We may find snippets of Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis' locked in a vault on the moon in a couple of years, but for now Kino is gracing us with 'The Complete Metropolis' on DVD today and Blu-ray November 23. The North American release of the newly restored film includes 25 minutes of lost footage and Gottfried Huppertz's original score.
Lang's iconic 1927 film was sliced and diced after the movie's Berlin premiere in order to boost its commercial success. Aside from cutting a good chunk of the movie, theaters screened 'Metropolis' at the wrong frames per second, resulting in the schizophrenic speed that marks our viewing of most silent film. Later cuts of the movie changed Lang's vision completely (there's some cinephile debate about this, however). The film is the biggest and best it's ever been now, thanks to some previous reissues that restored parts of the film and 2008's discovery of lost footage. Because of this, 'Metropolis' now features better pacing, more realized characters, and a clarity and richness of subtext.
The urban empire of Metropolis is ruled by industrialist Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) from his Tower of Babel office. It's a futuristic city split in half by a definitive class system: those who capitalize off of its high-tech society, and those who slave away for it in the bowels of the underground. When Fredersen's son, the unfortunately named Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), realizes that daddy and company have been exploiting the working-class, he's tortured by the revelation. Meanwhile, pops and inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) have been concocting a plan to use Maria (Brigitte Helm) -- who prophesizes a better life to the proletariat -- against the workers. The inventor creates a robot, known as the false Maria (also Helm), who looks like the woman. He plots to use her against Fredersen to take over the city and destroy his son.
In one of the most visually provocative scenes in the film, Freder falls ill and starts to have a fever dream. At the same time, however, the false Maria is acting as agent provocateur and has the city's high society men in her clutches. She seductively dances for them at the exotic Yoshiwara nightclub. While Freder has visions of the performance he connects them with the disturbing image of the false Maria as the Whore of Babylon made flesh. In the end, he envisions the Seven Deadly Sins personified and Death descending upon the city.
The scene highlights one of several religious, scientific, and occult allegories that demonstrates a struggle between modernity and ideologies past. The movie's themes of desire, loyalty, technology, and faith are on display in this clip -- set against a hybrid of futurism and mysticism. It also portends what would be one of the earliest and most influential genre staples -- the mad scientist/artificial intelligence run amok. Top all that off with some knockout in-camera effects and this scene is reminiscent of why 'Metropolis' is a film heralded not only as a classic, but one that was well ahead of its time.