Earlier this month U.S. theaters began showing the “complete” version of Metropolis—the film made by Fritz Lang showing his expressionist vision of an urban dystopia. The movie originally ran about two and a half hours, but was drastically cut soon after its first release in 1927, and the removed footage presumed lost. Although the excisions made an already complicated plot difficult to understand, the movie, even in its truncated form, was considered an icon of the silent era, primarily because of its startling visual imagery. Architecture, as fans of the film know, looms large in Metropolis, with the ruling elite living and working in a skyscraper city that bears a striking resemblance to 1920s Manhattan, and the laborers inhabiting anonymous, underground apartment blocks.
And now, with the inclusion of 25 minutes of footage retrieved from a copy of the film found in 2008 in an archive in Buenos Aires, fans will finally be able to see Metropolis almost as its first audiences saw it more than 80 years ago. The previously missing material, sometimes just a few frames, and sometimes complete subplots, has been digitally integrated into a restored version released in 2001. The inserted bits are easily distinguishable since they are still noticeably scratched and streaked.
Architects might be disappointed that the newly discovered footage doesn’t show much more of the fantastic sets, but it does render more fully characters that were only marginal in the shortened version, including the wonderfully sinister Thin Man.
And of course, the added material makes the narrative more comprehensible. If you’ve wondered what Lang’s original was like, check out The Complete Metropolis for yourself. It is currently showing in New York City, Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Encino. The movie will be opening in more theaters across the country in the coming months.