This morning as I was chopping vegetables for breakfast (omelets made with farm-fresh duck eggs, yum) I was thinking of Edsel Ford, his impact on the arts, and the claim that he'd been the inspiration for the protagonist in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. I have yet to get to the bottom of this claim, but it is an intriguing one (and in the process of looking it up I found this essay which is worth a read). Thinking it over made me want to see Metropolis again. During high school I watched the 1984 Giorgio Moroder version (with the prog-rock soundtrack) and found it fascinating and maddening. At the time, this plainly incomplete cut was supposed to be as much Metropolis as anyone could get. Then in 2001 a longer reconstruction was pieced together, and my husband and I saw it at the Detroit Film Theatre shortly after I moved to Detroit. I found this version more maddening than fascinating-- still plainly incomplete despite a two-hour run time, unbalanced and rather incoherent in parts, with an exhausting Wagnerian score. Still, it's a film that sticks with you. The crazy robot chick alone is something to stick with you.
Well, as it happens, this very night the Detroit Film Theatre had the latest "complete" version of Metropolis with a three-piece orchestra performing their own score live. So off we went to see it, and I have to say that while despite my philosophical and logistical quibbles with the film, it was an amazing two-and-a-half hours. The Alloy Orchestra was marvelous and the twenty-five minutes of newly restored footage make a world of difference. There's not much plot to them, but the loss of those reaction shots and the like really mattered to the emotional balance of the film, and one of the longer bits (between the hero Freder and his sidekick Josaphat) really made sense of Josaphat's role in the film. Since the original editing of the film has finally been restored after decades of guesswork, suddenly the whole damn thing makes sense. The subplots all make sense. The characters make as much sense as they possibly can given with symbolic weight they carry. And the entire thing seems far less sci-fi and far more a twisted apocalypse piece, a fever dream melding skyscrapers with the Book of Revelations.
[This particular treatment of "love at first sight" is a damned sight better than what we usually get, I must say.]
And the visuals were yummy. Art Deco dystopia yum yum yum. We gave this version two thumbs up, plus a standing ovation for the orchestra.
As it happened the DLECTRICTY event was going on around us, so then we spent an hour checking that out. The light bikes and such were fun, but there was a looping film being projected onto the facade of the Detroit Public Library that was worth standing out in the cold for-- a skewed but mesmerizing account of Western Civilization that very skillfully incorporated elements of the facade (which is adorned with the names of statesmen and philosophers). It also was loaded with astronomy content (Eclipses! Galileo's telescope! Moon landings!) so I was happy on that count... especially as they didn't just use JFK quotes, but also Richard Nixon quotes. Proper deployment of Richard Nixon in popular culture is often a sign the auteur gets it (see: Gravity's Rainbow, classic Neil Young, Watchmen). I don't know if these filmmakers did get it but I was moved by their work.