Today: June 18, 2024

Giorgio Moroder Presents: Metropolis

Back in 1927, the legendary director Fritz Lang

Back in 1927, the legendary director Fritz Lang presided over one of the
most insanely ambitious cinematic projects of the silent era.
Made in
Germany with a good deal of American money, Metropolis used techniques developed by cinematic expressionism to
construct a lavish science-fictional fairy tale about a society where the rich
play in gardens while the poor are fed into enormous ravening machines. The
first cinematic cut of the film lasted nearly two and a half hours and while
audiences reportedly cheered Lang’s endless capacity to generate striking
images, the film was deemed far too long for an American theatrical release and
so the American producers re-cut the film in a way that had little respect for
either Lang’s vision or the rules of coherent storytelling. Once Lang’s vision
was compromised and the original funding agreement began to fall apart, the
film’s various owners and distributors began replacing the original cut of the
film with a number of flawed and truncated re-cuts.

While an original cut of Metropolis
has since been discovered, restored and re-released, decades passed in which
people believed that the original version of the film was lost forever. With a
number of cuts in existence and the legal ownership of the film in something of
a state of flux, the question of which was the ‘best’ available version of Metropolis
became politicised leading to a schism between the purists who wanted the
remaining footage left alone and those who argued for a more interventionist
approach to restoration. Possibly the best known and the most interventionist
re-cutting of the film is that of the Oscar-winning musical director Giorgio Moroder. Moroder believed that
while Lang’s vision could never be fully restored, it might be possible to
capture the spirit of that vision by adding a new score and colourising the
negatives. The result was the cut of the film that is now being re-released as Giorgio Moroder presents: Metropolis.

Moroder’s Metropolis is a short and
punchy affair that feels very much like an extended trailer for original
version of the film. Moroder solves the narrative problems of the various
re-cuts by stripping out much of the dialogue and drama in order to focus upon the
big cinematic set pieces and emotional moments. Somewhat unsurprisingly, this
results in a film that bubbles with the same hysterical energy and visual
spectacle as the Michael Bay Transformers movies. However, rather
than leaving his characters to scream and flail about like Shia LaBoeuf, Moroder attempts to fill in the emotional gaps by
scoring the film with a series of somewhat heavy-handed eighties power ballads
performed by the likes of Bonnie Tyler,
Freddy Mercury and Pat Benatar. Moroder also colourises
the film in an attempt to convey changes of mood which, though obvious from the
context of Lang’s longer film, struggle to emerge from the mangled cinematic
vocabulary of the truncated versions.

To approach this film in search of
Lang’s vision is nothing short of lunacy. Though Moroder does not exactly
disgrace Lang’s memory, it is quite clear that his attempts at recapturing the
spirit of the original are both quite simple-minded and occasionally
wrong-headed. For example, while the power ballads that litter the score would
have had considerable emotional impact at the time of this film’s original
release, shifts in musical taste have conspired to render them both dated and
faintly ludicrous. Similarly, Moroder’s use of colour and reductive subtitling
somehow manage to make the original film’s fairy tale ethos appear graceless
and simplistic. However, now that an original cut of the film is available to
us, there really is no need to approach Moroder’s version of Metropolis as
anything other than his personal vision of the film.

Moroder’s Metropolis is best
understood as being akin to one of those fan editing projects like Mike J. NicholsStar Wars Episode 1.1: The Phantom Edit or those YouTube videos
that recut familiar scenes with different music in order to extract an entirely
different meaning. Though crude and emotionally simplistic when compared to
Lang’s original, Moroder’s version of the film has both a coherent
understanding of the source material and a unique aesthetic of its own that
make it worthy of our attention. Indeed, while the power ballads and much of
the colourisation are awful, Moroder’s electronic scoring is at times both
moving and entirely appropriate to a film where humans are reduced to the
status of machines.

The question raised by Moroder’s
version of Metropolis is not whether or not it is a good cut of the original
but why so few fan editing projects are receiving wider distribution. Films
like Howard HawksHis Girl Friday, Charlie Chaplin’s The
and Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer are all out of copyright
in the US meaning that enterprising filmmakers could easily revisit them in the
same way as Moroder revisited Metropolis. Giorgio Moroder may not have captured
the spirit of Metropolis but by managing to get his vision of the film into
distribution, he captured something far more enduring: the spirit of
postmodernist play and the value of a good remix.

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