The mediator between the head and hands must be the heart, and so the popular affection for the 1984 revamp of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has finally led to a 2012 DVD release. It’s 85 years since this film was made, but 28 years since it was made over by Giorgio Moroder – so will the original film or its renovations have dated more?
On the face of it, we really don’t need Moroder’s Metropolis on DVD. This may be the version that turned a generation of film fans into silent movie buffs, turning the fledgling early-80s silent film renaissance into a mainstream movie moment, but surely we’ve moved on since then? We’re still waiting for many silent classics to appear on DVD, but among those that are available there are some absolute beauties: masterpieces of restoration, with audio commentaries, informative notes and sensitive, sometimes even historically accurate, scores. In this country, many such DVDs and Blu-Rays have appeared on the Masters of Cinema imprint, part of the Eureka Entertainment group that has released Moroder’s Metropolis.
Most salient of these releases is The Complete Metropolis, the almost-full restoration of Fritz Lang’s film: a product of skill, patience and the great fortune to find the missing footage in an archive in Buenos Aires. At a stroke, the movie was rehabilitated: no longer a grand mess, a gorgeous design pocked with plotholes. Simultaneously, Moroder’s idiosyncratic restoration was rendered obsolete.
But silent film fans don’t fear obsolescence. It’s our stock-in-trade. Nor are we averse to the first faltering steps towards new technologies. We embrace part-talkies, Pathécolor, Polyvision and undercranking. Moroder’s Metropolis should be viewed in this spirit. Would we restore a film this way again? No, but what will they think of our “state-of-the-art” digital restorations in 2040? Very little, perhaps, particularly if those digital copies become obsolete themselves, incompatible with new projection technology.