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The Arts Voyager, 3-26: "Metropolis: L'Exposition"
Moving stills from a restored movie masterpiece

A scene from Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis." Image courtesy Cinematheque de Toulouse.

By Paul Ben-Itzak

Cinema was originally a strictly pictoral art form. And yet since the dawn of the talkies, what's often been lost in the sweep of a film's story arc is how it can stand alone as visual art, particularly when produced by a master who is more interested in telling a visual story than simply putting a play to celluloid. "Metropolis: L'Exposition" breaks down one of the masterpieces of one art form, that of the moving picture, to reveal it as a series of masterpieces worthy of another art form, the still picture. Organized by the Cinematheque de Toulouse and on view at the Espace EDF Bazacle in Toulouse through April 15, the exhibition offers a cornucopia of images from the fully restored 2008 version of Fritz Lang's 1927 chef d'oeuvre, also to be screened April 7 at the Cinematheque.

As shot in in three large studios in the Berlin suburb of Neubabelsberg during 311 days and 60 nights in 1925 and 1926, "Metropolis" engaged no less than eight principal actors, 750 interpreters for smaller parts, and, according to one report, 25,000 extras. Lang surpassed his original budget of one million marks by five million. His technical ambitions were equally grand; using new mirror processes which made scenery seem much larger than it was, he anticipated the frontal projection technique developed by Stanley Kubrick four decades later for "2001: A Space Odyssey." New methods of super-imposing and animation and an arsenal of German, American, and French cameras were deployed to give "Metropolis" a modern aesthetic.


A scene from Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis." Image courtesy Cinematheque de Toulouse.


If you saw the film before 2008, the net effect of all of this might have been a stunning confusion, so massacred was the film in the years after its release, particularly in the versions cut and spliced for release in the United States. German restoration specialist Enno Patalas did his best to repair the film in the 1980s and 1990s, but it wasn't until 2008, when a version of the film in its original form was discovered at the Cinema Museum of Buenos Aires, that Metropolis as intended by its director was resuscitated, receiving its world premiere in a projection in Berlin broadcast live on the French-German television channel Arte. It's that version that is revealed in its brilliant parts in "Metropolis: L'Exposition," and, once again in its original entirety, in the screening at the Cinematheque April 7.


A scene from Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis." Image courtesy Cinematheque de Toulouse.


A scene from Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis." Image courtesy Cinematheque de Toulouse.


A scene from Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis." Image courtesy Cinematheque de Toulouse.


A scene from Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis." Image courtesy Cinematheque de Toulouse.


A scene from Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis." Image courtesy Cinematheque de Toulouse.


From the Pressbook for Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis." Image courtesy Cinematheque de Toulouse.


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