Metropolis: “Complete” As It Will Ever Be

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Cinephiles can get batty over “lost” footage. Legends just grow in the telling. Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, based on the novel McTeague by Frank Norris, apparently ran for forty reels in its original version. Where did that footage go? Would it have improved the film as it stood, to run for 8 or 9 hours? Most probably not. Very few movies need to be 9 hours long. However: how awesome it would be to “find” that footage. People have spent their lives pursuing the original version of The Magnificent Ambersons, instead of the still-wonderful studio-butchered version we all have seen. But where did Welles’s original cut go? There was a fascinating article in Vanity Fair by David Kamp about the “magnificent obsession” that the “lost” Magnificent Ambersons has become.

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has a similar (although not quite as dramatic) story. When we have seen Metropolis, as unforgettable as so much of it is, as visually startling, all that, what we have seen is a cobbled-together version, with titles in place of the lost footage, to explain the gaps. The lost footage has been found (not all of it, but most of it), and this week the “complete” Metropolis opens at the Film Forum here in New York City.

My friend Keith Uhlich has a piece in Time Out New York about the “treasure hunt” for the lost footage of Metropolis and how it all went down.

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