By Lisa Marie Griffith
On Saturday I went to the IFI to see the full length version of Metropolis. This is a film that I have had on the ‘to do’ list for a very long time. Metropolis is one of those landmarks in the history of film- you may never see the film but you can not avoid it. The art work, sets and costumes from the film have permeated modern culture and our consciences. While the artwork is undoubedtly striking, the greatest impact which the film has had is on the world of science fiction and film itself. There are a whole host of films that are indebted to Metropolis, both visually and ideologically. To highlight the impact which the film and film-maker Fritz Lang, had on cinema the IFI are running two seasons this month- a ‘Fritz Lang’ season which runs 4th-19th of September and are showing a series of films which owes a debt to Fritz’s masterpiece under the title ‘After Meropolis’ which includes Things to come, Alphaville, Dr. Strangelove, Dark City,The Matrix and Brazil. After viewing the film you begin to understand how far-reaching the film has been, however, Blade-Runner, Star Wars and The Terminator are just some films which owe a very obvious debt, both in plot and artistically, to the film.
The history of the film’s re-release is quite remarkable in itself. When the film premiered in 1927 the directors cut was played for just four months in Berlin only before being pulled. Its believed that just 15,000 people watched the original. Critics slammed the film and the studio refused to release it outside of the German capital. The film was then sold to a German producer Alfred Hugenberg who chopped almost 30 minutes from the original directors cut and re-released it. It was viwwed in this truncated version world-wide while the 30 minutes cut from the film was lost- it was believed- forever. In the 1980s, however, a film archivist Fernando Pena overheard a comment by an elderly protectionist at a Buenos Aires film club who complained that he had did not like showing the film as he had to stand over the projection for over 2 hours. This pointed towards a longer version of the film than was currently in circulation and the archivist pursued the film reel until 2008 when the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine came into possession of the reel and the lost footage was discovered. While the footage was old and the reel had suffered the ravages of time it has facilitated a restoration of the original film. In the re-release this added footage is visible by its grainy appearance, marking it out for the viewer (Derek Scally discusses the full restoration in the Irish Times here.)
The plot itself has not lent itself to re-makes or to adaptations but the main strands in the film- the mad scientist creating the perfect man/machine, a love story across the social divide and industrial upheaval are more than familiar. And yet even to a new comer the story seems quite fresh. That said for the modern viewer the film seems ‘hammy’ at points. This is both due to the dialogue which is of course a 1920s script and translated from the German. The film is also over-acted because this is of course a silent film. To some modern viewers it will also feel incredibly long. At two and a half hours with no interval it is understandable that the film was edited from the original.
Fans of the film and those who have seen the film in its original have the most to gain from viewing this full length version of the film because it seems difficult in places to see what the original full length adds to the plot. Nevertheless Metropolis offers much to the newcomer as well. It is a mammoth film even by modern standards and deserves its place and one of the greatest films in history. The restoration of this film is, as such, a major achievement. The film is the most expensive silent film every made, nearly 40,000 extras were drafted in for the scenes and the sets include models of over 70-storey skyscrapers, monorails and videophones. While undoubtedly long, I thoroughly enjoyed Metropolis, was astounded by the 1920s sets and the vision of the film. This is a must for those interested in the history of film.
The full length Metropolis plays at the IFI until Thursday 23rd of September.