A half hour of additional footage of the 1927 film "Metropolis" by Fritz Lang has arrived in Germany for restoration. DW spoke with chief film restorer Anke Wilkening about the significance of the new scenes.
'Metropolis' is legendary because of the footage that was missing for so many years
Deutsche Welle: A complete version of Fritz Lang's film "Metropolis" was discovered last year in Argentina. Now you'll be working on restoring the film in digital form at the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in Wiesbaden. What is it about the long version that's so important?
Anke Wilkening: All versions that we know today are considerably shorter. The film was originally cut by about 30 minutes by Paramount studios, and the UFA studios (Editors' note: Universum Film AG, better known as UFA, was a major film studio in Germany during the first half of the 20th century) also cut it for German distribution and export in a similar manner - about four months after the German premiere.
So until this Argentinean version was found, the film was half an hour shorter. The distributors decided the film was too long out of economic reasons. The restoration of this missing half hour will completely change the film as we know it. When you're cutting a film, it's easier to eliminate scenes containing supporting characters and not the main characters, and that's exactly what happened to "Metropolis."
In this case, three male supporting characters which were very important to the film had almost been eliminated - they'd been reduced to extras. They are quite important because they have a special relationship to one of the main characters, Freder. In all the previously known versions, this relationship had always been unclear. "Metropolis" is very well documented: We have the script by Thea von Harbou, we have the musical score by Gottfried Huppertz, we have several stills, we have critiques from the film's premiere. So it was easy to imagine what theses scenes were supposed to look like, but this is quite different from having the real footage.
How did the edited version change Fritz Lang's message?
Lang was born in Vienna in 1890
In previous versions, "Metropolis" had always been a very bombastic film - a strange mixture of science fiction and other things. Now when we'll finally be able to insert these 30 minutes - with the three male supporting characters - the entire narrative structure of the film will change. In "Metropolis," Fritz Lang addresses his favorite subject: friendship between men and how these friendships fail. This is a motive which we find in many other films by Lang and now we see that this is also one of the subjects in "Metropolis."
How is a film restored digitally? Can you explain the technique?
In 2001, the Murnau Foundation already carried out a digital restoration of "Metropolis," based on the camera negatives that had survived. Of course, at that time, it was not possible to restore the complete film. At that time, the camera negatives were scanned in 2K resolution and this data will be the basis for the new restoration. We will scan the 60 mm dupe negatives which are now in Wiesbaden. These will be restored as much as possible and inserted into the data from 2001.
So restoring the film means scanning it into the computer?
This is the first step for everything that is new in the version from Argentina, which will be about 30 minutes. Then the next step - this is the most difficult part - is the digital restoration of the damage.
The Argentinean version is in very bad condition. It's not the original print, but only a duplication. In this case, the original print had been screened after the release in Argentina by a private collector, who showed the film in film clubs until the 1960s. As you can image, after more than 35 years of screening, it was really worn out.
Murnau (1888-1931), whose foundation is restoring the film, was a German filmmaker
All the damages that were on the material are now printed in the 60 mm duplication, meaning all the damages have become part of the image. This is really very difficult, even for digital restoration, to cope with this kind of damage.
The most serious point is that there are lines from left to right over the whole picture. And we have problems in picture stability. All the dirt that was on the print has also been printed into the duplication. We really have bad image quality.
Regarding contrast, we're also facing some problems. When you have a later generation of a film element, you'll lose sharpness and contrast and the graininess will increase.
But computer programs can be used to improve these things?
We're expecting to be able to improve the contrast, that we will be able to improve picture steadiness and probably cope with some of the dirt. But we're expecting that the serious damage - the lines all over the frame - will more or less remain.
Tests are now being carried out in different laboratories, to see what can be achieved in the digital field. Then we have to decide, first of all, which laboratory can carry out the restoration, and secondly, to what extent we'll work on the picture.
The film "Metropolis" is considered a classic and most film students have to view it. Why is it used for teaching?
There are very different reasons for this. For one, Fritz Lang is one of the most important German(-Austrian) - and international - directors of the silent era. "Metropolis" is very typical for the time. UFA was trying to compete with the United States by showing off the elaborate technology they had available. It was also a melange of the very crucial subjects of the time: political issues, ideological issues, all mixed and melted together in this film. You find elements of science fiction, you find romance, together with the elaborate technique that UFA studios were offering.
UFA was Germany's first filmmaking company
They created a role model for a lot of films. You can find elements of "Metropolis" in many action films - like Fifth Element, Blade Runner, even in video clips like Express Yourself by Madonna or Radio Gaga by Queen. Or the idea of the crazy scientist, which is also a subject in "Metropolis," was a role model for the Universal horror films of the 30s.
The other reason is that, for such a long time, these precious scenes had been missing. And so many different people - for scientific reasons, for sensation, or just out of curiosity - were seriously searching in archives all over the world for these 30 minutes. There's always been guess work on the scene and how they would have changed the film and this is also an important reason why "Metropolis" is so famous.
Interview: Louisa Schaefer (jp)
Editor: Kate Bowen