by Sawyer J. Lahr
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Nothing feels as complete as when it’s been restored, even for the first time seeing Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) co-written with his then wife, Thea von Harbou. Now restored to its original two and half-hour running time, the story goes that the missing 25 minutes was cut by Paramount Studios when the German UFA production ran over budget. A business man from Buenos Aries bought the footage before the re-edit. Any later, and the original may have been lost forever. Unfortunately, the newly added material is cropped at the left side and top of the 16mm frames to which the now complete film was transferred. The public now has an imperfect but viewable version that adds a more compassionate dimension to the temperate woman, Maria (Brigitte Helm), the angel and savior to the working class cogs in the capitalist pre-Facist machine.
The restored Metropolis brings the good and evil in woman into center stage. Now with the extended scenes that further shade her character, Maria’s sacrifice, and heroism is resounding and triumphant. The so called “moderator,” named Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), son of the Joh Frederson, the CEO of Metropolis is less the moral thread than the bridge between mother nature the preserver and mother nature the destroyer. One of the most moving moments of editorial skill and dramatic performance is the moment Freder is confronted with the truth beneath his father’s empire. It is a prolonged moment of epiphany that visually spells out Freder’s discovery of his own conscience.
Living below the bright lights of a German expressionist, futurist cityscape, the working class gets a stronger critique in the restored footage. Freder trades places with worker No. 11811 (AKA Gregory) who Freder tells to rendezvous with him after he searches out the mystery of Maria. Instead, Gregory takes the money he finds in his new clothes to spend at night club called Yoshiwara and never follows through with his instructions. Ironically, Paramount, a top-down vertically integrated corporation, who re-cut the film after a mixed public response, removed the suggestion that one of the oppressed would have a temptable conscience. A story of revolution was not exactly Hollywood material, but the scope of the production drew the studios attention as the project went over budget and needed rescue.
From the moment Freder discovers his own conscience to the treaty he forms at the film’s resolution, Maria drives his actions and is a convoluted love interest. The extended footage subverts the authority of all men by asserting that women have the power to control weaker men through their sex. Maria balances the patriarchal machine, but is also confused with the evil pagan robotic woman of sin. Still the purity of woman put across in the restored Metropolis is still an idealized view since the robotic seductress is the same man-invented machine but in disguise.
The film runs 145 minutes and will play at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, IL through June 24.
Sawyer J. Lahr is Chief Editor of the forthcoming online publication, Go Over the Rainbow. He also writes a monthly film column for Mindful Metropolis, a conscious living magazine in Chicago, IL.
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