Since the 1927 premiere, Metropolis has been cut up and left for dead. Nearly each country would create its own edit and the original story has been lost ever since. With small snippets appearing over the past several decades and the discovery of a 16mm print found in Argentina, a more complete and restored version is now available. This enduring history of attempting to restore the film has led the restoration of the story, but the film itself is still incomplete.
The newly footage restores additional subplots that include the 11811 worker’s doings after he changes positions with the film’s protagonist Freder. A prophetic recount of an apocalypse and the inclusion of The Thin Man, a character who tracks Freder and Josaphat are among restored scenes. The new footage also adds additional cuts that elongate several scenes, allows for tighter editing, and gives characters a chance to emote for longer periods of time.
The main theme of Metropolis in current times appears rather childish but still rings true; how there must be a mediator between the head and the hands, which is the heart. The film explores this idea with upper or ruling class living large, similar to the roaring twenties, while the lower, working class physically lives below the city and are considered expendable.
While the film does criticize capitalism, one reading could surmise that there is a need for a middle class to ensure a more stable system. This ideal, which can only be implied, was lost on the next generation in Germany, as the film was used as Nazi propaganda. While the struggle between the working class and the upper class is the primary theme, the end points to the need for these two to meet in the middle and coexist.
The new edition uses the 35mm restored version and supplants the rediscovered 16mm version which is still in a highly damaged state. Regardless, the new edition supports and increases the epicness of the film and still manages to raise goosebumps.
When you take the film into context of when it was produced, Metropolis is a wonder on and off the screen. The film is the most expensive silent film ever made, and was produced while Germany was still recovering from World War I. The use of German expressionism is interesting since the narrative form was designed to counter the lack of funds available to artists while still expressing darker themes using geometric shapes and dark tones. The lack of financing in art was an enabler for the movement to thrive. Metropolis‘ use of expressionism is interesting since it had such a large budget.
Most promotions still claim that the 2010 version of Metropolis is complete, it is far from it. There are still a few missing scenes—essential scenes. The restored footage certainly adds to the film’s story, but it is understandable why these specific scenes were deleted, to save time, and reduce the political ideology in countries with a democracy. Now that they have been restored, we have a complete story which in turn either erases or limits previous studies and criticism on the film.
This new version will invite new studies and criticism, but if anything we should continue to search for the missing pieces. This whole history should invoke more persistence in attempting to preserve all films, as so many are little-by-little still deteriorating each and every day.