Bright Lights Film Journal

Metropolis: Restored, Reborn, and Rolling Out

In his nonfiction text On Writing, Stephen King describes the artist’s work as telepathy. Hardly the new-age type, King is referring to how thoughts can transmit though a quiet practice of mass communication. His technology, of course, is the printed word, though he’s never been averse to finding new narrative forms, like the movies. Like many modern scribes, King first found his love of storytelling through the cinema, at first transcribing drive-in B-films for his classmates at school. So did Ray Bradbury, an influence to King, dream when first seeing The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a boy, as did Harlan Ellison watch the flickerings that would inspire the magic of his words.

Artistic telepathy happens in all forms, as Bradbury, Ellison, or King would assert. But the transferences are all the more vivid, all the more magical when we have a film burning to life on a big screen. A wall-sized motion picture makes the smaller-scale, home viewing experience seem limited, a reproduction scaled down in more ways than the obvious. Not to knock home viewing, which can deliver all the world’s filmed art that will never come to theaters. The new release of Metropolis, fully restored to just shy of Fritz Lang’s original vision, is an example of the grandest telepathy: what was thought to be lost forever.

I’m always fascinated by a good restoration, how the images have been cleaned as if born just weeks ago. With Metropolis cleaned, reprinted, it’s as if the technicians have reached into the collective conscious. With an almost complete print discovered in Buenos Aires in 2008, the film now includes sizable lost footage. Don’t sweat that these additions are still scratched and deliberately in a small aspect ratio – this recalls the lost moments now finding their place.

This film lives within all film buffs, whether known or not. The images of technology growing beyond our control, helping to comfort the powerful, and repressing the weak, is primal – the stuff of Welles The Time Machine but, once made visual, like a dream-thought we’ll never lose. The grand scale of the machine landscapes burrows into our minds until it finds the deep fears of man playing God, ourselves reformed into machines that can overtake us. Fritz Lang launched his narrative through thin melodrama: the characters living within this system appear all the more dwarfed. We look to Mary Shelly as the mother of such overreaching, and to Lang as the architect of its visuals. 

Released by Kino Lorber, Metropolis‘ sublime grays just finished its run at New York’s Film Forum, where I was recently submerged by Lang’s dream. Wonderful news is that the print is now coming to major cities, with a Kino DVD release to follow. Don’t miss it glowing upon the wall of the sky, to the wall of your eye. Get to the theater and make your best cinema purchase of the year.

Visit the official restored Metropolis site.

Images From the Lost Footage.