Thursday, May 20, 2010
"I have recently seen the silliest film."
H.G. Wells on METROPOLIS
As you probably know, this new version adds about a half hour of new footage, in very scratched form, to the restoration released into theatres and on DVD a few years back. Sometimes this means that a few frames have been put back (so that a character is allowed to complete a motion interrupted by an intertitle, you'll see what I mean) and sometimes it means whole new scenes have been restored. For example, there's a scene where a group of children are being evacuated from the flooded undergroud worker's quarters. This scene is now extended with a very effective suspense device (I won't spoil it, but you'll know what I mean).
The one really essential addition, for me, is the restored sequence of Freder's fever dream, involving a mad sermon from a monk (an encounter with said monk is one of the scenes that is apparently lost for good) and visions of the whore of Babylon, intercut with the Robot Maria's naughty dancing in front of some amusingly aroused guys in tuxedos.
Another restored sequence involving a pair of minor characters adds nothing except some plot exposition. I had some hopes for this section, as one of the characters is played by a favorite of mine, an actor named Fritz Rasp who can always be counted on to be interesting.
I've got some mixed feelings about the whole thing. METROPOLIS comes from the period where Fritz Lang had not grasped the idea of the concept of the possibility of less being more. METROPOLIS certainly feels tighter than WOMAN IN THE MOON and SPIES, which just go all over the place, and METROPOLIS has a grand merry energy bordering on delirium that just can't be denied. Everything's a little too big, a little too much, and is often a lot too big, and a lot too much. This isn't always bad, but it isn't always good. The final battle between Freder and the mad scientist Rotwang, on the roof of a cathedral no less, can feel like one mad flourish too many, if I’m in the wrong mood. Mercifully, I was in the right mood both times I saw this restoration.
One thing that really stuck out this time is the exceedingly high quality of the acting, a pretty consistent factor in Lang’s films, and METROPOLIS has no shortage of interesting performances. I’ve always been a fan of Rudolf Klein-Rogge’s work, and his demented mad scientist Rotwang is a joy to behold, going from grand scenery chewing to restrained underplaying and back in the blink of an eye. The actor playing Freder has never been a favorite of mine: he always seems to be working too hard at embodying positive youthfullness: the eyes too bright, the smile too wide kind of thing, but he gets a couple of interesting moments where he’s allowed to just think onscreen, with assorted ideas and emotions crossing his face. And the great Brigitte Helm, as the film's two Marias, plays the virginal Pure Maria very nicely, never going overboard with the piety, but she really goes for broke as the Robot Maria, flinging herself into wickedness with an abandon that is always entertaining to watch. I do think Robot Maria's Extreme Wickedness goes a bit too far, though, especially when she's supposed to be preaching to a bunch of workers who've only seen the original Pure Maria, and nobody really seems to notice the difference between the two. It's like nobody noticing that Shirley Temple has been replaced with Lady Gaga.
Worth seeing? Definitely. It was worth it to see the film properly projected on a bigger than my TV-sized screen. I haven’t mentioned the brilliance of the design, the high quality of the production, and all that, as I’d imagine that most of the folks who bother to check this page out are already well aware of them. If it has been a while since you’ve seen METROPOLIS, then hell yeah, get your ass to the movie theatre or get the damn DVD.