Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Metropolis" with the Alloy Orchestra live

This evening, Elizabeth and I are catching Fritz Lang's 1927 science-fiction epic Metropolis, newly restored from recently discovered elements, at the Seattle International Film Festival Cinema.

That's cool enough all by itself, but what makes this presentation even better is that the film will receive its musical scoring performed live by the Alloy Orchestra.

My favorite "silent movies music" combo for years, the Alloy Orchestra are the most eclectic and eccentric — and brilliant — film re-scorers working. This Boston-based trio possesses the uncanny ability to be hip, odd, clever, raucous, delicate, or playful while simultaneously showing respect and affection for the films we're watching. Their nontraditional percussive, quirky orchestrations are action- and scene-tailored while avoiding the temptations of "old-timey" clichés or "postmodern" avant-garde ambiguities. Their scores are fresh and thoroughly modern but aren't likely to ever feel frozen into a definable "now."

With their newfangled approaches to vintage movie scoring, the Alloy Orchestra can be an acquired taste. Some traditionalists don't care for their distinctive innovations. Others — yours truly, for one — acquired the taste in the first bite. In my case, that was David Shepard's restoration of The Lost World, followed soon by the Image Entertainment DVD editions of Buster Keaton's The General / Steamboat Bill, Jr., and Slapstick Masters. They've been doing this sort of thing for a while: in 1999 Entertainment Weekly listed them among "The 100 Most Creative People in Entertainment."

Think of them as, perhaps, They Might Be Silents.

The Alloy Orchestra's Metropolis soundtrack is available (MP3-CD format) via their website. It will sync up with the Kino DVD and Blu-Ray release of the film (see below).

Oct. 22 Edited to add post-viewing thoughts:

The SRO crowd gave the movie and the Alloy Orchestra an extended standing ovation. Well deserved too. The new score was electric and note perfect. 

As for this edition of the movie itself, its narrative tracks much more smoothly now. Old gaps in sequence and plot logic are (for the most part) sewn up, and the nefarious character of the Thin Man (not William Powell) finally has a sense of purpose (and that actor is a real standout in a film full of interesting faces). Also clarified is the backstory between Joh Fredersen and the necromage Rotwang, how their rivalrous love for the lost Hel feeds Rotwang's scheme to create the Maschinenmensch and take from Fredersen everything he believes in. Best of all, this time I came to really appreciate how terrific an actress Brigitte Helm (age 17-18 during filming!) was in the dual roles of Maria and the faux-Maria robotrix.

I've always found Metropolis to be more impressive cinematically and historically than narratively, a stance that probably doesn't make me some radically contrarian outlier. It's visually stunning, of course, like no other film of its era, and this new restoration bolsters that even more so. Yet for me its visual and social metaphors are as subtle as an undergrad paper on Poetic Symbolism, and that grates. The plot's reductive simplicities — previously heightened by the gaps in logic and structure that
this edition mostly remedies — have always been speed bumps on my path toward fully embracing the film's singular awesomeness on an emotional level. With this newly refurbished edition of the film some of those bumps still remain, but they hardly matter. Mere molehills. I recommend this Complete Metropolis with a hearty Oh hell yeah.

Kino International's Complete Metropolis Restoration site.

May 4, 2010 NYT article on the restoration.

Roger Ebert's review of the 2010 restoration is here.

David Bordwell serves up plenty of fine analysis and background leading to this restoration here.

And most exhaustively, the International Federation of Film Critics' webzine Undercurrent posts Metropolis Found, a comprehensive history of the movie in all its tangled iterations, focusing on the game-changing near-complete print, uncovered in Argentina, that provided this restoration. It's by Fernando Martin Peña, excerpted from his book Metrópolis.

In related news, Kino International has announced the Nov. 16 release of on DVD and Blu-ray. According to Kino's press page, this edition will finally let us bring home the film...
...with 25 minutes of previously lost footage and the original Gottfried Huppertz score. Only six minutes short of the film Fritz Lang premiered in January of 1927 (in Berlin), THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS was made possible due to an essentially complete 16mm dupe negative (struck decades ago, from a now-destroyed nitrate print) discovered by the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine in 2008.

Such a rare discovery demanded another restoration of this classic film, and the Murnau Stiftung (Foundation), under the supervision of Film Restorer Anke Wilkening, embraced the challenge of putting together the most historically accurate version of this German masterpiece.  Also returning was Martin Koerber, Film Department Curator of the Deutsche Kinimathek, who had supervised the 2001 restoration.

As special features, THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS makes available (both on DVD and Blu-ray) a never-before-seen 50-minute documentary on the making and restoration of Metropolis - as well as an interview with Paula Felix-Didier, curator of the Museo del Cine, in Buenos Aires, and the Trailer to the 2010 restoration. This new 147-minute version (being released as THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS), opened theatrically in April of 2010 and has broken box office records in many of the 100-plus markets it has played in.

This Blu-ray hits the shelves two days before Elizabeth's birthday, and I love, love, love the fact that I'm married to a woman who, immediately after viewing that trailer up there, let me know what her present should be. She blogs about the movie here. (I loved typing that.)