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The Metropolis restoration is a miracle!

Surely by now, we all know the story. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, his crowning achievement, was restored with the best known materials at the dawn of the millennium. As good as it looked, the film was plagued by large gaps that made watching it a bittersweet experience. Then in 2008, a nearly complete 16mm copy of the film surfaced in Buenos Aires. And it was all thanks to 80-year-old miracles. Argentinian film distributor Adolfo Z. Wilson was in Berlin at the right time to see the film in its entirety, and to purchase a full-length 35mm copy, from which was later made the 16mm copy that survives today. Because of this incredible stroke of luck, the missing scenes from Metropolis survived into the future.

Two small gaps do remain where parts of the Argentinian reels were lost. When Freder sees the priest in the cathedral, the shots of the priest no longer exist (though the shots of the priest during Freder’s hallucinations are here.) And we only see the tail end of Joh Fredersen’s fight with Rotwang: their shadows are seen on the wall just before Maria’s escape. Fortunately, these holes are small. All of the biggest gaps are full once again. And what a difference it makes! But what’s this I hear about cropping? Don’t worry: it’s only minor. Comparison with other elements reveals that there was some cropping on the top and left sides of the 16mm print, but it isn’t so significant that you should worry. Here is a sample image to show you how small a matter it really is. The black bars show the extent of the cropping.

Here is the Thin Man trailing Freder through the city. Little does he know Freder has traded places with Worker No. 11811. As we all know, No. 11811, Georgy, was supposed to deliver a message to Josaphat, but instead he was seduced by the Yoshiwara district. Now, for the first time, we can see just what happened. Yoshiwara is established with another one of Fritz Lang’s composited montages, and it is magnificent. With falling flyers, balloons, dancing girls, musicians, and gambling, this sequence is as beautiful as anything in Fritz Lang’s canon.

The Yoshiwara montage was of course one of the most anticipated pieces to be returned to the film. All of the newly restored pieces — both those read about in the intertitles of the last restoration and those which came unannounced — are fantastic discoveries. Even little things, like watching Freder scribble down Josaphat’s address, seeing the curator at the Eternal Garden apply makeup to a girl’s lips, or little shots here and there are revelatory.

Then of course there are the other major new inclusions. At long last, we can see Joh Fredersen open the curtains in Rotwang’s house to reveal the statue of Hel, which he regards not with surprise but with sadness for his lost love. Because we can finally see this important sequence, there is so much more resonance in Joh Fredersen’s coldness and in Rotwang’s descent into madness and hatred of Joh Fredersen. Now when Joh Fredersen beholds the Machine Man that is supposed to replace his beloved Hel, his fearful expression seems sadder than before.

There are many other sequences that are fantastic to see at last: Freder’s visit to Josaphat’s apartment and Josaphat’s subsequent confrontation with the Thin Man, the abandonment of the M-Machine, Grot closing the heavy iron doors to protect the Heart Machine, Freder and Josaphat pushing through the iron gate to free the workers’ children, Maria being mistaken for her double and chased by an angry mob. All in all, this new restoration makes Metropolis deeper, stronger, more of a masterpiece than ever before. And this time, nobody’s going to take the scissors to it.

Visit the official site at www.metropolis1927.com.

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