MARTIN KOERBER: REBUILDING “METROPOLIS”

The originally running time for Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” has been cited at various lengths by various sources; the Internet Movie Database claims it was 210 minutes. For the record, how long did the original version of “Metropolis” run? Also, what parts of the film were removed and has any of this footage ever been located?
I don’t know where these figures come from, and I definitely think they are wrong. The original German reviews from January 1927 give two-and-a-half hours as the running time, thus approximately 150 minutes. This whole minutes business is a little disturbing to me, as it is besides the point. What is important is how long the film is, not how long it plays, because that can vary all over the place according to the running speed. The original running speed (according to the music score) was very fast: 28 fps. Certainly faster than we what would like to see on a screen nowadays, and also faster than most projectors would like. Natural movement occurs at 20fps, except for the last reel with the chase around town, which is deliberately under-cranked to appear much faster; that appears even fast when the film is run at 20fps. (Editor’s note: the new version runs about two hours.)
What was removed was the central conflict of the film between the scientist Rotwang and the industrialist Fredersen and their rivalry over Hel, the mother of Freder (the film’s hero and the son of Fredersen). This is the underlying story of why Rotwang wants to destroy Metropolis, why he invented the Robot, etc. Of course, in the re-edited version all this is lost, and the invention of the robot is presented as something Rotwang did as a favor to Fredersen, and the destruction comes because the Robot goes crazy etc. Thus, the entire story line got changed.
Also eliminated was a reel that showed the worker going off into the city after he changes clothes with Freder. He goes off-course and gets lured into the night life of Metropolis’ red light district, Yoshiwara. Meanwhile the detective put on Freder’s trail by his father tries to blackmail Freder’s ally Josaphat and there is a fight between the two men which puts Josaphat out of action. Those are the most important parts that were cut, but there was also little scenes and shots cut out all over the place. As this footage was never published outside Berlin, it was thus cut from all versions that have distributed, and the prints of the original cut were destroyed, so there is no hope that any of this will ever turn up.

Was “Metropolis” originally a critical and commercial success in Germany and later in the United States?
In Germany, “Metropolis” was greeted with mixed reviews. People welcomed the great technical achievement, but the ideology behind the story and the story

itself were criticized. The original version ran only for a few weeks in Berlin, and then the film was pulled to be re-edited according to the Paramount cut, which was the short and altered version we have seen since.

The 1984 Giorgio Moroder edition was marketed as a restored version, but it only runs 87 minutes; other versions that were also on the market at that time ran between 93 and 120 minutes. Was the Moroder version improperly marketed as being a true restoration? And what is your sincere opinion of the Moroder version, with its color tinting and rock music score?
Moroder took the advice of Enno Patalas, then director of the Munich Filmmuseum and the father of the first good philological restoration. So he re-arranged the existing footage according to Lang’s script, and even re-created some of the missing scenes with the help of stills, but on the other hand he edited a lot of scenes out to make the film faster and slicker, and he eliminated most of the intertitles. So his version is HIS VERSION, which is perfectly legitimate as long as it is called that, but it is not a restoration in my opinion. The tinting is perfectly arbitrary and follows his tastes. I don’t believe the original version was ever tinted. There are some tinted original prints around, but they are all different in color depending on where they were found, and they are all printed from the export neg. That leads me to believe the film was produced and exported in black and white and tinted locally whenever a distributor thought it should be tinted. Even if it would have been tinted, we have no record of what the tints may have been, so we left it alone and show it in beautiful black and white.

Get the rest of the interview in part three of MARTIN KOERBER: REBUILDING “METROPOLIS”>>>




Posted on October 3, 2002 in Interviews by
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