Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Revenge of Netflix-a-thon (#2) Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (by Giorgio Moroder)

So does this bode well?  I'm already a couple days behind with this!  My apologies to whomever is following this month, things just came up out of the blue early this week of the personal kind, however I do have time tonight to catch up I think with this.  And without further ado, the second entry:

Perhaps context is the paramount issue here.  One has to look back on the history of Fritz Lang's epic/landmark science fiction Metropolis to view what composer Giorgio Moroder (Scarface, Cat People, Flashdance, you know it when you hear it synth times) did do some service for the film's legacy at the time it was released.  Up till then in 1984, Metropolis could only be viewed in really rough and scratchy prints that were incomplete and without music (it was cut heavily when first released in the late 20's in the US), so Moroder, following the surfacing of some newly discovered footage, took it upon himself to restore it the best he could at the time, and put his own music on it.  Ant not just his music, but those of the pop icons of the 80's... well, actually, that last part is an exaggeration.

The musicians featured in this version of Metropolis include Pat Benatar, Freddie Mercury, Jon Anderson (of Yes), Loverboy, Adam Ant, Bonnie Tyler, and Billy Squier.  Now, some of these you have heard, of and some of them... um, Adam Ant(?)  Perhaps that guy was before my time.  But at any rate, he took about eighty minutes of footage from the film and made it his own (whether this was what had existed up until that time or it had new footage then I'm not sure, however according to IMDb the version was in fact shorter, albeit color tinted according to Lang's original intentions).  How he makes it his own will definitely, without a doubt, divide the people who already know Metropolis well and have seen either one or more versions.  The short of it is - it's so much the 80's you'd swear the video copy (even on Netflix) would come with a milligram of cocaine.

And here she's all like "HELL!"

I'm in the latter category, having now with Moroder's cut seen four versions - the first was a shitty little public domain DVD that was the 115 minute version but with a slow frames-per-second on it and an odd choice in music (if I still have it somewhere I'll check it out one day just for curiosity); second was the first restored cut from 2002, which ran 125 minutes with all the restored footage at that time and with title cards to fill in on the parts still missing.  Then a couple of years ago one of those big-major-holy-fuck discoveries was made for film buffs where the missing footage (or rather a complete cut of the film) was discovered in a closet or attic in South America, and the footage was subsequently spliced in with the restored version, re-released last year to much acclaim (the only downside being that the footage newly discovered looks a little too rough with everything else).  This new version is, for me, the definitive cut, with all the wonderful music, restored picture and sound, all put together.

So what about this one?  It's in a way like the cliff-notes version of Metropolis (my original review here, which is just a slathering of superlatives, albeit I do think the film's 'depth' is not too deep past being a top-notch visual spectacle).  It goes by faster than it seems at 80 minutes - with its story of Freder and his son and how the lovely girl Maria and the 'evil' doctor Rotwang and his fem-bot all collide over the course of a few days in this big futuristic (but very much early 20th century industrial) city-scape.

When it was finished... I felt mixed about it.  Some of the music that Moroder himself adds as composer fits well, sometimes to startling and energetic results, such as when Maria-Bot is riling up the group of rich people at the social club with her crazy dancing and wild eyes, or when the city floods (oh, btw, SPOILERS), there's a lot of interesting stuff floating around in the scoring.  And other times... it just doesn't seem to fit, tonally or with pop or wonder to the image on screen.

Imagine this - but with more Benny Hill music
As for the songs, they are actually kind of forgettable, and only tangentially relate to what's on screen (the Loverboy 'Deconstruction' song fits kinda well, and I wanted to like it more but was put off by the repetitiveness of that word).  Songs by Jon Anderson and Freddie Mercury fare better, while Pat Benatar's ballad is pretty much insufferable.  The one new touch that Moroder does with the material, which I've never seen done before with a silent film and is a small but significant innovation, is to add subtitles for characters on screen as opposed to the standard with nearly all other silent films as title cards or inter-titles.  It did help to keep things moving and helped with the pace of the music, when it worked, on screen.

Yet if I had seen this as the first time seeing Metropolis, the story wouldn't do it so much for me.  A lot of the key pieces are there, but because it's so short it goes by much too fast, and nothing can really sink in like the longer cuts.  The color tinting has some cool contours to bring on, but is not used consistently enough either.  It comes off like a student experiment or a long-form music video that happened to feature the footage of Lang's world.  The effort is all admirable, but by now, aside from the fuller versions of the film, there are other Metropolis-inspired music videos that fuse the symbolism and themes of the text with better music.  I can't deny the curiosity factor here, and being a fan as I was of the film anyway the film is a success on those grounds (and it may be for others as well, especially Moroder fans, whomever you are out there).  But to return to it.... I dunno.

but on the plus side, Moroder did help David Bowie make this, one of his best songs.  So there is that...

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