Thankful for World Cinema: The Complete Metropolis (2010)

The first thing that needs saying is that there are conventions that need to be acknowledged if you are going to venture out and watch this or any silent film. Silent film acting, for example, is by its very nature more demonstrative and over-the-top than even the presentational style that dominated after the advent of sound, and most definitely can cause culture shock to those who are used to film actors of the Post-Brando world. It has to be taken as a given.

Some silent actors are clearly better than others but the style can’t be held against the film, it is what it is. While saying that Brigitte Helm is quite good in this film, she may go a little too far when she’s playing the evil robotic alter ego of her character but she is clearly two different people in those scenes. Gustav Fröhlich is an effective lead who portrays the audience’s POV aptly.

The image quality is superb for a bulk of the film, meaning the portions we already knew existed. They look as crisp and clear as they likely did in 1927, perhaps even better. While the transferred 16mm footage doesn’t look quite that good with many lines, which have been dulled and are nearly translucent running through it, they are without question an invaluable addition to the narrative.

Not only did the restorers fully explain the story of the footage’s discovery and how it was added back to the cut they also noted that the image size would change to keep less than knowledgeable patrons from complaining. Better yet they had some fun with the titles. Not only did they digitally create newer, more accurate ones, they added motion to those which referred to the workers underground and the elite up above the city.

The restoration of the original score, as best as it could be replicated, is also a welcome and brilliant touch. The end credits acknowledge the fact that some pieces of the music had to be created by educated guess and rarely could you tell. It was pretty seamless, and, moreover, the impact of the film is enhanced twenty-fold. Typically on DVD releases, especially the cheaper ones, which is how I was accustomed to seeing Metropolis; you get stock, canned, jazzy nonsense that rarely if ever really syncs. You can almost imagine the producers of said DVD sitting around picking a track because it synced in one spot. The score is breathtaking and absolutely draws you into the tale, if all else should fail.

While you should be forewarned that all we know should be in this film isn’t, as there are titles describing the rare scene that could not be saved or found. You will witness here, in greater fullness than ever before, the enormity and vastness of Lang’s vision. His vistas come through and the added running time gives this seemingly simple through-line the time to make the impact it seeks to make. It is, if you dig deep enough, a more complex and involved visual narrative than many may give it credit for. While we today will not be jarred by the seemingly contrasting styles of the sub-plots; there is a grab bag of visual elements worth exploring.

For a modern audience the message of the film, which is repeated on quite a few occasions, may seem a little heavy-handed, again I warn you that it must be taken with a grain of salt. Think of other silents you know and enjoy and consider if they too aren’t very on the head. You know exactly what the message of The Immigrant and The Kid are but they work anyway. Typically, you are told someone’s profession or that they are the hero before you see them, which is also less cinematic than desirable but the language of film was new and it was important to be simple and direct. It bears noting that Metropolis is not overly-laden with titles and it just works.

Seeing this new cut of Metropolis will not be like watching a regurgitated version of something you’ve seen before. It will be like a whole new experience. Not only do you see it on the big screen but you see it sharper and more clearly than you’ve likely ever seen it before. It really is like the saying goes; see it again for the first time.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Passion of Joan of Arc

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc (Gaumont)

The first thing that needs to be said about The Passion of Joan of Arc in the state it currently exists is that it’s a miracle we have it at all. Several cuts vanished through the years and this one suddenly surfaces in a Norwegian mental hospital 25 years ago. Truly, the salvaging of some of these older films is at times miraculous and lends even more credence to the importance of film preservation. These works of art shouldn’t be lost and we can’t leave it to chance to find wonderful cuts such as these.

Second, is if you’re watching the Criterion collection version of this film opt for the Voices of Light soundtrack. Again an interesting note is that even though music clearly, according to all the records, was played when this film was screened Dreyer has nothing in his notes to indicate what that music should be, which is odd if you see his other work you know how exacting and precise he could be. So this is as close to an “official” score as you get and it is truly wonderfully done and moving and while it claims not to be a score it syncs beautifully with the images and story.

This film should be viewed for the performance of Maria Falconetti alone. It is often cited as one of the greatest in the history of film a fact which is also unique to this film considering how infrequently Falconetti acted on camera, however, this is no rote repetition of consensus. She is marvelous. It can truly be said this performance is well ahead of its time and reads like one of the greats of the 40s who had the benefit of sound. Falconetti needed no sound, no words and carries this film single-handedly in the rare performance that can be called a tour-de-force.

Lastly, there is the story itself and how it unfolds. I think it is likely one that transcends religion. Whether you’re inclined to believe Joan or Arc’s claims or not you see someone being horribly mistreated, you see one of the judges hurting because he believes her and you witness the tragic outcome of the tale.

This film is a masterpiece of silent film. You’ll note as you watch very few titles are actually needed. It manages through it’s unique visual style to communicate its tale very effectively. It is a must see.

10/10