Cinephiles fantasize about those mythical Holy Grails of MIA movies: the marathon cut of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, Orson Welles’s ending for The Magnificent Ambersons, the whole of London After Midnight. Hope springs eternal, though notions of finding Fritz Lang’s unedited version of Metropolis—the one that ran a little over two-and-a-half hours, which he premiered in Berlin in 1927—were considered a lost cause. Thanks to a stroke of luck (see opener, page 75), we now have a nearly complete restoration of the monocled master’s future-shock epic—complete enough, at least, to justify Kino Lorber’s prefix without risking a hail of rotten tomatoes. This is as close as we’re likely to get to what those sitting in the UFA-Palast saw when the lights went down: Lang’s vision of claustrophobic skylines, underground prole revolutions and fembots run amok before the censors had their Night of the Long Scissors.
So...what’s new? A whopping 25 minutes has been inserted back in, some of which merely add texture (a snippet of a woman being tarted up in the pleasuredome-ish Club of the Sons) and some that flesh out Lang’s more elaborate sequences, such as the climactic flood in the workers’ subterranean lair. But the revelations are indeed stunning: a factory grunt enjoying the fruits of the upper class, the Lurch-like henchman of business tycoon Joh Fredersen (Abel) stalking about, a statue of Fredersen’s wife pined over by evil inventor Rotwang (Dr. Mabuse himself, Klein-Rogge) that clarifies a major plot point. Who cares that the found footage is scratchy and scarred by time? It’s all that easier to identify what we once thought was gone forever—and what now adds even more depth to a delirious, dreamlike class parable whose dystopia still feels exhilaratingly modern.—David Fear