Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Feast your eyes on Robot Maria, perhaps the single most influential image in the history of sci-fi/fantasy films. She is, of course, the principal icon from Metropolis, Fritz Lang's silent Art Deco futuristic masterpiece, which has been the gold standard for sci-fi film design since its release in 1927. Doesn't she look great for her age? 83 years later, she's still the best-looking robot the movies ever made.

Metropolis is a stunning epic about a dystopian future in which the wealthy few live in luxury, the workforce labors in subterranean misery, and a mad scientist creates an evil robot twin of the messianic young woman who would lead them out of their chains. The film was rediscovered by college and cult film enthusiasts in the 1970s and considered very trippy. But for decades, the standard surviving print of this cinema milestone was at least half an hour shorter than Lang's original cut. Bits and pieces have been found and restored over the years. In the notorious Giorgio Moroder version in the '80s, the composer combined a bright new print and a some extra footage with an annoying rock soundtrack. A clean, digitally restored German release in 2002 (from the Friederich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation) added a few more scenes and made up the rest with original and new title cards, so that the plot started making enough sense to justify the glorious visuals.

Now there's a new piece in the puzzle in one of the greatest ongoing cinematic treasure hunts ever! Make way for THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS, a brand new digital version of this ageless classic incorporating a whopping 25 minutes of "new" footage recently found in the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires. At 145 minutes, this is as close to the movie as Lang intended it as we are ever likely to see (at least for now…) If you've never seen Metropolis before (and especially if you have), do not miss it on the big screen! Opens Friday, October 1st, and the Nickelodeon, for one week only. Get in line now.

Speaking of unalloyed classics, one of my all-time favorite movies, An American In Paris, is coming to the Aptos Weekend Classics series this week. (Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.) Choreographer-star Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli collaborate on one of the best musicals to come out of MGM—or anywhere else—in the 1950s. Kelly plays an ex-GI, now an expatriate painter living in cheerful bohemian "poverty" on the Left Bank. When he falls in love with dancer Leslie Caron, he fantasizes about her in a breathtaking 15-minute ballet designed in the ecstatic visual styles of Rousseau, Dufy, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

But wait, there's more! How about a delightfully acerbic supporting performance from the great Oscar Levant, and a sublime George Gershwin score? This 1951 delight shows off the famed Arthur Freed Unit at MGM at its absolute peak.

(And, no, I'm not just gushing because I was named after a character in the movie. It's true: my mom saw this movie when she was pregnant with me; she loved it so much, she named me after the Leslie Caron character. Thank heavens she opted not to use the original French spelling—"Lise"—or I'd have spent my entire childhood being called "Lice.")

Another movie I love comes out on DVD this week. Here's what I wrote about Ondine, a charming Irish romantic fable, when it played in town a few months back. And whatever you do, don't miss Never Let Me Go, a beautiful, heartbreaking, gorgeously crafted romantic drama opening at the Del Mar this Friday. Based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, it is, in a word, exquisite.

ART UPDATES Rumor has it some of the kinks I kvetched about last post have already been ironed out of the Open Studios Preview Exhibit at the Art League. I am assured that no artist's reputations were harmed in the minor alterations to the show, so don't forget to use this great resource while plotting your personal OS Art Tour this weekend.

Finally, if you're an art lover thinking of making your first art purchase, but unsure how to proceed, fear not: I'm here to talk you down. Check out my new column, "Fear of Art," and embrace your inner collector!


  1. My dad had worked in a movie theater during the time that Metropolis came out. He had kept all the 8x10 glossies and the ephemera. There was a magazine/catalog that explained to theater owners all the pieces they could order for their theater for the opening, ways the film would change society, fashion, architecture, etc. Theaters could order false fronts to turn the front of their theater into a Metropolis building. It was amazing.

    And then when I saw Bladerunner, I saw Metropolis influence. And with Batman.

    Metropolis is a must-see film.

  2. I'm drooling! Wouldn't I love to see some of those items now!

    Unfortunately, "Metropolis" didn't change society nearly enough, but it certainly changed the way movies look. (What about Threepio in the "Star Wars" saga?) I'm all agog to see those extra 25 minutes. See you there!

  3. Just caught up on your blog. Interestingly enough, my very first class at Cabrillo College was a look at science fiction movies taught by Morton Marcus. (I think this was the first in the "movies as literature" classes he taught.)

    And the first film we saw: "Metropolis". We actually watched the 80s cut. I'll need to head out and see this new print.

    Thanks for the info!

    - Michael

  4. I just saw the "new" new version yesterday at the Nick, & it is SO worth the price of admission! Snippets of the most recently restored footage (transferred from 16 mm), which are inserted throughout the film, are a little grainy, but it adds texture & atmosphere. And the plot finally makes complete sense!

    But even if the storyline were (still) totally random, the visuals are absolutely stunning for their era (1927)or any era since! Two days left to see Metropolis on the big screen; it just won't be the same on Netflix!