as time and the laws of nature take their toll on the delicate balance of chemicals that were used in early film emulsions. Canisters holding footage not seen in decades hidden away in an attic, garage or museum storeroom hold treasures that are slowly lsipping away from us.
Will we be able to find and preserve these still missing pieces of our film heritage?
Or will some researcher feel an unimaginable thrill at discovering some film canisters labeled “London After Midnight,” “Greed” or “Magnificent Ambersons- Orson Welles’ edit” only to be crushed beyond belief by opening them to find nothing but the yellow dust of disintegrated film stock.