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Friday, 23 July 2010 13:24

The marvelous restoration of Metropolis

The marvelous restoration of Metropolis
Written by Diane Carson
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Initially released in 1927, Metropolis is among the most iconic and influential films ever. Way ahead of his time, Viennese-born director Fritz Lang presented a socially powerful critique of the exploitation of masses of workers by the hedonistic upper class. With astonishing contrasts between Gothic and futuristic architecture, a dichotomous world exists. Within the depths of the title city, masses sweat and toil in long shifts that literally sap their life's blood. Above ground, in Edenic gardens, the elite play and party. There Freder, son of the heartless capitalist ruler, accidentally encounters and is stunned by an angelic Maria.

She preaches the film's mantra: there can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator. But an evil twin, a robot Maria, leads all to their doom, encouraging self-destructive rebellion. This plot summary is much too simplistic for the mad scientist Rotwang, the 25,000 extras herded as workers and chaotic in rebellion, hundreds of workers' children threatened by flooded chambers, a catacomb chase, statues of seven deadly sins that come to life, a gargantuan church, and more. Lang and his wife/writer Thea von Harbou borrow Freudian ideas and critique Fascist elements. Lang wields German Expressionist style with forceful precision, interpreted by extremely dramatic acting. Some special effects, still impressive today, were executed on the set with miniatures and mirrors while expert cinematographer Karl Freund created others in camera.

Previously, Metropolis has existed in incomplete and, therefore, often confusing versions, especially because so many ideas are in play. But in 2008 the most complete print ever was discovered in Buenos Aires, including footage of an entire subplot involving Freder's mother Hel. With an additional 25 minutes of footage and its original soundtrack, this science-fiction milestone, now 2½ hours, reasserts Lang's brilliant conceits. As an important footnote, Lang fled Nazi Germany in 1933, refusing Goebbels offer to head the German Cinema Institute. Besides the fact that Lang hated what they stood for, he knew the Nazis had not yet discovered that his mother was Jewish. In mid-1934 he came to the US and worked here for the next 20 years. The fully restored, brilliant Metropolis is showing at Landmark's Tivoli Theatre.

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