Unless someone finds the missing reels of The Magnificent Ambersons stashed away in someone’s garage within the next nine years, the film restoration event of the decade will likely be the new version of Fritz Lang’s landmark 1927 science-fiction epic Metropolis — a major discovery that comes one giant step closer to repairing a mangled masterwork. Now touring the country in limited release, the restored version opens tonight at The Belcourt for a three-day run.
Using elements from a near-complete 16mm print found in a Buenos Aires film archive in 2008, this Metropolis restores more than 25 minutes of footage, bringing the film within minutes of the 153-minute running time reported at its Berlin premiere. Not only did this discovery clarify plot points and beef up characters (including Fritz Rasp’s enigmatic “Thin Man”), it served as a blueprint for editing strategies that have been reapplied to the existing film. (A detailed list of the 96 added scenes can be found on distributor Kino International’s website at www.kino.com.)
Even without the additions, Lang’s vision of class revolt and mechanized dehumanization in a skyscraping dystopia of the future (inspired by the director’s view of the Manhattan skyline from New York harbor) remains one of the most eye-popping and influential films ever made. And in recent restorations, Eugen Schufftan’s pioneering photographic effects — which use partial mirrors to combine swarms of actors and dazzling miniature sets within the same image — have never looked more impressive.
You've got until Thursday to see the restored Metropolis. In the meantime, check out this Salon.com slideshow by Matt Zoller Seitz that traces the movie's ripples throughout 80 subsequent years of pop culture.
UPDATE: Film scholar David Hinton, a longtime student of German cinema, will introduce the 9 p.m. screening Thursday, July 29.