There are many different version so f Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film Metropolis. It seems like every few years more footage is discovered and a new restored version of the film is released. The current “definitive” cut of the film runs about 148 minutes long, and they still believe there is footage that may never be recovered. Of course, that’s what they thought in 1984, as well. That year a restored version of Metropolis was released, clocking in at only 83 minutes in length, but there was also a twist. It was put together by music producer Giorgio Moroder and featured a synthesizer score, songs by popular rock artists, and color effects added to the original footage. To distinguish it from other versions of the film, it is known as Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis.
The story is the same as other versions of the film you may have seen. It is a dystopian future; the year is 2026. The privileged live in the mighty city of Metropolis, enjoying it’s pleasure gardens and other escapes. Meanwhile, beneath the skyscrapers, the workers live in their own underground city, supplying the power to those who live above. Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) is the master of the city and he keeps a tight grasp on the workers. However, his son, Freder (Gustav Frohlich) has become concerned with the plight of the workers, especially after seeing a beautiful young woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm) emerge from the underground city with a group of the workers’ children in tow. Freder decides to investigate the underground city and sees first hand the hellish conditions the workers endure. While there, he sees Maria speaking to a group of workers in their cathedral. There she prophesies that one day a mediator, a messiah of sorts, will come.
Meanwhile, Joh seeks a way to tighten his grip on the workers. He goes to a mad scientist of sorts called Rotwang (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) who has created a robot which he plans to give the likeness of his lost love, Hel. By the way, Hel was stolen away from him by Joh, and was the mother of Freder. Joh convinces Rotwang to give the robot Maria’s likeness, figuring he can use her to gain more control on the workers. However, the sinister fake Maria ends up inciting the workers to violent protest which threatens to bring down the mighty city of Metropolis.
The opening titles of the Moroder version detail how many scenes of the original film have been lost over the years and that previous versions of the film have felt somewhat disjointed as a result. The Moroder version still feels a bit disjointed. One section of the film even feature still photographs with descriptive text where footage from the original film is missing. Of course, over the past 30 years a great deal of footage has been found and restored. Having seen the longer version that exists today, I was able to fill in the gaps. If you are new to Metropolis, however, this is not the version I would begin with.
The imagery is still just as striking, however. I am still absolutely floored by what Fritz Lang was able to achieve with this film. From the scenes of the towering city, to the special effects, to the peaceful yet sinister image of the robot…the film is visually stunning. There are also some fine performances here. Yes, they are a bit exaggerated, as silent film performances often are, but they are skilled none the less. Brigitte Helm’s performance as the fake Maria is one of the most wonderfully devilish performances I think I’ve ever seen.
Of course, the big difference with this version of Metropolis is the music. I’m sure those used to other cuts of the film will find the MTV style approach to this version a bit jarring. So, the question is: does the pop soundtrack really add anything? The answer, of course, is “no.” The film stands on its own and its impact on the viewer remains primarily it Lang’s imagery. However, Moroder’s approach to the music is an interesting novelty and there are moments where it does have an unique effect on the viewer. The opening song, “Blood From a Stone” by Cycle V, is absolutely haunting as it plays over the footage of the zombie-like workers changing shifts. Other artists contributing to the soundtrack include Billy Squire, Jon Anderson (of Yes fame), Loverboy, Adam Ant, and Freddie Mercury. Two standout songs come courtesy of Pat Benatar, “Here’s My Heart,” and Bonnie Tyler, “Here She Comes.”
While the music doesn’t really add anything, it does create some interesting connections in the viewers’ minds – especially if you’re a child of the 80’s. Presented in this way, one can’t help but look at the scene in which the men of Metropolis lust over the seductive dance of the fake Maria and draw comparisons to any of a number of Madonna videos from the same era. On a whole, while the songs have a wonderful early 80’s feel, what is missing is a sense that they are interconnected. Though he was involved in the creation of all the songs, Moroder misses the opportunity to repeat themes or tie certain musical cues to characters or environments in a way that would make the musical element feel more coherent and self-contained.
If nothing else, Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis is intriguing. It takes one of the most impressive films of the silent era and reimagines it for the era of MTV. Purists may hate it – but as a film fan who was raised on 80’s music, I appreciated its unique approach.