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The Complete Metropolis (videorecording), 1927

The Complete Metropolis  (videorecording), 1927

Excerpt from Roger Ebert review  of Metropolis (1927) June 2, 2010

Much of what we see in Metropolis doesn't exist, except in visual trickery. The special effects were the work of Eugene Schufftan, who later worked in Hollywood as the cinematographer of Lilith and The Hustler. According to Magill's Survey of Cinema, his photographic system “allowed people and miniature sets to be combined in a single shot, through the use of mirrors, rather than laboratory work.” Other effects were created in the camera by cinematographer Karl Freund.

The result was astonishing for its time. Without all of the digital tricks of today, Metropolis fills the imagination. Today, the effects look like effects, but that's their appeal. Looking at the original King Kong, I find that its effects, primitive by modern standards, gain a certain weird effectiveness. Because they look odd and unworldly compared to the slick, utterly convincing effects that are now possible, they're more evocative: The effects in modern movies are done so well that we seem to be looking at real things, which is not quite the same kind of fun.

The restoration is not pristine. Some shots retain the scratches picked up by the original 35mm print from which the 16mm Buenos Aires copy was made; these are insignificant compared to the rediscovered footage they represent. There are still a few gaps, but because the original screenplay exists, they're filled in by title cards. In general, this is a Metropolis we have never seen, both in length and quality.

Although Lang saw his movie as anti-authoritarian, the Nazis liked it enough to offer him control of their film industry (he fled to the United States instead). Some of the visual ideas in Metropolis seem echoed in Leni Riefenstahl's pro-Hitler Triumph of the Will (1935) — where, of course, they have lost their irony.

Metropolis does what many great films do, creating a time, place and characters so striking that they become part of our arsenal of images for imagining the world. Lang filmed for nearly a year, driven by obsession, often cruel to his colleagues, a perfectionist madman, and the result is one of those films without which many others cannot be fully appreciated.

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