The Head, the Hands, and the Heart
July 2, 2008 2:27 PM   Subscribe

After 80 years, a complete version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis has been discovered in Buenos Aires.

Despite it's iconic stature and popularity, it hasn't been seen in it's complete form since it was released in Germany in 1927, and even after an extensive restoration in 2001, over 90 minutes was thought to be lost for good. While the rediscovered footage will clearly need a tremendous amount of restoration, some images have been released.

While we wait, you can catch what apparently amounts to about a third of the picture here.
posted by Nathaniel W (81 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
That's awesome. I watched this film for the first time last year, then immediately watched it again with commentary by some film makers and historians describing what people believed was in the missing sections and how a few intact scenes don't really make sense without the missing stuff.
posted by Science! at 2:39 PM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Apparently, all the missing scenes involve rainstorms.
posted by Dave Faris at 2:50 PM on July 2, 2008

Holy *^$!

Speaking as a film buff, it's like someone just found the friggin' Holy Grail.
posted by kyrademon at 2:55 PM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Awesome! Hopefully, the next films-lost-in-South-America to be found will be Welles' cut of The Magnificent Ambersons.
posted by Weebot at 2:56 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm waiting for a complete print of Greed, myself.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:59 PM on July 2, 2008

Actually, kyrademon, my first thought was that they'll have top men working on this. Top... men.
posted by phooky at 3:01 PM on July 2, 2008

Unbelievable. Thanks for sharing the good news.
posted by Floach at 3:03 PM on July 2, 2008

Is Georgio gonna do a new sound track?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:06 PM on July 2, 2008

Mein Gott! I have to admit the last time I saw the movie I didn't care for it much, but of course like everyone else I was watching a severely mutilated version. Can't wait to see the restored one. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 3:09 PM on July 2, 2008

posted by sciurus at 3:11 PM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Wow....that's huge. I knew there was some lost footage, but I had no idea that there was that much.

It's weird that since 1960 this has been in possession of the National Art Fund and then the Cinema Museum and they didn't know what they had. I assumed that this was going to be footage found in a trunk in an abandoned warehouse or something like that.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:11 PM on July 2, 2008

*Really* cool. Thank you for posting! What a nice little uplift on a weird day.
posted by batmonkey at 3:11 PM on July 2, 2008

Fantastic news! Thanks for the post.
posted by panboi at 3:13 PM on July 2, 2008

Wow, just wow. I have the restored version on DVD and they just substitute some stills in the middle for the missing pieces, I can't wait for this to be restored and re-released. I hope that they do a theatrical run once they're finished.
posted by octothorpe at 3:13 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been putting off seeing Metropolis for too long now, and I think any last excuses for not seeing it just disappeared.

What awesome news.
posted by lekvar at 3:14 PM on July 2, 2008

OH HOLY HELL. I seriously cannot wait for a restoration of this; I just hope that it ends up being a fully acceptable one (not having to point to three different versions and point out how each one did something great but sucked at the rest).

Man. This is a fantastic find.
posted by Stunt at 3:18 PM on July 2, 2008

This is awesome! I'd never even dreamed a complete copy might still exist. I've seen versions where they have still images describing the missing scenes, but it still leaves something to be desired, and then there are versions with alternate arrangements of the existing scenes where they try to work around the gaps and the narrative ends up being disjointed. I hope they release it with the complete score too.
posted by CheshireCat at 3:18 PM on July 2, 2008

A film historian once wrote something to the effect that "if Stroheim's 9 hour version of Greed is the Holy Grail of lost films, then Welles's original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons is the Ark of the Covenant". I'm not quite sure what the historical equivalent of this great find would be, but it would have to rank somewhere well above a crystal frigging skull!
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:21 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's obvious in the original link, but I didn't notice it. Here are a few more stills from the missing footage. (found via this press release)

"...minor characters now have leading parts..." - how cool.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:22 PM on July 2, 2008

Fantastic news! I remember going to one of the rereleases several years ago and being hooked from start to finish, not bad for a movie with no speech and a run time of over three hours.

Now, someone needs to dig up Lost Horizon.
posted by absalom at 3:22 PM on July 2, 2008

Thank you for the post. You just made my day!
posted by anoirmarie at 3:23 PM on July 2, 2008

If moroder does a new soundtrack, I would appreciate an update of the Jeff Mills version as well.
posted by mkb at 3:24 PM on July 2, 2008

posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:28 PM on July 2, 2008

Question: Will this version be subject to copyright, or is it public domain? Google Video always can use more movies-lost-to-time...
posted by Weebot at 3:32 PM on July 2, 2008

Remarkable. Just remarkable.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:36 PM on July 2, 2008

I actually teared up at my desk when I saw this. The only way I could be happier is if I got home and my living room was filled with free money (and Maria).

Without question, Metropolis is one of the most influential films of all time (see: Blade Runner, The Matrix). I will never, ever get sick of it; Fritz Lang was an absolute genius (M is also one of my favorites).

This film is still relevant today; I'm vibrating with anticipation to see the complete version!

*Runs to car to visit neighborhood with albino peacocks, fantasizes about biplanes, robotic seductresses and the revolution of the working class*
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:38 PM on July 2, 2008

pulls out front of shirt like two tiny, perky breasts

I am as happy as a little girl!
posted by briank at 3:42 PM on July 2, 2008

Mr Roboto I'm right with you.

I used to have this recurring dream in film school about buying an old theater and finding the 6 hour print of Greed in the walls. (obviously a dream since a nitrate print stored in the walls of an old theater would now be a pile of dust in the smoking ruin of a theater).

However, this is pretty damn exciting. I'm breathless with anticipation. There's a silent film society here in Seattle and they often do films with live accompaniment.

Fingers crossed!
posted by lumpenprole at 3:57 PM on July 2, 2008

FWIW, I translated a few of the quotes for my post on this. Die Zeit is promising more details when the full article on this is published in the magazine tomorrow. You also might enjoy David Hudson's commentary.
posted by muckster at 4:07 PM on July 2, 2008

Uggh, you mean there's more of that garbage? I'm sorry, I guess I'm a pleb but I can't get myself into the mindset of, "Wow this must have been amazing eighty years ago!" To me it looks like a bunch of tards acting like idiots with extremely shitty film quality. And I really don't mind silent film, I love Chaplin.
posted by Democritus at 4:14 PM on July 2, 2008

I guess I'm a pleb

Yes, you are. Now pick up that giant wrench and get back to work on that giant nut!
posted by lumpenprole at 4:16 PM on July 2, 2008 [13 favorites]

There's a boarded up theater in my neighborhood that from this picture, showed Metropolis in September 1927 (if you look at the billboard behind the stop sign, you can see it says that Metropolis is playing that week). The neighborhood has hopes that the theater will be restored as a community art space/theater, it would be sort of appropriate if this restored version played there some day.
posted by octothorpe at 4:22 PM on July 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

Excellent news!
posted by ruelle at 4:23 PM on July 2, 2008

Oh sweet baby Jesus and the saints that just made my day.

posted by sixswitch at 4:31 PM on July 2, 2008

I kinda hated on it too at first, Democritus. I fell asleep on it the first time I tried to watch it. I got it again earlier this year and I liked it. It made me think of a lot of things. A lot of the scenes actually kind of force you to think, because the visual input is more transfixing than entertaining. And that's what I love in science fiction films. Enough suspense so that you can think. And those new images, well just seeing some of them makes me really intrigued.
posted by cashman at 4:33 PM on July 2, 2008

You know, I'm having a really shitty week. Then this happens. Amazing.

I'm smiling again!
posted by pjern at 4:36 PM on July 2, 2008

Oh my god!

posted by Paragon at 4:38 PM on July 2, 2008

The only version of this I've seen is the one with the Giorgio Morodo disco/rock score from the 80s (or whevever that was done). I had a fairly hip World History teacher in high school who showed it to our class to illustrate some point or other.

I can't say I "liked" it, exactly, but it intrigued me. I could see there was something very cool in there somewhere, and I always hoped somehow the thing could be restored so I could really see it as intended to truly appreciate it. I'm very excited that this may finally happen!
posted by dnash at 4:44 PM on July 2, 2008

For this, I will buy a Blu-Ray player, if they release the full version with a restored print and high-quality digitization.
posted by davejay at 4:47 PM on July 2, 2008

This is truly wonderful news, and like batmonkey, I've been having a seriously disturbing, weird day, and this news makes everything just a little better.
posted by dbiedny at 4:49 PM on July 2, 2008

OK, this is very good news. Lang was one of the most innovative and important directors of all time. I hope someone like Criterion gets the rights to this so that a pristine copy of one of the world's more important films becomes available with all the scenes as Lang envisioned it.
posted by caddis at 5:01 PM on July 2, 2008

As much as I love Metropolis, I think I love M even more, even though I will admit that Metropolis is a higher artistic achievement. M is like Hitchcock's entire oeuvre distilled down into one gripping film.
posted by caddis at 5:15 PM on July 2, 2008

The queue at the Film Forum has already started. No shoving, please.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:27 PM on July 2, 2008

This is every bit as excellent as the Mexican Suitcase.

I'm with you on the M thing, caddis, but it was a talkie. (it's the only movie on my iPod)
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:44 PM on July 2, 2008

My first exposure to Metropolis was the Moroder "get thee behind me disco" version. At the time, it rocked, and I have to admit I still have a softspot in my heart for that sound track. Mercury's "Love Kills" is still one of my favorite songs to listen to after a breakup. Pat Benatar. Bonnie Tyler. That Yes guy. The Moroder version is as dated as the film itself. Like taking Pink Floyd's The Wall and slamming it up against Disney's Alice In Wonderland. It makes absolutely no sense, but it's frikkin awesome!

There's other audio accompaniment though, and I like trying to put Metropolis up against other stuff. I wonder who's gonna do the music for this newest version. I usually hate it when the movie industry comes up with ways to make you buy the same film over and over again with 'director's cuts' and going from VHS and Laserdisc to DVD. For Metropolis though, exceptions will be made.

Very good news for anyone who likes good cinema.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:48 PM on July 2, 2008

And oh yeah, M was suprisingly impressive. Gave me new respect for Peter Lorre. I'd only really known him from his later stuff where he mostly made fun of himself for fun and profit. Like the Abbot and Costello films. I really should hunt around and find more Fritz Lang stuff. He really had a good eye, and was deliciously morose and depressing with his visuals.

Some people look at Metropolis as if it were this film with a tremendous message about individualism defeating mechinization and the upper class learning to compromise with the working class, and people see a sense of hope at the end. That's not what I see at all. Metropolis is a dark comedy to me, filled with irony and laced with sarcasm. Even when it's all bright and cheery which isn't often, there's this visual subtext of "life sucks" that just makes it one of my favorite films of all time ever in the history of anything.

Brigitte Helm was hot!
posted by ZachsMind at 6:00 PM on July 2, 2008

Made you buy another copy of a decades old film! Ha-ha! [/Nelson Muntz]

I kid. This is actually cool. It's amazing that things like this are still turning up. *Crossing fingers for The Magnificent Ambersons*

I used to have this recurring dream in film school about buying an old theater and finding the 6 hour print of Greed in the walls. (obviously a dream since a nitrate print stored in the walls of an old theater would now be a pile of dust in the smoking ruin of a theater).

Heh. Lumpenprole, have you heard the plot of mystery writer Loren Estleman's new novel?
posted by pmurray63 at 6:03 PM on July 2, 2008

Metropolis: The Directors Cut - 80 Years in the Making!

posted by crossoverman at 6:16 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Now, someone needs to dig up Lost Horizon.

Oh, yes - but at least there's a full audio soundtrack for that and I do like the Special Edition DVD for the way they have "restored" the missing film with production stills. But a complete Lost Horizon would be awesome.
posted by crossoverman at 6:23 PM on July 2, 2008

Holy crap! Things like this really put "Director X realeases absolute completely and totally utter final director's cut" crap in perspective.

It makes me realize that most of the surprises in life are a matter of when. I just never saw this one coming whatsoever. Fantastic.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:37 PM on July 2, 2008

Wow. I saw one of the as-restored-as-possible DVD versions in my Sci-Fi Film class last summer. A year goes by, and we've got a chance at seeing the entire thing as Lang intended it.

I, uh, used to do digital plate restoration before I got into my current line of industry work... if anyone, you know, knows anyone... pick me pick me... I might be available to do some dustbusting and scratch repair. Maybe. I mean, I'm just saying. I'd have to, uh, check my schedule.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:54 PM on July 2, 2008

Huh. Coincidentally I'm watching Lost Horizon right now. I was totally baffled by the stills with the audio.
posted by rlk at 6:55 PM on July 2, 2008

One thing I've never really truly understood about the history of Metropolis: Why was it butchered in the first place?

I've heard many theories but nothing substantial.

I've heard that Metropolis was perceived as Europe's answer to Hollywood and was gonna bury American cinema, so it was "edited for time" by Americans to make American audiences completely dislike it. This wouldn't explain why there's no known copies outside America.

I've read that the original Metropolis was "cranked" at half the speed movie theaters replayed films, so when movie houses played it, it looked faster and dorky. That doesn't explain the editing. Why make it even shorter if it was already too fast?

I've heard that it was too long and to put more people in the seats it was literally cut for time, so the show could be shown more times in the same day, even though the end result really didn't make any sense.

I've read that, like Hearst's animosity towards Welles, Lang had amassed a wide number of enemies both in Europe and America who conspired against him to ruin his career, because they believed the film Metropolis was propaganda for socialist ideals. That doesn't mesh well with history as it came out six years before the nazis took over World War two. It also doesn't explain Fritz Lang's continued success in cinema for decades after Metropolis' release. Further, Lang's wife was an admitted nazi, but Fritz himself vacated Germany to get away from the Nazis after they banned his films. So it just doesn't add up. None of these explanations add up.

Is there really an answer? Is it a combination of factors? Why couldn't Lang stop people from butchering his masterpiece? Weren't there as many available copies of his version made as there were cinemas that showed it? Granted, today we have digital copying so to think a version of Spider-Man 3 won't survive past the 21st century is just unthinkable, but less than a century ago was it really this easy for a film to just cease to be in its entirety? It's difficult to wrap one's mind around.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:56 PM on July 2, 2008

I think this is a slightly better find than some lost photos by Weegee, discovered at a yard sale....
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:26 PM on July 2, 2008

This is totally amazing.

Jesus christ this is amazing.
posted by Arturus at 7:49 PM on July 2, 2008

ZachsMind, I'm not really sure what the reason is for the cuts from Metropolis, but it's a story that's unfortunately more common that you might expect. Here's the study by the Library of Congress that led to the creation of the National Film Preservation Foundation. It notes that pictures before 1929 (the adoption of sound in film) have awfully low chances of still existing in any form. Here's a list of lost films from Wikipedia and here's the list of partially lost films (like Metropolis). There are plenty of pictures on there that it hurts to think are possibly lost forever. The original cut of Greed. The rest of The Magnificent Ambersons. Lost Horizon. Lon Chaney's London After Midnight. Humor Risk (the first Marx Brothers film). King Kong Appears in Edo. The spider sequence from King Kong! Films that I simply can't imagine that somebody somewhere didn't think to save from destruction. And I'm sure there are plenty that I've never heard of and don't know what I'm missing.

I imagine that since the days of digital preservation or even the days of striking hundreds or thousands of prints in order to open pictures simultaneously across the country are relatively recent, it really was this easy for a film to just cease to be. London After Midnight existed until 1965. Tantalizingly close, but then it burned up and now we can't see it.

Still, this discovery really does give me another shot of hope that someday somebody'll discover a print of another long-lost film in a mislabeled can in a private collection and we'll get a chance to spend a third of a day watching Greed.
posted by Nathaniel W at 7:53 PM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

The greatest story of a recovered cinema masterpiece: 'La passion de Jeanne d'Arc.'
The original version of the film was lost for decades, after a fire destroyed the master negative. Dreyer himself attempted to reassemble a version from out-takes and surviving prints, but he died believing his original cut was lost forever. A virtually complete print of Dreyer's original version was found in 1981 in a janitor's closet of an Oslo mental institution. This version is now available on DVD.--Wikipedia
posted by No Robots at 8:27 PM on July 2, 2008

Glenn Kenny: Lost and found
posted by muckster at 9:12 PM on July 2, 2008

From Wikipedia's list of partially-lost films comes this tidbit I never knew before: "Hughes wrote a script for [the Breakfast Club] of about 2½ hours, but the film as released runs 97 minutes. Many of the cut scenes were filmed and the negatives destroyed. John Hughes says he has the only complete copy of the film."

Um, WTF John Hughes?!
posted by Asparagirl at 9:18 PM on July 2, 2008

this is the best piece of news the excellent Zeit has published in a long time.
posted by krautland at 9:44 PM on July 2, 2008

So who shoots first in this version?
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:29 PM on July 2, 2008

And like, is he a replicant or not?
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:30 PM on July 2, 2008

Um, WTF John Hughes?!

There was talk of the full cut of The Breakfast Club being put on DVD or at least the deleted scenes being included. Pales in comparison to the Metropolis find, though.
posted by crossoverman at 10:44 PM on July 2, 2008

This is excellent news.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:45 AM on July 3, 2008

posted by rmd1023 at 3:27 AM on July 3, 2008

One thing I've never really truly understood about the history of Metropolis: Why was it butchered in the first place?

Back in those days, it actually was a fairly common practice for films to be hacked to bits by distributors, studios, theaters, etc. Back in the days of silent films, many movies had long running times. Abel Gance's Napoleon, for instance, ran 313 minutes! Greed, after VonStroheim re-edited it still ran over 5 hours. In the case of Metropolis, we're talking about a film that, in its premier cut, ran 210 minutes! This alone probably accounts for why it was re-edited almost immediately.

After a particularly long film was released into the wild, distributors and theater owners would quite often hack a film down even more, in order to increase viewer turnover in the theaters. Then, in some areas, objectionable scenes (for whatever reason) would be excised. In the case of Metropolis, Marias erotic dance in the club was known to have been hacked out so as not to offend.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:28 AM on July 3, 2008

Cool! I can't wait 'til they colorize this.

Knows he will be sorry he even made this joke. Weeps a little for the human race.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:23 AM on July 3, 2008

[This is really really really really really awesome.]
posted by Spatch at 6:25 AM on July 3, 2008

(Can I just say that ZEITonline either needs better writers, or better translaters? That article read like crap!)
posted by progosk at 6:50 AM on July 3, 2008

I saw this for the first time a few years ago--the 2001 restoration, which was being shown in a local arthouse theater--and was absolutely enthralled.

I would pay inordinate sums of money to see the complete film.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:09 AM on July 3, 2008

I first saw this in college, in a fantasy film course I took, and have been semi obsessed with it ever since. I was understood to be a badly cut-down version but I thought the part that was there was brilliant. It also helped that the film, like all the silent films shown in that class, was accompanied live on piano by the professor, who played on a record that won a grammy for best dixiland jazz album a couple of years later. :)

Anyway, I have the recently restored version with the recently restored score and can hardly wait to finally see the whole thing.
posted by lordrunningclam at 8:44 AM on July 3, 2008


Literally every time I go through Covent Garden tube station, I think of that series of shots with the workers swaying down the corridors to the lifts to become demon-fodder. Viva Metropolis!
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:05 AM on July 3, 2008

When I was growing up in Plentywood Montana, one of my highschool buddies was the local projectionist (one theater town - pop. about 2200). Part of his job was to censure the films by removing certain parts (mostly have to do with amount of skin/sex/etc); he always put the censured pieces of film back in but each splice use up at least 4 frames (overlap at splices). He said that some of the prints he got were really hacked to death. He was 16 years old at the time and he, on his own judgement, decided what the county saw. I don't think he kept any frames for himself but imagine every small town in the country had a version of this going on - I am sure many of the projectionists had some pretty interesting pron collections.
posted by GrimJack at 10:21 AM on July 3, 2008

I am thrilled at the find. It's a magnificent movie, and actually seeing the missing scenes is going to be very exciting.

I had not heard about the extra Breakfast Club footage and now I'm really curious about that as well.

And because my mind does the things it does, I almost immediately combined these two news events in my head and wondered what a mix of Metropolis and Breakfast Club would look like. It had Ally Sheedy throwing lunch meat at a giant gear which Bender is sitting under and getting high.
posted by quin at 10:58 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Really great news about this amazing film. Thanks for the post.
posted by Outlawyr at 1:12 PM on July 3, 2008

Frankly I'm surprised no one's successfully done a remake of this film. I don't mean a film based loosely off the plot. I mean a modern retelling of the novelization. Preferably a production that captured as much of the original look as possible (within reason), but simultaneously taking advantage of the past century of progress in the medium. Fritz Lang was truly ahead of his time. Would be fun to see a remake do the original story justice.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:08 PM on July 3, 2008

ZachsMind, you might be interested in this anime Metropolis. The plot is "inspired by" at best, but the film does use a lot of Lang's narrative tropes and visuals.
posted by muckster at 3:36 PM on July 3, 2008

If moroder does a new soundtrack, I would appreciate an update of the Jeff Mills version as well.

Seconded. I've spent many looooooooong hours (from what I remember...) watching that version.
posted by rhythim at 6:25 PM on July 3, 2008

coolio! can't wait to see it! on a sort of side note if any of you trufans make it to berlin, be sure to check out the film museum...they have the coolest metropolis room...its a two-story reproduction of the city set with one giant mirror wall with 1/2 of that one big crazy building against it so the reflection makes it look like the whole thing...there's even a groovy walkway on the second's beautiful!
posted by sexyrobot at 10:01 PM on July 3, 2008


If this turns out to be a hoax or a forgery, I will cry myself to sleep, and I will sleep for a week. And then I will get up, and hotwire a nuke, and end this silly species.
posted by eritain at 2:44 AM on July 5, 2008

The Company exists!!!

I just got done reading one of the best sci-fi series I've ever read, about a company that discovers the secrets of time travel and immortality. The company seeds operatives throughout time to hide precious works of art and manuscripts, and to preserve endangered species. These items are then fortuitously "discovered" downtime, and then sold by the Company at enormous profit.

I can't wait to find out what else turns up!
posted by spacewaitress at 3:25 PM on July 5, 2008

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