Monday, January 24, 2011

Operatic Metropolis

Raff came over yesterday to screen my brand new copy of The Complete Metropolis Blu-Ray.  I had screened it shortly after its arrival a couple weeks ago, but it's a whole different experience when you're watching with someone else, conferring, riffing and looking at a piece of cinematic and cultural history with new eyes.

One thing that Raff said that really made sense is that watching most silent films is like watching opera.  The acting is histrionic, the blocking a large-scale pantomime.  Most modern audiences (aside from the history geeks, film geeks and film history geeks) simply don't have the skills required to watch and enjoy a vintage silent film.  Culturally, our attention span has atrophied.  After 80+ years of war, cultural revolution and political scandal, we've become jaded.  The general populace finds it impossible to watch, say, Lon Chaney's Hunchback of Notre Dame without muttering a collective, "How quaint," or, "You mean I have to read these title cards?" or, "Bored now - is American Idol on?"

As a film student, I was forced to watch several silent classics.  Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari were among them.  We got some Mack Sennett and some Harold Lloyd, some Buster Keaton and some D.W. Griffith.  I even did my final report on Charlie Chaplin.  And although my vintage film aesthetics were honed in a scholastic setting, for whatever reason Fritz Lang's Metropolis wasn't part of the curriculum.  I had to seek it out later - first in the form of a public domain chop-fest based on the American brutalization of the original, then in the form of Giorgio Moroder's glorified music video, and finally in its 2002 restored version.  But I was not prepared for what is essentially Lang's original cut (minus 5 or so minutes we'll probably never find), with a brand new symphonic recording of Gottfried Huppertz's original score.  It was like watching a whole different film, with characters and entire plot threads resurrected when they'd previously been excised.

So, while silent film appreciation is a dying critical discipline of a dead art form, The Complete Metropolis is nonetheless a compelling and gorgeous restoration of an influential science fiction masterpiece, full of social commentary and not-so-thinly disguised forecasts of the future.
Without Lang...
...there would be no Blade Runner.
Without Maria... C-3PO.

Also, it's especially enjoyable with Kelpie.


Lucy Leadskin said...

Love love LOVE silents. They're a snapshot of a very different time, culturally. (A big part of the fun, for me as an historical costumer, is examining fashions and interiors in older films.) Saw Nosferatu and Dr Caligari, and I adore Keaton and Lloyd. I've seen Metropolis, but only the butchered version. Sounds like I need to treat myself to this version. Thanks for the post! :D

TD said...

I know that about you, Andrea. What is it about our circle of friends/environment growing up that predisposes us so much to the aesthetics of the past?

Lucy Leadskin said...

We're all artsy-fartsy closet history geeks? :D