The German expressionistic movie genre of the 1920s produced many remarkable movies, of which the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and Fritz Lang especially attracted attention and expored the limits of the medium. One movie was especially far ahead of its time: Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which became part of film history as one of the first productions of a genre later known as science-fiction. The multi-layered combination of biting social criticism, traditional drama and a dark future vision proved to be too sophisticated and complex for the German cinema audience and Metropolis became a huge box-office failure, nearly resulting in the bankruptcy of its production company UFA.
More than eighty years after its creation, Metropolis has long since been rehabilitated, but Fritz Lang's most remarkable movie has never been seen in its original version after the premiere of 1927. The mutilation had already begun before the German premiere in January 1927, when Metropolis was sold in the USA under a financial cooperation between Paramount, UFA and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer called Parufamet. There the movie was recut and shortened by a quarter of its runtime by the american playwright Channing Pollock. For this, not a copy, but one of the three simultaneously shot negatives was used, which was irrecoverably destroyed in the process. In 1927 similar changes were made to the two negatives left in Germany, after which Metropolis was only shown in versions which were about one quarter short of Fritz Lang's premiere cut. In 1936 the American Museum of Modern Art had acquired a copy of Metropolis from the shortened negative, which proved to be very valuable for later restorations.
The first attempts to restore the original version of Metropolis were made at the beginning of the 1960s in the Soviet Union. In a Moscow film archive, fifteen reels of the movie were stored, which were brought to the USSR from Babelsberg as war loot and were completed by the Russian film historians with a second copy from a Czech archive. Under an exchange programme, this reconstruction was given to the East German film archive, which brought even more material together from around the world and also contacted Fritz Lang to find out the correct order of scenes and what was still missing. For the first time it was figured out that there was not only one version in existence, but three simultaneously shot negatives, which mostly consisted of slightly different camera angles, but sometimes even different takes.
The version completed in 1972 was shown on a film archivist congress in Bukarest, but failed to attract much attention. Over the next decade not much progress was made with Metropolis, but in 1983 the complete censor cards were found in the Swedish film institute, which contained the text of all title cards in the original order, revealing much information about the premiere cut because the film script was also lost. In 1984 the musician Giorgio Moroder made headlines when he submitted Metropolis to radical changes by synchronizing the movie with modern pop music, tinting the black-and-white image and recutting it to a version only 87 minutes long. While this gained the movie a lot of popularity, it was hardly a restoration, because the Moroder version was even further away from the original than the shortened American release.
A new, even more comprehensive attempt of a Metropolis restoration was started in the mid-1980s by film historian and then head of the Munich film museum, Enno Patalas. With the help of the by then rediscovered film script, parts of the score from the original music and the print from the Museum of Modern Art, which had been given to the film museum, the first time a systematic reconstruction of the movie was tried. Utilizing further print fragments and the recovered original title cards, it was the most extensive restoration of the movie yet, which was, however, not able to correct all of the quality problems by photochemical means. On its completion in 1988 the restoration still was the longest and most complete version of Metropolis, which lead to a virtual rediscovery of the movie over the next decade.
At the end of the 1990s another restoration attempt was started, for which a camera negative stored in the German Bundesfilmarchiv was used. It was the negative of the American Paramount version, which had been given back to the UFA at some time and was heavily cut, but the best-looking available material. It was also assumed that this was the version preferred by Fritz Lang himself, because the print from the Museum of Modern Art used for the previous restoration seemed to have been made from a second-choice negative. The new restoration was carried out by Martin Koerber from the Deutsche Kinemathek in cooperation with the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Foundation and was based upon the immense work of Enno Palatas, who already had solved most of the mysteries about the structure of the movie. Now, however, for the first time the very best sources were able to be used for the restoration.
After a first attempt of a reconstruction with conventional methods did not prove to be visually as good as expected, the Bundesfilmarchiv suggested a digital restoration, which was carried out by the Munich company Alpha-Omega. The camera negative, some other positive prints and dupe negatives were digitally scanned in 2K-resolution, which was sometimes not unproblematic because of the aged film materials and was often done frame by frame. The digitized material was now examined by Martin Koerber and his team in painstaking detail work and sorted in the correct order with the help of the script, the censor cards and the musical score. The original intertitles were digitally recreated in their original font and missing scenes were for the first time not left out, but described by text screens and partly illustrated by surviving photographs.
With a three-step restoration at first superficial damages, vertical scratches and other light dirt were removed by automatic means and then the image was stabilised. Finally all other damages which could not have been removed automatically, were retouched by hand. There were unexpected problems with several effects-heavy key sequences, which were nearly destroyed in the negative but had luckily survived as separate film elements. Those were scanned individually and digitally combined, allowing these scenes to be shown in a never before seen quality. Finally the look of the different film sources were able to be adjusted against each other, which was one of the most important reasons why the photochemical methods were abandoned in the first place.
The time needed for the extremely labour-intensive restoration had been somewhat underestimated, so that the deadline of the planned premiere date at the Berlinale 2001 could not be met. When the new restoration was shown there on 15. February 2001, the last reel had not been completed and was shown from a direct copy of the unrestored negative, making the success of the restoration even more visible. In March 2001 the image restoration was finally finished, but the reconstruction was still not fully complete. During the Berlinale Metropolis was shown with a newly composed film score by Bernd Schultheis, because the original from Gottfried Huppertz had not yet been found in its entirety. Between the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002 this restored version went on tour through many American and European arthouse cinemas and managed to attract a lot of attention.
On the 75th anniversary in 2002 the restoration of Metropolis was able to make a further step forward. That summer the German-French television station arte had still broadcast Metropolis with the music of Bernd Schultheis, but even one year before the full score of Gottfried Huppertz had been found, in which surprising details about the running speed were discovered. Up to then it was assumed that the projection of Metropolis was designed for a typical silent movie speed of 20 frames per second, but in the score references were found that the movie should be shown with 26 to 28 frames per second. Among film experts this controversial theory evoked lots of discussions, which were mainly based upon the fact that the movie would look much to hectic at those speeds.
It was assumed that in view of the coming DVD releases, for which low framerates would be a problem, the studios were searching for a reason that the higher speed of about 25 frames per second was correct. The involved film historians referred to the undeniable hints in the musical score, which, however, also could have been included by pressure from the film distributor UFA to keep the running time down, which was perceived as much too long in 1927. Nevertheless the original music was recorded in autumn 2001 under the direction of Berndt Heller, but for unknown reasons it took a long time for this version to be released and even for the arte broadcast in mid-2002 the Schultheis score was used.
In spring 2003 Metropolis was finally released worldwide on DVD in the new restoration with the original score by Gottfried Huppertz, which was since considered the ultimate version of the movie, containing all available material. Over a quarter of the original premiere version was still missing, but never before had Metropolis been so complete and visually perfect. In 2005 Enno Patalas had created a study version based on this restoration, which not only presented the missing scenes as text screens and images, but with detailed descriptions and more images in the approximate length of the sequences and was not accompanied by the orchestral score, but a piano version of the complete music. This version was not available for general purchase and was only sold to educational institutions - it was more an experiment to approach the original version as close as possible.
At that time, nobody would have thought that the lost scenes of Metropolis would ever be found. But in summer 2008 the impossible happened: the weekly magazine Die Zeit reported in its June issue about the discovery of a complete premiere version of the movie in an Argentinian film archive. It was only a terribly scratched 16mm-print, but it contained scenes which were considered lost since the Berlin premiere of 1927. The discoverer, Paula Felix-Didier of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires was at first not even taken seriously by the Murnau Foundation, because after many false alarms they were not interested in a mere 16mm copy.
The idea that a complete version of Metropolis could be slumbering in the archives of the Museo del Cine had come to Ferdonando Pena more than twenty years before. The movie enthusiast had heard from the head of a movie club, that he again had to project Metropolis for more than two and a half hours and had to press his thumb on the projector gate to keep the film from jumping. The versions of Metropolis known at that time were, however, scarcely 100 minutes long, but for Pena access to the film archives were denied. In January 2008 his ex-wife Paula Felix-Didier became the manager of the Museo del Cine and one of her first official acts was to find the copy of Metropolis stored in their archive together with her ex-husband.
Exactly like they had assumed for twenty years the missing scenes were really contained in the print. To confirm their discovery they turned to the Spanish silent movie expert Luciano Berriatua, who was absolutely astonished. Felix-Didier contacted the Murnau Foundation via e-mail, but they declined and at first didn't want to have anything to do with a poor 16mm copy. Another e-mail from Berriatua, however, made Metropolis restaurator Martin Koerber make a call to Argentina. The journalist Karen Naundorf, living in Buenos Aires, also acted as a mediator and arranged for Paula Felix-Didier to come to Berlin in June 2008 with a DVD of the discovered Metropolis print to show it to the experts of the Murnau Foundation.
The film restorators Martin Koerber and Anke Wilkening as well the director of the Deutsche Kinemathek Rainer Rother were present, when the discovered Argentinian footage was shown in a small projection room in the Filmhaus at the Potsdamer Platz. The experts did not break into lout cheers, but were visibly impressed when they saw the missing scenes for the first time. They were only unhappy about the catastrophic condition of the film material, but it was decided on the spot that the Murnau Foundation would take over the reconstruction and restoration of the rediscovered scenes. Soon it was announced that the restoration would be completed in time for the Berlinale 2010, but because the 16mm copy was the property of the Argentinian state and private collectors were also interested, it took more than a year and intensive negotiations with the argentinian cultural ministry to get the reels to Germany. One week after the meeting Die Zeit reported about the missing scenes and the news went around the world.
The origin of the Argentinian print of Metropolis was adventurous to say the least. Shortly before UFA had cut Metropolis to pieces in 1927, Adolfo Z. Wilson, the head of the Argentinian film distributor Terra, bought the distribution rights for his country and received a copy of the premiere version. After the cinema release this copy was not destroyed as usual, but was given to a private collector, who sold his archive in the 1960s to the national art foundation. Unfortunately Metropolis was one of the movies whose extremely flammable 35mm nitro material was destroyed, because the storage was too dangerous and expensive. Before that, everything was copied to non-flammable safety film, but due to lack of funds only with simple means on 16mm film. All imperfections of the already heavily worn 35mm print were also copied - this was everything that was left of the original version of Metropolis, but it was better than nothing.
When the 16mm material finally arrived in Germany, there were only six months left until the planned Berlinale premiere. With the help of the DVD they were given by Paula Felix-Didier, Martin Koerber and Anke Wilkening had already prepared a preliminary cutting list for the integration of the new scenes. They were supported by conductor Frank Strobel, who had taken over the editing of the music and was able to give lots of valuable hints about the exact positions of the newly found scenes from the notes and timings of the Huppertz score. The new cut was prepared on the basis of Enno Patalas' study version, which made it possible to adapt the musical score very accurately to the new cut.
The work of processing the newly found scenes was again given to the Munich company Alpha-Omega, who had already gathered a lot of experience with the previous restoration of Metropolis in 2001. The half hour of new material from the 16mm print was not only physically damaged, but also hat plenty of other imperfections, which were copied from the source print and could not be removed by photochemical means. Restorator Thomas Bakels wrote a new software for this problem, which used a special method to remove the many vertical scratches, flecks and other damages. Not everything could be eliminated, but Bakels was able to rescue most the image from under the massive damages.
In spite of the restoration efforts, it was obvious from the start that the 16mm material would never be able reach the comparably brilliant quality of the 2001 restoration. Because the lost sequences had not survived in any other form, there was nothing else to do than to work with the existing material. Unfortunately due to the primitive copying technique also a part of the image had been cut off. To keep the size of the image consistent, the 16mm sequences were inserted into the existing restoration with a black border on the top and the left of the image. Shortly before the restoration work began, the Murnau Foundation received another nitrate print from an archive in New Zealand in good condition, which was mainly identical with the existing material, but contained some scenes in slightly longer versions, which were also added to the restoration.
All important scenes were restored, only two short sequences from the 16mm material could not be saved because they were too heavily damaged. Even so nearly half an hour of the movie in adequate and recognizeable quality were brought back. Among this material were not only many short scene extensions, but also a whole subplot about the chasing of Freder and Johsaphat by the Thin Man, which transformed the movie into a real thriller. These scenes were known before, but there were not even photographs available, so their discovery was a real sensation. Of the key scene, in which Fredersen discovery the Hel statue in Rotwang's House, some images were in existence, but the exact order of the sequence was unknown. The many missing shots from the dramatic finale also gave the plot a whole new dimension.
Contrary to the 2001 restoration the work was finished on schedule this time, so that there was nothing in the way for the premiere on February 12th, 2010. It was a great media spectacle, the evening premiere took place simultaneously in the Friederichspalast in Berlin and in the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, both with a live orchestra. The premiere was also broadcast live by arte on television on a freely available satellite channel all over Europe, making use of the occasion with an extensive theme evening consisting of an introduction and a following documentary. In Berlin the premiere was also shown on a large movie screen at the Brandenburg Gate, where in spite of the freezing cold an astonishing number of people were watching.
82 years after its premiere Metropolis is now nearly as complete as on its first showing in Berlin in Spring 1927. The re-inserted scenes from the 16mm copy will always stand out from the rest of the movie, but in this case the completion of the content is simply more important than the visual perfection. In 2010 Metropolis was transformed from an enigma to a full-grown movie. The plot is now making sense again and is not riddled with questions any more, which could only be answered by speculations in the past.
Seven years after the previous issue the new, almost complete restoration of Fritz Lang's Metropolis has been released in November 2010 as a Blu-Ray and DVD - however only in the USA and in England, where the British studio Eureka has made a special effort. Metropolis was released in three different editions in the Masters of Cinema series: a DVD, a Blu-Ray and a DVD/BD-combination, which was the only one available in an exclusive steelbook for the first edition. The extras of all editions consist of a new audio commentary and the documentary which was already shown on television during the premiere in February 2010, throwing out all the bonus materials from the previous DVDs.
The DVD reviewed in this article is from the DVD/Blu-ray steelbook edition, but is apart from the packaging identical to the single release. Contrary to the original announcements, the movie and the extras have been put only on to a single disc, which is rather questionable with over 200 minutes of material, but it is actually quite unproblematic thanks to a well done authoring. Astonishingly the DVD is encoded in NTSC, making the movie run with the same speed as the Blu-Ray. The steelbook has the horizontal motive from Boris Bilinsky's posters and contains, apart from the DVD and Blu-Ray on two mountings on top of each other, the 56-page booklet. In spite of the reduction of the DVD edition to only one disc this release could not have been better and really does the status of the movie justice.
With many thanks to Glenn "DVD Savant" Erickson, with whom I have been talking to about Metropolis for nearly ten years. His even more comprehensive article on the American release of the new restoration can be read here.