Tuesday, February 16, 2010


On February 12, 2010, a restored copy of the legendary silent film classic, Metropolis, by Fritz Lang was shown as a part of the Berlin Film Festival. Metropolis is a remarkable film, and has influenced several generations of film makers since its 1926 premiere. Star Wars, Blade Runner and Batman were all shaped by Lang's distinct vision of a futuristic cityscape. Originally over two hours long, Metropolis was cut substantially after its premiere in an effort to make it more profitable. Over the decades, much of the original footage was lost and until recently, no one dreamed that the film could ever be restored to its former glory. Then, in July 2008, a negative of the original premiere cut of the film, including all the lost scenes, was discovered in the archives of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires. The negative was a mess and required considerable restoration before it could be shown again, but I assume that it will be available to all of us again soon.

The restored film was shown at the Friedrichstadtpalast in Berlin, but was also shown simultaneously on a screen at the Brandenburg Gate in what is known in Germany as a "Public Viewing." The phenomenon of a free public viewing is a tradition I enjoy in Germany but have never experienced in the US. I live in a relatively small city, one where a gathering of more than fifty people who are neither watching a football game nor singing hymns would be eyed with suspicion. So I don't wonder that public viewings are rare here. But do they take place in larger American cities? In Essen in 2006, I had the pleasure of watching many of the Soccer World Cup games in open air settings, but I doubt if anyone can publicly televise similar events in the US. I confess to almost total ignorance of the Super Bowl, but I doubt if the people in New Orleans or elsewhere were able to watch the recent game in a public setting. There is just too much money at stake to show games for free in a public place.

But in Germany the concept of Public Viewing has a long tradition, dating back even to the Summer Olympics of 1936 when public Fernsehstuben (=TV lounges) were made available for people to watch the games. The events weren't called Public Viewings then, that's another Denglisch word, but they enabled the average German citizen to feel a participant in the events and take pride in them. It's what we in America call Socialism. And it's not just a casual socialism, where the German equivalent of Andy Hardy says, "Hey, we can put on a Public Viewing in the old barn!" Public Viewing is a trademark protected name, owned by a company in Magdeburg with a logo and everything. How does a company make money by showing films and sporting events to the public for free? That's a question a guy raised in a free market economy just can't answer. Maybe they get a cut of all the Würstchen sold.

The plot of Metropolis is just another example of the pink tinge that colors many things European. In the film, society is divided into two classes: the wealthy, who live high above the Earth in luxurious skyscrapers, and the workers, who live and toil underground. Naturally, the workers are salt of the earth types and the son of wealthy Johann Fredersen, founder and ruler of Metropolis, falls for Maria, daughter of the worker class and a sort of ultra Polly Purebred character. OK, it's not the most original story, but not many people praise Metropolis for its plot. Excepting maybe Berlin Gauleiter Joseph Goebbels. According to Siegfried Kracauer in his book, Von Calagari bis Hitler, ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des deutschen Films, Lang related the following about his connection to the famous National Socialist propaganda minister, "(Goebbels) told me that years before, he and Hitler had seen my film Metropolis in some small town and that at that time Hitler declared that he would like me to make Nazi films." The legend is, Lang took the next train out of Berlin, not stopping to pack a suitcase. He lived in Paris for a short time, but ultimately wound up in Hollywood where he continued a long and illustrious directing career.

I'm currently planning my own return to Berlin and the timing couldn't be better. I'll be there during the 2010 World Cup and I'm looking forward to watching the action on a big screen at one of what I'm sure will be several Public Viewing opportunities. I'll be sure to watch the restored Metropolis beforehand to get in a properly Socialist mood. Capitalists will have to wait a while to purchase the DVD version, but until then, we can all enjoy the restored trailer below.


Geoff Shupe said...

great post. can't wait to get my copy!

in most major cities >Logan there are public film events. right here in SLC the Utah Films Council shows movies in Pioneer Park every Friday during the summer. a good 200+ people turn out.
every film event i've been to here or in other cities have all been been sponsored somehow by a city program, board of tourism, or commercial sponsor in order to be free to the public. there lots of models of how to commercially and successfully let people watch stuff for free. first of all its a captive audience for ads, just look at Hulu. or even look at main stream music nowadays, the profit margins for multi-million record sells are razor thin. record companies are increasingly giving out free downloads of a single, or even the whole album, so that they can hook a fan and cash in on the artists they turn into franchises, 200$ concert tickets, 40$ T-shirts, etc.

Christopher T. Terry said...

Thanks for the comment! I have to admit to being a tiny bit disingenuous. I actually DO know how Public Viewing earns its Euros: they rent out screens to cities who want to sponsor an event. I try however never to cloud the issue with a lot of facts and I liked the idea of the "mysterious former East." Tschüß, ct