Few productions have had a more profound impact on motion picture history as Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterwork “Metropolis.” The film’s plotline, production design and celebrated sequences have been borrowed and reworked throughout the course of film history, influencing such diverse classics as James Whale’s “Frankenstein” (with a scientific laboratory clearly copying the one from “Metropolis”), Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” (with Kubrick himself acknowledging the title character was an homage to the mad scientist Rotwang in “Metropolis”) and a host of futuristic fantasies including “Blade Runner,” “Brazil” and this summer’s Minority Report. “Metropolis” was also recently named among the Top 10 Sci-Fi Films of All Time by the Online Film Critics Society, the only silent film honored.
That “Metropolis” has enjoyed such a lasting influence is actually something of a fluke. The original director’s cut was hastily re-edited following its premiere in Berlin, with several plotlines chopped out. When the film was brought to the U.S. by Paramount Pictures, more footage was also removed, creating a somewhat incoherent story flow. For many decades afterwards, “Metropolis” languished in the public domain and was only available in poorly duped prints, often projected at incorrect speeds and marred with inappropriate musical scores.
Several attempts have been made to restore “Metropolis” to its original glory. From 1968-1972, the East German government film archive compiled a version with the assistance of archives from around the world. While some lost footage was recovered, this version still suffered from the disjointed storyline created by the original editing. In 1984, Italian composer created his own version that created great controversy for its use of color tinting and a rock music score. To its credit, the 87-minute Moroder version did bridge the story gaps using photographs from sequences which were no longer intact, thus clarifying some confusing story points.
In 1987, the Munich Film Archive assembled yet another version, this time bringing together all known footage. This version was expanded upon for the fourth and perhaps attempt at piecing “Metropolis” together. Under the direction of film restoration expert Martin Koerber, a full digital restoration of the surviving footage brought the film’s pristine cinematography back to its original glory. Furthermore, the original Gottfried Kuppertz musical score was re-recorded with a 60-member symphony orchestra. And for the footage which is considered lost forever (roughly one-quarter of the original director’s cut), new intertitles with detailed information on what is missing has been inserted for audiences to understand how the “Metropolis” plotline was originally supposed to unfold.
This newly minted 75th anniversary of “Metropolis” will have its U.S. theatrical release courtesy of Kino International on July 12 at the Film Forum in New York, followed by playdates throughout North America. A DVD and home video release is slated for 2003.
Film Threat caught up with Martin Koerber to discuss his extraordinary work in bringing “Metropolis” to a state as close to its original glory as possible…
Get the interview in part two of MARTIN KOERBER: REBUILDING “METROPOLIS”>>>