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June 10, 2010 / Stephen Slaughter Head

Metropolis Connection

Sucks that the Coolidge Corner Theater has “The Complete” Metropolis for only one week. I guess it’ll be on DVD later this year, at least that’s what the New York Times says. But why the short theatrical run in Boston? Why one week only?

I called the Coolidge’s office yesterday to get the lowdown.

“It’s because we’re doing a renovation in our main moviehouse next week,” said an employee. “We’re working on the ceiling. [The main moviehouse] will only be closed for a week, but the rest of the theater will be open and showing movies.”

So, there’s no chance Metropolis will be held over for another week. It says auf wiedersehen today.

I was fortunate to attend a press screening two weeks ago. And this ignited my interest in the film.

I love a good film find-and-restoration story, and this one ranks about tops there because, unlike retrieving and restoring footage known to be in a studio vault, this original cut of Metropolis was nowhere to be found. That is, until a curator at the Museo del Cine Pablo Ducrós Hicken in Buenos Aires decided to investigate the matter on a tip from a retired curator.

I’ve learned a bit about Metropolis since seeing it last week; not for the first time, but certainly twenty years since. Facts that stick with me are:

  • I didn’t know that for years the robot was simply referred to as Fake Maria. But I guess she’s also known as Maschinenmensch.
  • There is a fair amount of numerology in the film.
  • Actor Fritz Rasp, who played The Thin Man, a character substantially subtracted from the original version, must have been one of the first actors to feel the sting of having his role cut almost entirety from the movie. If you work on a movie that shoots for 300 days, it would be nice to at least account for it, you know?
  • Director Fritz Lang used three cameras to film the movie. That being the case, there are, or were, potentially three variations of the film, each from a slightly different angle.
  • Some cinephiles insist the movie is best viewed at 20 frames per-second. Not 24.

I could go on. But really it’s best if I show you where to go to increase your Metropolis restoration IQ.

Me, the first thing I did was search for audio interviews. NPR has a short, 4-minute piece from 2008. The best interview regarding the find and restoration, however, is over at WNYC, where Leonard Lopate interviewed Paula Felix-Didier, director of the Museo del Cine. WNYC also has a feature on the newly expanded live score by Boston’s Alloy Orchestra. Cinefantastique’s podcast #14 is also worth some ear-time. Hosts Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski go deep.

And then articles. Apart from the previously mentioned remembrance by Brigitte Helm, Cinefantastique has a half dozen features. I recommend starting with Fritz Lang on the Making of Metropolis, then check out the links at the bottom of the article. Roger Ebert’s essay is a Go To. I like the quote he uses in the first paragraph sighting Metropolis as “one of the great sacred monsters of the cinema.”

Yet to come is the ultimate assessment of finding the footage. Museo del Cine has a documentary in the works entitled Metrópolis Refundada. Only yesterday did I stumble across the trailer, which has a meager number of hits. Here it is. Send the link to your friends.

When watching a really old movie, I sometimes get the insidious thought that most of the cast and crew are no longer with us, which creeps me out. I’m comforted by the illusory idea that if anything about a movie needs clarification, we can always ask the people who made it. We have a direct connection. I’ll refer to the IMDB with hope that some of the cast and crew are still around. (After watching Two-Lane Blacktop, I was saddened to read that Laurie Bird committed suicide in 1979.  In my book, she’s the most captivating hippie hitch-hiker ever.)

Metropolis went before the cameras in 1926. Its book is a page from closed on obtaining first-person accounts. If anyone is still alive, it would be some of the children from the underworld scenes. They’d have to be in their 90s now.

That being said, after watching To Live and Die in L.A. and checking out director William Friedkin’s filmography on the IMDB, I was surprised to see a 1974 short film entitled Fritz Lang Interviewed by William Friedkin. I plugged those words into Google, and voilà: the interview. All 47-minutes of it.

Like Jean-Luc Godard (who cast Lang in his 1964 film Le Mépris (a.k.a. in the U.S.A. as Contempt), Friedkin was a passionate student of Lang’s filmmaking and philosophy. The directors are connected by Metropolis. That being said, I can’t think of another reason to put Friedkin and Godard in the same sentence.

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