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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