There can be no understanding between the hands and the head unless the heart acts as mediator
That is the opening and closing motto of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. A silent film released in 1927 that has become recognised as a masterpiece. It did not start out life that way; a poor critical reception led to it being heavily cut for distribution shortly after its release, and the original version was lost. Then in 2008, in a small museum in Buenos Aires, a poor, but complete, copy of the original was discovered. It has been used to supply the missing sequences, and now a restored version of Metropolis has been released that, at 150 minutes running time, is as close as possible to the original version and which has an additional 25 minutes of footage. It also has the original orchestral score composed by Gottfried Huppertz.
Until now, I’d never actually watched a screening of any version of Metropolis. Of course, I’d seen stills in books and magazines, or short sequences in TV programmes many times; but the whole thing? – no.
Now I have. I bought the Blu-ray/DVD of the restored version. It is indeed a revelation. The imagery is quite breathtaking in places – mixing both ancient (Rotwang’s house and the Cathedral) and modern (the city and the machine halls). The film is full of allegory (for example, the machine hall becomes a vision of Moloch to the city owner’s son) and often makes use of occult and religious symbolism. For example, Rotwang, the evil scientist, is almost akin to a medieval alchemist, much given to decorating his house and equipment with pentagrams, while the subterranean cavern where Maria speaks to the workers is full of Christian imagery.
The acting, as was the fashion in silent films, is not very subtle, and the ending is rather simplistic. However, its visual power cannot be faulted and the orchestral score adds to the effect. Lang certainly knew how to do crowd scenes – the workers’ mob pursuing the false Maria, or the children fleeing the flooding underground city have an intensity that astounds. Metropolis is indeed a masterpiece.