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Ghost in the Machine 

Shortly after its 1927 release, Fritz Lang's classic silent film, Metropolis, was put through the ringer. The original, 153-minute version of the German movie was immediately edited down to about 85 minutes by American and German distributors, Paramount and UFA respectively. Many critics dismissed it as melodramatic; scientists called it anti-science, and moralists called it prurient.

Over the years, as its reputation has grown to legendary status, Metropolis has been re-edited and restored, but never to its original length. One version even includes a modern music score by none other than Giorgio Moroder of Flashdance fame, with songs by Bonnie Tyler and Freddie Mercury (what a feeling, indeed).

But thanks to the work of the Friederich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation (Murnau, as in Nosferatu) and the miracle of digital restoration, a 122-minute version has been released in all its spiffed-up splendor and has been touring the nation. The film's restoration is a story unto itself, but the short version is the additional footage and digital technology has brought clarity and context to Lang's cutting commentary on the Industrial Age and class polarization that remains as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.

Now, it's even more coherent in telling the story of a symbolic love affair between child of privilege Freder (Gustav Frohlich) and lower-class angel Maria (Brigitte Helm), whose coming together symbolizes the union of rich and poor, of owner and worker.

Lang certainly had a thing for symbolism -- he was rarely known for his subtlety. But against his epic-quality set design inspired by Hollywood's best, the metaphors resonate deeper upon each viewing. His light continually plays around the prophetic Maria as she rallies the workers down in the catacombs with a sermon about the Tower of Babel. In this dream sequence, slaves flood like five rivers into one tortured work force. It's a striking image that no doubt deserves to be seen, once more, in all its glory and back up on the silver screen.

Like the movie itself.

click to enlarge The factory chews 'em up and spits 'em out in Fritz Lang's 1927 silent classic, Metropolis, which has been digitally restored with additional footage.
  • The factory chews 'em up and spits 'em out in Fritz Lang's 1927 silent classic, Metropolis, which has been digitally restored with additional footage.
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