Back to the Future

on July 07, 2008 by Steve Simels
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metropolis poster.jpg

Courtesy of my old colleague, former Premiere honcho Glenn Kenny -- now doing business at the non pareil blog Some Came Running -- comes what may be the most exciting film news of the year, if not the decade:

"A complete version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), long only available in a substantially truncated multi-source restoration, has been unearthed in Buenos Aires. (Yes, I wish I could say that Borges had reviewed this movie. But my copy of his selected non-fiction work yields no such notice.) My ever-stalwart pal David Hudson at Green Cine Daily has been tracking the story, which is a brilliant jaw-dropper. That the Murnau Foundation, which did all the great work that went into the wonderful version of Metropolis that was released on DVD by Kino in 2003, now has another very substantial job of work before it, must be simultaneously maddening and exhilarating.

I love stories like this, and I kind of hate them, too, because they invite us to dream. If there has been, all this time, a complete Metropolis out there, why can't there be a complete...well, you know the titles. The Magnificent Ambersons. Greed. Some of you may remember the cruel false alarm sounded over Murnau's Four Devils a while back. What this discovery proves is that almost anything is, it turns out, possible. What are the films we should be looking for in the light of this discovery? Whose are the attics that should be (politely) raided?"

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That Lang's sci-fi masterwork may finally be available in a form resembling his original vision is truly incredible, and needless to say I can't wait for this new footage to go public. In the meantime, I am, of course, down as well with Glenn on the hope this gives us that director's cuts of some other butchered classics -- including Ambersons (Orson Welles) and Greed (Erich Von Stroheim) -- may someday resurface as well. Somewhat embarassingly, though, the supposedly "lost" film I'm really waiting for is, shall we say, on a slightly lower esthetic level -- it's the 1940 Republic serial Drums of Fu Manchu, no complete 35mm print or original negative of which has survived from the Republic vaults. (There's a serviceable video version available from VCI, but it seems to derive from a merely okay 16mm; even in that ultimately unsatisfactory transfer it lives up to its rep as the greatest serial of them all, and I weep for how good it might look if a better version is actually out there).

And here's a Metropolis update, as of Saturday:

"The Frankfurter Rundschau runs a sobering report on the state of the copy found in Argentina. First, that's precisely what it is: a copy, 16mm, made as a "back up" of sorts to the 35mm nitrate original - which is still missing. Second, it's in terrible shape - but the FW Murnau Foundation has high hopes for the quality of the image that might be drawn from it.

We'll keep you posted on this as it develops....

Tags: Metropolis, The Magnificent Ambersons, Greed, Four Devils, Drums of Fu Manchu
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