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I saw this yesterday with big_daz, ms_siobhan, planet_andy, nigelmouse and maviscruet in a big jolly Northern Goth Contingent family outing at the Light. I've seen the fullest version of Metropolis previously available before - in fact, that was the first film I wrote up when I began systematically blogging all the films I had seen on LJ back in January 2007. But this is an all-new version, complete with an extra 25 minutes of footage taken from a recently-rediscovered Argentinian print of the film, and a newly-recorded soundtrack based on the original orchestral score.

The Argentinian footage is badly damaged, so that it stands out very distinctly from the rest of the film (itself in any case compiled from multiple sources at varying levels of quality). It is scratched, covered in dancing vertical lines and cropped along three edges, and even now there are still a couple of scenes missing. But it really does turn the film into a whole different ball-game. Whole themes, sub-plots and secondary characters now make sense in a way that they just didn't before. And in any case, seeing it on the big screen - a VERY big screen, actually - is an entirely different experience from watching it at home on a DVD. There is a lot of fine detail in the models of the overground city, the machine-rooms, the catacombs and the actors' costumes which I'm pretty sure escaped me last time I watched it, and which really adds to the magic.

I enthused over the film's scale and scope last time I wrote it up, apparently particularly liking its ambitious special effects and imaginative vision, so there's no need for me to repeat all that - though I have certainly been forcefully reminded of it by this repeat viewing. This time, though, I was also struck by how balletic the whole film seemed. The score is very much in the tradition of 19th-century Romantic symphonies. It reuses some of their motifs, and is even explicitly divided into three movements labelled 'Prelude', 'Intermezzo' and 'Furioso' on the intertitles. The effect is heightened in this new release by the fact that you can actually hear the sounds of an orchestra coughing and turning over their sheet music between the movements - just as you would have done if you'd been to see the film at a large cinema on its original release. Meanwhile up on the screen, the exaggerated gestures and body language of the actors draw heavily on the balletic tradition - partly because of course that is the natural parent genre for a relatively new medium trying to tell stories without words, but I suspect also partly as a conscious stylistic decision to suit the fantastical, allegorical story of this specific film.

Perhaps not so very surprisingly, given the balletic aesthetic, I was also struck this time by how very, very homoerotic some of the scenes were. This is actually a bit annoying on one level, because it springs all-too-obviously from the film's almost total side-lining of female characters. Apart from Maria, who is hardly a real person anyway, as she is too busy being quite literally a Madonna or (in her evil doppelgänger capacity) a Whore, the only women in the film are there to be passive sexual objects and / or mothers. Though you can't literally distinguish between 'speaking' and 'non-speaking' roles in a silent film, it is certain that none of them (except for Maria) have character names, or get to have any input at all into any of the action or drama of the film. Instead, they just hang around looking pretty in gardens, sexy at night-clubs or despairing when they think that their children have been drowned.

Still, subversive feminism would be a bit much to expect from a film made in 1927 - even a fantastical one. In fact, since the vision of the future which Metropolis presents is clearly meant to be dystopian, you could even argue that its marginalisation of women is slightly feminist, in that it is presenting this as a characteristic of a profoundly unhappy society. But that's probably stretching things a little... Meanwhile, as original Star Trek fans know, a fictional environment without any meaningful female characters in it is a fertile breeding-ground for slash. And we have here a film which is deeply concerned with the male body - from the athletic figures of the youthful elite exercising in the 'Sons' Garden' to the struggling bodies of the male workers in the grip of the Machine. Central to both the plot and the imagery of the film is tender love of Freder, the Capitalist Overlord's son, for said workers - especially Josaphat, a clerk fired by his father, and Georgy 11811, an ordinary worker on one of the machines. And given that this love was conveyed via anguished looks, impassioned embraces and romantic music, while the actors concerned wore theatrical-style make-up complete with eye-liner, it seemed incredible at times that they didn't just go the whole hog and kiss madly.

Anyway, I'll certainly be looking out for a DVD release of this version of the film - not least for its amazing score, which is still going round my head today. Here's hoping I end up having to buy yet another one some time in the future, when those final eight minutes of lost footage are rediscovered...

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Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
maviscruet
Sep. 14th, 2010 06:54 am (UTC)
Thanks for the invite.

It's interesting you should talk about the homo erotic overtones - when one of my abiding memories, was as I said at the time, was just how amusing I found the faces of the men enraptured by lust by her dancing. That was some serious eyebrow work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0D4fHieW8o

2:27 seconds in man on the right- although it seemed much more pronounced on the big screen....

To me clashed most oddly to me was the sci-fi setting and christian visions - which seemed odd. Especially the whole "Armageddon" vibe that turned out just not to be true...
strange_complex
Sep. 14th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, you're definitely right about the entirely heterosexual lust in the dancing scene. Interestingly, though, the cues which we were given by the narrative and the music at that point strongly suggest that we were meant to see that form of lust as morally reprehensible - not necessarily because it is heterosexual, of course, but because it is unbridled and hedonistic. Meanwhile, the romantic, tender concern of Freder for Josaphat and Georgy 11811 was presented very much as admirable and something to be aspired to. (Though obviously so is his similar interest in Maria).

I'm not sure what you mean about the Armageddon stuff turning out not to be true, though. I thought that pretty much did come true when the influence of the False Maria caused the workers to rebel and the under-city to be flooded. It was just that it was then over-turned by the recognition that the False Maria was a fraud, and the redeeming love between Freder and the Real Maria.
ms_siobhan
Sep. 14th, 2010 08:58 am (UTC)
I feel honour bound to point out on behalf of Mr Pops that he is not a goth - he is goth-curious *grin*

I think I said at the time how much I enjoyed spotting all the bits that were influences on later films and music - the mad inventor's right hand which reappeared in Doctor Strangelove, and Kraftwerk's Man Machine - both in terms of the subject matter and the the design of The Man Machine album.

As for the almost orgy scenes - very Weimar Republic :-)
strange_complex
Sep. 14th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes, I'm sorry - how could I have maligned Mr Pops so?! ;-)

And heck, yes about the influences. There are so many later films and TV shows which would just never have been made without Metropolis. Amazing stuff.
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Sep. 14th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
I suspect that at this point you're probably best off waiting for the DVD release of the newly-restored version, as it is definitely a lot more accessible than the previously-available versions. But you may well find it a lot more accessible than you're expecting anyway. It was very forward-looking for its time, and hence comes across now as quite modern in a number of ways.
hollyione
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:09 pm (UTC)
Ha ha, like the Star Trek comment >:|
strange_complex
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
Hee - nice to have someone along who really gets it! :-)
hollyione
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:51 pm (UTC)
That's part of the joy of original Star Trek and x amount of youtube mashups... plus did you like my little Mr Spock face?

I'd like to see Metropolis some time, it sounds interesting and I can see (from the pics I've seen of it) very influential on future SF films and TV.
strange_complex
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, of course - can't believe I didn't realise it was a Spock face! Very good.

Yes, all SF fans should definitely see Metropolis. But as I've said to someone else above, you're probably best off waiting for the DVD release of this new version now.
hollyione
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)
I will do!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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