Silent and sci-fi film nerds the world over are all atwitter with the astonishing and happy news that a 16mm print of Fritz Lang’s original edit of Metropolis (1927) has been found in Argentina, containing all but one scene lost to date — about 25 minutes of “new” footage in all.
In 2002, an exhaustive restoration of the classic film was released theatrically and, later, to DVD. But even that version was still missing shots and entire scenes. Such missing segments were denoted by black footage with titles describing what was missing, based on research that included the original script, period censorship papers, and other documents. At the time it was universally believed that this was as good as it would ever get, and those of us privileged enough to catch a theatrical screening (as I did at The Varsity in Seattle) rejoiced.Â A more fully-restored version is something no one thought possible.
According to late-breaking reports, a version of the film including this newly-recovered footage will be released by Kino Video on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2009, although it is not yet resolutely confirmed at this very early date whether the recovered footage will be fully integrated into the film as opposed to offered as extras.
Related Update:Â As noted recently on The Bioscope blog, an Ecuadoran newspaper has reported that another print of Metropolis with possibly previously-lost footage was found in the film archives of the University of Chile.Â The bad news is it’s a 9.5mm print, a short-lived format used in the 1920s and early ’30s for home and educational markets.Â Some features were distributed on 9.5mm film, but usually in a shortened form.Â The El TelÃ©grafo story quotes a Nov. 7, 2008 article in the Santiago daily, La Tercera as saying Cinemateca director Luis Horta confirmed to them that the print had been identified in 2006, after having been misfiled for decades.Â Horta confessed they did not have the ability to project the obsolete format, but after the surprise 16mm find in Argentina the archive decided to send the print to Murnau-Stiftung, in Germany, for analysis.Â The film had been in the collection for some time.Â The bloody 1973 coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power was followed by a violent cultural purge.Â Pedro Chaskel, the director of the university’s Cinemateca at the time, changed the labels of some films to prevent them from being destroyed by the military before he himself was purged. Apparently this copy of Metropolis was one of these films, though why it in particular would be endagered was not explained in the reports.Â Chaskel became the director of the University of Chile in 2005, following the death of Pinochet.
To keep up with late-breaking developments and discussion by the world’s preeminent film scholars, I recommend keeping an eye on the email list of AMIA (the Association of Moving Image Archivists). The discussion already available includes first-hand accounts from the archivist who made the discovery.
Following below are a couple relevant posts to that list, and the entire text of the July 2, 2008 article from Die Zeit, the German newspaper that broke the news.
Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2008 07:11:11 +0200
Sender: Association of Moving Image Archivists
From: Martin Koerber
Subject: Re: [AMIA-L] Is this news about METROPOLIS real or a hoax?
I was just about to put this link into a message, when Tom beat me to it.
Paula Felix-Didier of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires indeed came to Berlin last week to show us what she found, and it is the real thing, no hoax this time. The material is terribly banged up, being a 16 mm dupe negative made from a no longer extant nitrate print, which was duplicated some decades ago after many years of heavy use. Nevertheless one can now see the director’s cut of Metropolis, 80 years after we all believed the original version was destroyed. Contrary to our thinking, obviously at least one print of the original cut made it into distribution, albeit in Argentina.
Only one of the missing scenes (the monk in the cathedral) remains missing, because it happened to be at a reel end that got badly torn. The rest is there.
The images you will find at the links Tom gave will show you some scenes, and also expose the amount of damage. They look indeed a little worse than the real thing, as they are frame grabs from a DVD transfer of the dupe.
About 10 pages of information and frame enlargements from many more missing sequences are in the printed edition of DIE ZEIT, which is coming out today. I guess you can find this at the news stands in most countries in Europe, don’t know about the international edition overseas. Flip through it before you buy it, the articles about Metropolis are in the somewhat glossy “Zeit Magazin Leben” which comes with the paper. It will surely become a collector’s item.
Kudos to Paula Felix-DidiÃ©r and her initiative to unearth the material and share the information.
A lot of thinking is now necessary to find ways to incorporate this material into the existing restoration, released on DVD by Transit Film and Kino International, among others. It has titles and black leader where the missing parts once were so in principle one could just insert whatever is new at those inserts. The good news is that Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung intends to do just that once access to the material has been granted.
The critical edition of Metropolis on DVD, which Enno Patalas derived from the 2001 restoration in order to create a “full” version of Metropolis has even more information about the missing scenes, and has the option to fill the missing scenes with not only black leader, but information from the script and other sources. When ran in synch with the material found in Buenos Aires, it is amazing to see how everything falls into place now.
The critical edition can be found here: http://www.filminstitut.udk-berlin.de/MKF/html/pages/filme/metropolis.html
Date: Fri, 4 Jul 2008 08:03:33 -0300
Sender: Association of Moving Image Archivists
From: Paula Felix-Didier
Subject: METROPOLIS, the Buenos Aires affair.
Hello everybody this is just a follow up on the Metropolis find. Most of what you probably want to know is already in Martin’s post. I can tell you a little bit more about how I suspected that the print I had was more than the usual American version.
I’m the Director of the Museo del Cine de Buenos Aires, and I’m also a film historian, and a graduate from the NYU moving image preservation program. It was indeed a great moment when we pulled out the print we held in the archive and we could see a few images we’ve never seen before. This 16mm dupe neg was sitting in the Museum vault since 1992. When I was appointed director of the museum this past January, I immediately went to check the reels because I had -ticking in my mind- a story that Fernando Pena, (historian, film collector, curator and more, who also happens to be my ex-husband) told me a few years ago: a projectionist told him that he would never forget the stupid Metropolis print that made him hold it with his finger throughout the 2 hour screening. Of course, the 2 hour thing tipped him off. So we really couldn’t wait to get hold of that print and make sure. It was only a matter of finding the cans and pulling out the reels and watch them against the light to realize that at least some of the missing scenes were there. I immediately made a transfer to dvcam and we screened it one morning to finally confirm that it was all there (I know, Martin, I know… the priest reading the Bible is still missing, but we can’t really complain, can we?)
Understandably, at first nobody believed me. This had happened before. People thinking they had what it turned out to be yet another butchered version. So only after I showed it to Martin Koerber, Enno Patalas, Reiner Rotha and the Murnau Stiftung people, and they were able to see it with their own eyes, the news could be confirmed.
There is more to this story but I won’t bore you with the details.. I also want to make very clear that I haven’t shown the complete film to anybody but the aformentioned people and I’m not planning on doing so since the Murnau Stiftung holds the rights for the film. The press got only a few seconds and some frame captures.
Museo del Cine “Pablo D. Hicken”
Buenos Aires – Argentina
From Die Zeit:
Key scenes rediscovered
Key scenes from Fritz Langâ€™s â€œMetropolisâ€ have been rediscovered
July 2, 2008
Last Tuesday Paula FÃ©lix-Didier travelled on a secret mission to Berlin in order to meet with three film experts and editors from ZEITmagazin. The museum director from Buenos Aires had something special in her luggage: a copy of a long version of Fritz Langâ€™s Metropolis, including scenes believed lost for almost 80 years. After examining the film the three experts are certain: The find from Buenos Aires is a real treasure, a worldwide sensation. Metropolis, the most important silent film in German history, can from this day on be considered to have been rediscovered.
Fritz Lang presented the original version of Metropolis in Berlin in January 1927. The film is set in the futuristic city of Metropolis, ruled by Joh Fredersen, whose workers live underground. His son falls in love with a young woman from the workerâ€™s underworld â€“ the conflict takes its course. At the time it was the most expensive German film ever made. It was intended to be a major offensive against Hollywood. However the film flopped with critics and audiences alike. Representatives of the American firm Paramount considerably shortened and re-edited the film. They oversimplified the plot, even cutting key scenes. The original version could only be seen in Berlin until May 1927 — from then on it was considered to have been lost forever. Those recently viewing a restored version of the film first read the following insert: â€œMore than a quarter of the film is believed to be lost forever.â€
ZEITmagazin has now reconstructed the story of how the film nevertheless managed to survive. Adolfo Z. Wilson, a man from Buenos Aires and head of the Terra film distribution company, arranged for a copy of the long version of â€œMetropolisâ€ to be sent to Argentina in 1928 to show it in cinemas there. Shortly afterwards a film critic called Manuel PeÃ±a RodrÃguez came into possession of the reels and added them to his private collection. In the 1960s PeÃ±a RodrÃguez sold the film reels to Argentinaâ€™s National Art Fund — clearly nobody had yet realised the value of the reels. A copy of these reels passed into the collection of the Museo del Cine (Cinema Museum) in Buenos Aires in 1992, the curatorship of which was taken over by Paula FÃ©lix-Didier in January this year. Her ex-husband, director of the film department of the Museum of Latin American Art, first entertained the decisive suspicion: He had heard from the manager of a cinema club, who years before had been surprised by how long a screening of this film had taken. Together, Paula FÃ©lix-Didier and her ex-husband took a look at the film in her archive — and discovered the missing scenes.
Paula FÃ©lix-Didier remembered having dinner with the German journalist Karen Naundorf and confided the secret to her. FÃ©lix-Didier wanted the news to be announced in Germany where Fritz Lang had worked — and she hoped that it would attract a greater level of attention in Germany than in Argentina. The author Karen Naundorf has worked for DIE ZEIT for five years — and let the editorial office of ZEITmagazin in on her knowledge.
Among the footage that has now been discovered, according to the unanimous opinion of the three experts that ZEITmagazin asked to appraise the pictures, there are several scenes which are essential in order to understand the film: The role played by the actor Fritz Rasp in the film for instance, can finally be understood. Other scenes, such as for instance the saving of the children from the workerâ€™s underworld, are considerably more dramatic. In brief: â€œMetropolis, Fritz Langâ€™s most famous film, can be seen through new eyes.â€, as stated by Rainer Rother, Director of the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum and head of the series of retrospectives at the Berlinale.
Helmut Possmann, director of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation, the holder of the rights to â€œMetropolisâ€, said to ZEITmagazin: â€œThe material believed to be lost leads to a new understanding of the Fritz Lang masterpiece.â€ The Murnau Foundation now sees itself as â€œresponsible, along with the archive in Buenos Aires and our partners for making the material available to the public.â€
The rediscovered material is in need of restoration after 80 years; the pictures are scratched, but clearly recognizable. Martin Koerber, the restorer of the hitherto longest known version of â€œMetropolisâ€, who also examined the footage, said to ZEITmagazin: â€œNo matter how bad the condition of the material may be, the original intention of the film, including all of its minor characters and subplots, is now once again tangible for the normal viewer. The rhythm of the film has been restored.â€
And perhaps the scratches, which will probably remain even after restoration, will have an added advantage: The cinemagoer will be reminded of what an exciting history this great film has had.
Here are some additional stills from the Argentine footage, as posted to Ain’t It Cool News: