Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Leave it to Fritz Lang to steal Animal House’s thunder!

According to reports out of Germany, as related by David Hudson at Green Cine Daily, apparently the original version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, long thought to be lost, is anything but. As Hudson relates, according to ZEITMagazin, "The most important silent film in German history can, from this day forward, be considered rediscovered." The movie was significantly cut down, by as much as one-quarter of the footage, from its original Berlin premiere version by Paramount for U.S. distribution and thought to be lost forever. Hudson relays the rest of the story so far:

"In 1928, Adolfo Z Wilson, head of Terra, a distribution company, secured a copy of what Die Zeit is calling the 'long version'… and took it with him back home to Buenos Aires. Manuel Peña Rodríguez, a film critic, then acquired the film rolls for his private collection, and there they stayed until he sold them to a national museum in Argentina in the 60s. A copy of these rolls then wound up at the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires.

Paula Félix-Didier, who's quietly relayed this sequence of events to Die Zeit journalist Karen Naundorf so that the story would break in Germany, took over direction of the museum this January. Félix-Didier's ex-husband heads the Film Department of the Museum for Latin American Art in Buenos Aires and he heard from a fellow who runs a Cineclub there that when he last screened Metropolis, he was amazed at how long the film ran on. That's when they delved into the archives and discovered the scenes no one believed would ever be seen again.”

The F.W. Murnau Foundation will be heading up efforts in Buenos Aires to restore the rediscovered scenes and present them to the public in the near future. Kind of beats the hell out of a colorized version with Loverboy, Freddie Mercury and Pat Benatar on the soundtrack, doesn’t it? It’s all just a bit on the incredible side, enough to make long-deprived cinephiles believe that now anything is possible. Is Greed really gone, or just hiding someplace especially secure and confounding? And what about The Magnificent Ambersons? Or even London After Midnight or any number of other silent and sound films that have been written off by history? Who knows what's socked away in the attic of that dilapidated house over on Frederic Street in Burbank, or in the basement of that old warehouse in Paris? Given the significance of this story, there should be plenty of interesting stuff to read in the next few weeks, and Green Cine Daily will be as good a place as any, perhaps better, at rounding it all up for us.


Blaaagh said...

Wow! This is cause for celebration. Glad you broke the story for me, and I can't wait to see it! Yes, and LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT would be really wonderful to find someplace, too.

Valjean said...

Sadly, there's not much hope for "London After Midnight" which was destroyed in a fire at MGM in the 60s, such as so many ohter silent films. It's not a relief, but according to Lon Chaney fans who were able to see it said, it was one of his weaker films with Browning.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine Metropolis without the wailings of Bonnie Tyler.

Robert Fiore said...

Another bit of good news is that Kino's Blu-Ray DVD due out next year will be a full restoration with the rediscovered footage. This is Kino's first high definition release, and it's obviously became an event.

Brian Darr said...

I don't see why the fire at MGM closes the book on the rediscovery of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT through similar means to this METROPOLIS find- a copy sent to a foreign country or other remote corner, that has yet to be identified, etc. That said, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT was not nearly as widely distributed a film as METROPOLIS, so the chances seem far smaller.

LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is not even in my top ten "most wanted" silent film rediscoveries. Since it's so well-known, it would be a big boon to the PR image of the collective community of film archivists, but unless it was a lot better a film than surviving evidence suggests, these are ten silents I'd personally be much more excited about a rediscovery of:

THE MIRACLE MAN, the Lon Chaney performance I most would like to see, in which he plays a religion-exploiting con man pretending to have his physical disability cured by a partner in crime.

HOLLYWOOD, an all-star backlot satire directed by James Cruze. Anyone who was anyone in 1923 was in this.

FEET OF CLAY, one of the few Cecil B. DeMille films to have been lost, it features what sounds like a spectacular sequence set in Limbo.

THE SUN, a retelling of Salammbo by director Teinosuke Kinugasa, setting the action in the mythic age of the Japanese Gods.

THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, directed by Alfred Hitchcock before he made THE LODGER, and starring Nita Naldi.

THE GREAT GATSY, the 1926 version starring Lois Wilson, Warner Baxter and William Powell.

THE PASSION OF A WOMAN TEACHER, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, and said to be the first Japanese film commercially released in Paris.

FOUR DEVILS, directed by F.W. Murnau and starring Janet Gaynor as a circus performer.

ARIRANG, considered the most important and influential silent film made in Japan-occupied Korea.

THE PATRIOT, Ernst Lubitsch's film which won the second-ever Best Screenwriting Oscar, and which was considered for awards in other categories including Best Picture.