Monday Movie: Metropolis
Inspired by the words of the mysterious and beautiful Maria, spoiled Freder Fredersen descends into the depths of his father's metropolis and sees for himself how terrible conditions are for the toiling workers that built it. Little does he know that his father plans to use a robot clone of Maria as an agent provocateur, inciting the under-classes into sowing the seeds of their own demise.
I have to admit that, as much as I pride myself on enjoying movies of all stripes, types and forms, I struggled to appreciate Metropolis in its previous best restoration, in which all of the sequences believed forever lost when Fritz Lang's original version was re-cut for American audiences are marked by mere place-holders. But the discovery of a complete (if badly damaged) copy in a small museum in Buenos Aires finally allows the film to be seen in a much more watchable form. Two short sequences are still missing (and after this miraculous find its too much to hope that they'll ever turn up), and the Buenos Aires footage is of a markedly lower quality than the rest of the film, but this only serves to underscore the fact that a lot of the most awesome parts of Metropolis were butchered.
Seeing it in its almost complete glory, I finally find myself able to get into the film and lend it the admiration I wasn't sure it deserved. It's not just the visionary depiction of a timeless city where gothic architecture survives in the shadows of massive art deco superstructures, but Gottfried Huppertz's incredible score (which is a pleasure to listen to in itself); Brigitte Helm's fantastic performance as both the humble, saintly Maria and her skittish, sexually-charged doppelgänger; the dense and simplistic cocktail of 1920s hopes and fears about everything from Communism to technological advancement; and, more than anything, the singular combination of pulp sensibilities, epic themes and masterful imagery that's as breathtaking now as it was over eighty years ago.