Metropolis

Not the retarded Tezuka anime, but the German impressionist masterpiece.

Metropolis is, for some reason or another, an unintentional recurrence in my movie going career. This is odd, because I’ve never really enjoyed it all that much before. When I was three, my Dad used to take me to old silent movies at the Boston theatre / cafe “Off the Wall”, where they would project old German horror films and Buster Keaton shorts against a whitewashed brick wall to the accompaniment of a nonagenarian piano zombie, whose rhythmically bobbing head seemed held on only by a starched collar wrapped by a bow tie that glowed opalescently in the cinema moonshine. I first saw Metropolis there in what was probably the mid-80’s tinted Pink Floyd version, the sound mercifully turned off. I saw it again a few months later on a free double bill with Nosferatu at the Boston Public Library. I’ve also seen it on video a couple of times, and when I worked at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, I was able to see it with the accompaniment of the Boston based Alloy Orchestra, who made such an impression on me and my girlfriend that we later bought their Metropolis CD just so we could have sex to the Evil Maria theme song for a few weeks.

Despite all of this, I have to say I was never really impressed by the film. Like many silent films, it seemed inhumanly ghoulish while at the same time being embarassingly melodramatic and cliched to the point of bloody wincing. I didn’t really think I’d like to see it again. But James Lileks recommended the new restored version and, mostly because of his praise of the rediscovered original score, I rented it the other night and watched it again. I was absolutely blown away.

This film is justly a classic. Ignore the story, which is just embarassing quasi-socialist pulp sci-fi. The real power of the restoration lies in the crisp new restoration which makes the surreal cinematography even more mind-blowing - it transforms the pancake golem actors into actual human beings for the first time. I don’t think that most of the set design in the movie has ever been topped. The DVD features a fantastic documentary on the making of Metropolis, which not only explains how most of the still-incredible special effects were achieved but also traces the links between Metropolis’ visual style and its influence in German impressionism. The new restoration emphasizes this impressionist aspect of Metropolis to such an extent that I constantly found myself freeze framing the film to appreciate certain sets of mattes or set designs, such as the Moloch machine and the Garden of Sons. And also for the first time, Metropolis’ plot actually makes sense, due to a retranslation of the dialogue cards along with comprehensive plot notes inserted into the gaps of the film where the footage has been lost (and since about 25% of Metropolis has been lost forever, this goes a long way in explaining why so many people have felt that the movie is nonsensical when they’ve watched it in previous versions and why they will probably enjoy the new version a great deal more).

And, for God’s sakes, the middle of Metropolis probably contains one of the greatest ten minutes sequences of film ever directed. I watched it at 1 am while sipping a glass of absinthe and possibly that is one of the few external combinations in the world that could actually amplify the glorious sensual nightmare of the Intermezzo. Don’t miss it.

Really, I can’t recommend the new DVD enough. I’m going to watch it with the commentary tonight. If you like film at all, go and pick this one up - it is a purchase, not a rent.

I’ll steal this jpeg from Lileks, just because it is so great:

As a huge fan of silent film, I’ll take you up on that recommendation.

Side Note: My wife bought me that Becket on Film DVD collection for Father’s Day. Which is, like, the trippiest thing that’s ever happened to me. Time to get back into my garbage can.

Bub, you might want to visit http://www.silentera.com if you are a silent film fan. It seems to be a great resource for reviews of various silent movie transfers and tracking down elusive silent films.

Oh, and when I said German impressionism before, I meant expressionism.

Thanks Doctor. I had a crazy idea in College that I wanted to direct a Silent Play. Use a scrim sheet and projector to put up dialogue cards, color the actors pasty, use an all black, white, and gray set, use one guy with a piano providing music… maybe do Caligari or Nosferatu. I still think it would have worked (and been a fucking trip).

Anyone heard of anyone actually doing this?

I’ve thought about doing that before as well. But my involvement in theater has been only periferal, and mostly just conceptualizing how you could make it work. Someone must have tried.

Seemed to me, at the time (and we’re talking about 10 years ago), there wasn’t much interest in something that… odd. Actors liked the idea. It sure would be challenging to convey that much from a distance. One good thing is that every good “script” is public domain and most of those movies wouldn’t be that hard to stage, especially if you stuck to the horror movies. Silent comedy would be much more challenging, just because of the physicality. How to do “The General” or “Modern Times” for example.

I’d love to see something like this myself though.

I watched it at 1 am while sipping a glass of absinthe and possibly that is one of the few external combinations in the world that could actually amplify the glorious sensual nightmare of the Intermezzo.

I think we have a new frontrunner for gayest sentence ever.

I don’t think I’ll be taking any pointers in heterosexuality from the guy with the dance pad, the Big Bird tube socks, and the mannish looking wife lethargically watching his husband’s fairy-prancing from the couch.