Wednesday, January 10, 2018

METROPOLISaversary

Ninety-one years ago today--10 Jan., 1927--Fritz Lang's magnificent sci-fi fantasy METROPOLIS first hit the screen in Germany. This is the kind of movie the phrase "visionary masterpiece" was coined to describe, a gloriously weird epic of the future as seen from the late Weimar era wherein the working class robotically toils away on machines beneath the earth while the well-off live in a shining, paradisiacal city above, rich kids develop social conscience while experiencing visions of devils and mad scientists create androids in the form of humans to beguile and confound men.

Like so many silent films, a lot of METROPOLIS was broken up and lost over the years. The film survived in often quite truncated prints--the first version I saw when but a lad was only about an hour long--and the tantalizing nature of what survived created a mystique about what was missing and what it all meant. A few decades ago, when film preservationists got serious about saving the disappearing early cinema, there began a series of efforts to find the missing pieces and restore the film. Many bits and pieces have turned up over time, leading to restorations both major and minor. The big breakthrough came in 2008 when a print of the film that had been in circulation through several owners since 1928, turned up in Buenos Aires and provided us with a near-complete print of the film.

METROPOLIS is a cinematic landmark. One of the most influential films ever made, there had never been anything like it and despite 91 years of imitation, homage, knock-offs and rip-offs, there's hasn't been anything like it since. But while true--and distinctly true in this case--that particular accolade is also a bit of a cliché. A dusty one. Monuments--things that often collect such dust--are things stored away in museums but movies, especially great ones, are things to be watched, to be experienced. By virtue of their being the product of an age so removed from out own, films of this vintage can often put contemporary viewers in a somewhat alien headspace. Many dislike this, may others simply find it too removed from their experience to appreciate it but for those able to immerse themselves in it, such films can be an euphoric trip. Movies are, among so many other things, dreams. Dreams are often--even usually--strange, and strange can be wonderful indeed. METROPOLIS was strange in its own time. All those years since have just made it better.

--j.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

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