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about the writer

Fernando Martín Peña is a film collector and historian born in Argentina.

notes

[1] This first version of Metropolis lasted 151 minutes at 24 stills per second, but it should be taken into consideration that the duration in minutes of a silent movie can only be estimated relatively, since until the coming of sound film there was no exact measure for shooting or screening.

[2] H. P. Tew, "Cinema in Argentina," Close Up (Switzerland), February 1930.

[3] Excelsior, February 18, 1927.

[4] Jorge Miguel Couselo, Leopoldo Torres Ríos: El cine del sentimiento, Corregidor: Buenos Aires, 1974, p. 35.

[5] A copy of this leaflet can be found in the collection of documents of Estudios Baires, preserved by Filmoteca Buenos Aires.

[6] Today the CERC is called ENERC (Escuela Nacional de Experimentación y Realización Cinematográfica, National School for Film Experimentation and Production) and the Instituto Nacional de Cinematografía has come to be known as Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales (National Institute for Film and Audiovisual Arts).

Metropolis Found
By Fernando Martín Peña

Metropolis
space.

Editor's introduction

In February 2010, a new restoration of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), using long-missing footage recovered from a nearly complete print found in Argentina, premiered in Berlin. The restored version is currently being shown in film festivals and repertory theaters and will be released on DVD later this year. The following text was written in 2008, before the restoration work had begun. It was originally published (in a much longer version) in Spanish; this is the first appearance in English.

For
Homero Alsina Thevenet
Jorge Miguel Couselo
Salvador Sammaritano

Three Godfathers

There is a story, most probably apocryphal, in connection to the finding of the film The Unknown, a masterpiece by Tod Browning featuring Lon Chaney. It was considered lost for decades, even though there was a print in good condition in a French archive during the whole time. The film canisters were perfectly labeled and well preserved but the title made it impossible to distinguish them from others containing "unknown" – that is, unidentified – material. The film was finally found by a persistent man, who insisted on having the containers opened so that he could examine their contents. The finding of the original version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis at the Film Museum Pablo Ducrós Hicken follows a similar path. It was stored with its title and inventory number in two consecutive public archives for forty years, but nobody even tried to check if this was the original version. Those in charge of the archives are not to blame for this long delay, which should be attributed to the catastrophic conditions of the preservation of historic audiovisual materials in Argentina, and to the long lack of public policy in the field.

1. Overture

The world premiere of the "greatest film ever" took place on January 10, 1927, at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo movie theater in Berlin, with original music by Gottfried Huppertz and 4189 meters of film.[1] German critics welcomed Metropolis with lukewarm reviews, largely because it suffered from bad publicity as a result of the financial problems its enormous budget generated throughout the entire German film industry. The movie had been funded in part by American production companies Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Besides taking on a significant debt with both companies, UFA had agreed to distribute Paramount and MGM movies in Europe in exchange for American and world distribution for UFA productions. However, while UFA agreed not to alter the American material, Paramount and MGM were entitled to make any change they found appropriate to ensure profitability. These agreements became final with the launching of Paraufamet, a new multinational which combined the names of the three original companies, and which was responsible for all the various cuts and mutilations from which Metropolis suffered.

The film had turned out to be the most costly artistic adventure of UFA's history, a product whose success or failure would have decisive effects on the financial health of the company. Therefore, it soon became entangled in a web of conflicting interests. First, Paraufamet found the film too long and complicated, and it commissioned American playwright Channing Pollock to write a shorter and simpler version. After watching the complete version, Pollock shortened the plot, altered the narrative structure, and modified the texts in the title cards. He came up with the idea of dropping all references to Hel, the woman Fredersen (the master of the future city of Metropolis) and Rotwang (a brilliant inventor) had competed for in the past. The reason was that her name sounded too much like the vulgar term "hell." The character was gone, and so were Rotwang's motives for building an artificial being with a female shape and his reasons to hate Fredersen and his son, Freder. Rotwang was no longer an alchemist tortured by his past; he became a stereotypical mad scientist, who simply displayed completely irrational behavior. As for Fredersen, his endeavors lost all complexity: whereas in the original version he used the fake Maria in order to drive the workers to violence, with the intention of subjecting them more easily, in Pollock's version he only wants the fake Maria to subject them. As a consequence, there is a long scene which lost its original meaning and became totally incoherent: through a visual intercom, Fredersen tells the foreman Grot to stop the workers at any cost, and the poor man has to face the fervent masses alone and armed with a modest monkey wrench. In the original version, Grot blocks the pass to the central machine by closing two gigantic locked gates, but, to his surprise, Fredersen asks him to open them so that the workers can destroy everything. Pollock made other cuts following moral precepts, as when he suppressed almost all the takes in which the fake Maria is seen performing her erotic dance, and the sequences that take place in Yoshiwara, the house of sin.

Since Pollock was highly respected at that time, Paraufamet distributed this version crediting him for his work. The trailer announced that this was Metropolis by Fritz Lang "adapted by Channing Pollock," and this is how it was released in the States in March 1927 and in the United Kingdom (with modified title cards). It had a length of 3170 meters, that is, approximately 115 minutes. 

Metropolis
space.

Pollock and Paraufamet were not the only ones to butcher Metropolis. A nationalist mogul, Alfred Hugenberg, who later would become one of Hitler's main financial supporters, canceled the debt between UFA and the American companies. After taking charge of the company in April 1927, he decided to stop distributing the film in its original version, and to prepare a shorter version for a new release in Germany. Hugenberg, who could not have read Kracauer, asked that any "communist tendency" be removed from the film, together with the various religious references, which were considered inappropriate. This new version was released in August 1927; it reached several European cities and had a length of 3241 meters (117 minutes), only 2 minutes longer than the American one.

Over the century, yet other versions were produced. In spite of the critical and commercial failure of the film, and even though it had been seriously butchered, its formal virtues secured Metropolis a place in the history of cinema, granting it a privileged position among the most important titles of German silent film. Hence, it became a common item among collectors, who from 1931 on were able to acquire a 1-hour version, released in 9.5mm.

In 1936, UFA produced and distributed a newer and shorter version (2530 meters, 91 minutes), which, translated into English, became part of MOMA's Film Library. This last version was the one most frequently available after World War II, when Metropolis's original negatives were lost. Film libraries, film clubs and private collections usually own this version, which was distributed by different companies in 16mm and 8 mm. Audiences all over the planet believed that they knew Metropolis. The truth, however, was they only contemplated its ghost.

2. Intermezzo

Metropolis
space.

In the late 1920s, Buenos Aires showed a vast variety of movies from Europe and the States. In February 1930, the renowned magazine Close Up published an article on "Cinema in Argentina," in which an astonished journalist stated that "South America, and more especially the Argentine, seem to have been forgotten by those who discuss film centres. Yet, though the Argentine is, comparatively speaking, a non-producer, it must be one of the world's greatest consumers… Two-million inhabitants. Two-hundred cinemas. Ninety-five tons of film imported… A country may be democratic and have an aristocracy; may be capitalistic and have powerful communist parties; may be universal but very cosmopolitan. The Argentine combines all these points. It also revels in freedom. Result: Buenos Aires is the perfect cinema cosmopolitan town."[2]

These conditions explain the blossoming of independent companies devoted to the distribution of films from Scandinavia, Italy, France, Britain, the USSR and Germany. One of the most important ones was Terra, which had been originally founded in Germany around 1920 as a production and distribution company. Shortly after, Terra opened a distribution branch in Argentina, under the management of Juan Probst. The weekly ads Probst published in the Buenos Aires magazine Excelsior show that Terra distributed UFA films in Argentina from the beginning.

Around 1924, Terra's branch in Argentina became the property of Wilson & Co., a company whose president, Romanian Adolfo Zicovich-Wilson (1894-1980), maintained Probst's commercial ties with UFA while expanding Terra's catalogue with French, British and Soviet movies. Around 1927, Terra was as prominent in newspapers and magazines as any American major company, and Wilson was praised for his "intuition and good eye, together with his thorough knowledge of the taste that defines us."[3]

The working season in film stretched from March to November; it was usual for those in charge of independent distribution companies to travel to Europe in search of material during the winter. Between December 1926 and February 1927, Wilson visited England, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, the Soviet Union and Germany. In January 1927 he was among the first people to watch Metropolis in Berlin, and he was very impressed. In an interview published by Excelsior on February 18, on the occasion of his return to Buenos Aires, Wilson confirmed he had acquired the film and added: "I must confess I have not seen anything like this in my whole life; describing the importance of this film would take me forever. Whatever I say will not suffice to express its grandiosity." Wilson had been in the right place at the right time: in March Paraufamet released in the States Channing's "adaptation," and in April, UFA's new board decided to stop distributing the original version and to start the editing process. Only four months after its international release, Metropolis's original version existed only in Argentina.

Leopoldo Torres Ríos worked on the translation and phrasing of the majority of the title cards. The rest of the title cards had to be translated in Germany because they were connected to images that could not be easily replaced, like the phrases that go up and down during the first act, the ones on Hel's monument baseboard, a page from the Apocalypse written in an elaborate Gothic pattern, and various detailed shots of letters and papers. According to historian Jorge Miguel Couselo, Torres Ríos was the person at Terra responsible for "the speeding up of European movies – especially German – which were considered to slow for the Argentine audiences."[4] Going against this trend, and even though everywhere else Metropolis was being edited using this same argument; Wilson decided that it was to be seen in its original version. The only change the film suffered was not a cut, but an extension. It was a curious attempt at toning down the abruptness of the ending, when Fredersen and Grot symbolically shake hands. After this last shot, Torres Ríos made up a title card ("And the city was greater than ever because love prevailed between men"), which was followed by one of the establishing shots of the city from the beginning of the film.

Metropolis was released in Buenos Aires on May 6, 1928 (postponed from 1927 to make room for other UFA movies, especially F. W. Murnau's Faust, which proved to be a big success and was in theaters for several months), initially in two theaters, then in others, including the Mignon in Belgrano, which projected a print with German titles, a practice that was not exceptional in a country that was still assimilating immigrants from all over Europe. There is no way to know the exact number of people who watched Metropolis in Argentina, but it is pretty obvious that its impact was the same as everywhere else. It was not a flop, but neither was it as successful as it was expected to be. The most unbiased comment, with no interest whatsoever in the fate of the film, can be found in the aforementioned story in Close Up: "Metrópolis had a moderate success in Buenos Aires."

A couple of months after its release, we lose track of Metropolis for several years. Commercial distributors were forced to destroy the copies of the films they released once their contract with the production company had expired. Wilson was no exception to this rule, and this is what he should have done with every print of Metropolis. But he didn't. We find the first reference to the survival of a complete print of Metropolis in the programs for the prestigious "Seasons of Avant-Garde Film," which was held in SODRE auditorium, in Montevideo, Uruguay. Between July 26 and July 31, 1946, there were eight screenings of Metropolis as part of the third season produced by the association. The programs for these dates state that Manuel Peña Rodríguez, an Argentine who had been helping SODRE with the organization of the series for a year, lent the print.

When he screened his print of Metropolis in Montevideo, Peña Rodríguez was 39 years old and had an impressive career as a film critic and producer. He was also an exceptional collector during a time when almost nobody was thinking about audiovisual preservation. In September 1941, eight years before the creation of Cinemateca Argentina by film critic Rolando Fustiñana ("Roland"), Peña Rodríguez organized a Primer Museo Cinematográfico Argentino (First Argentine Film Museum), based on his own collection. In a leaflet from those days we can read about the purposes of the institution, which, in its goal and projections, was the first of its kind in South America. Peña Rodríguez proposed, among other things, that copies be made of movies "so that they can be projected in schools and other learning spaces, public institutions and cultural and artistic associations, with the aim of diffusing, analyzing and fostering film. Make a survey of the movies owned by individuals or companies in our country, trying to secure their acquisition or custody when possible. Prevent the destruction of valuable materials and further the acquisition of foreign films. Create a special section devoted to documenting the evolution of Argentine cinema, in preparation for its graphic and literary history. Organize a bank of images and photographs of films. Foster the foundation of branches of these same institutions or others sharing similar purposes."[5]

It is impossible to know for sure how Metropolis ended up in Peña Rodriguez' collection. The print may have survived in a provincial theater, which did not return it to the distribution company and then sold it to Peña Rodríguez. It is more likely, however, that Adolfo Z. Wilson himself had decided to break this contractual obligation and to keep a print of the film, as do many other independent distributors who like their material. In any case, when Metropolis was projected in Montevideo in 1946, the print of the original version belonged to Peña Rodríguez' collection.

Thirteen years later it was still there. Salvador Sammaritano, who founded Cine Club Núcleo in 1954, had fond memories of Peña Rodríguez. "He was very generous. He had copies of various masterpieces and he would lend them to us. It was not easy to watch silent movies in good copies at the time. The copies were in economical gauges, 16mm or less, and the quality used to be pretty poor. The copies Peña Rodriguez kept in perfect condition, on the other hand, were marvelous 35 mm originals. He lent us a couple of movies, but I remember most of all Varieté, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Pandora's Box… and of course Metrópolis. I will never forget that screening! We did it in the Libertador Theater, which was brand new and had a panoramic screen, so that the image was huge. The print had shrunk somewhat over the years, and it sputtered and lost focus when it touched the gate in the projector. Because the screen was so big, the screening was going to be a nightmare, so I decided to go up to the projection room. I put the finger on the gate of the projector to prevent it from moving and I spent the next two hours and a half in that position."

That projection of Metropolis took place on Sunday, July 19, 1959, at 10 am. The program Núcleo made for the occasion emphasized that they would be projecting "the complete print, more than two hours long," which indicates that the existence of shorter versions was already known at the time. Víctor Iturralde wrote a text for that program, in which he updated the most common criticism the film had received when it was released: "If Lang the sociologist and the novelist fails, fends off reality and creates a contrived world, Lang the architect, tamer of shadows and volumes, craftsman of mind-blowing atmospheres, gives us one of his most prolific and valuable lessons."

That was the last documented projection of the original version of Metropolis.

Metropolis
space.

3. Furioso

In the 60s, financial difficulties forced Peña Rodríguez to ask a credit from the Fondo Nacional de las Artes (National Endownment for the Arts), which he was never able to repay. To cancel his debt, he gave this institution hundreds of old film rolls, all of them printed in nitrocellulose, the material used to make film until the 40s. Nitrocellulose, a highly inflammable and unstable material, had been the main fuel in hundreds of fires in movie theaters and warehouses all over the world. Developed countries implemented public policies to face this problem, which resulted in an improvement of archives and film libraries, with the aims of keeping nitrocellulose in safer conditions and copying the films on modern and non-inflammable materials. In Argentina, on the other hand, the only policy was to declare nitrocellulose illegal and to demand its destruction, an absurd regulation, which nonetheless was observed not only by public institutions, but also by private foundations that claimed to be devoted to the preservation and salvaging of films. Thousands of originals were lost thanks to this impossible mix of carelessness and stupidity. Its most dramatic example was the fire that in 1969 devastated one of the main warehouses at Alex Labs, where lay the original nitrocellulose negatives of almost all Argentine productions from the '30s and '40s. Owing to this disaster, later generations were forced to watch Argentine movies from those decades mainly in 16mm copies with poor image and sound.

In keeping with these dark years, the Fondo Nacional de las Artes decided to copy the entire Peña Rodríguez collection on non-inflammable material and to destroy the originals. It would have been an interesting idea, had the copies been made in 35mm, and not in the inexpensive but poor 16mm format, or had the job been commissioned to an expert, and not Tecnofilm Labs, which back then offered the most affordable service.

After that serious wound, the collection received its coup de grace. Around 1974 the Fondo Nacional de las Artes decided to launch a TV show devoted to cinema (with a super-clever name: "Cinema and the Fondo Nacional de las Artes"). Veteran director Luis Moglia Barth was in charge of the editing, and he made use of the films in the Peña Rodríguez' collection. To be able to include as much material as possible, Moglia Barth decided to reduce the length of the films in each show. He then cut complete scenes and left out the title cards, replacing the texts with a voice over. He produced at least thirteen shows of fifty minutes each, cutting and pasting the copies and the negatives of the collection, which therefore was awfully chopped up. Peña Rodríguez would have kicked up a fuss, had he been alive. He had died on July 1970.

I have no family connections with Manuel Peña Rodríguez, but curiously enough my grandfather's name was Manuel Peña. I started collecting movies around 1977, when I was nine, after finding at home a manual projector that had belonged to him. Shortly after, the obsession led me to research and history, thanks to my father's library, and to TV, which in those years showed classic movies and featured experts like Víctor Iturralde or Salvador Sammaritano. Around 1985, I started organizing projections of my movies at Cineclub Claridad, run by fans like Bubi Zeiler, Rolando Román, Ángel Lázaro, Jaco Rest and their families. A year later, Marcos Blum, who visited the Cineclub very often, introduced me to Sammaritano. He was a partner in Cine Club Núcleo with Héctor Vena, a scholar and movie fan who would become my private university. I started working for Núcleo in 1988, first as a collector in Vena's movie series, and then as the editor of his programs, which thanks to Vena's efforts were well informed and scholarly.

In that same year I entered the Centro Experimental de Realización Cinematográfica (CERC, Experimental Center for Film Production), reporting to the Instituto Nacional de Cinematografía (National Institute for Film),[6] where I took courses on "Criticism and Research," which were later to disappear from the syllabus. Beatriz Villalba Welsh was the head of CERC at that time. She attended the projections at Núcleo regularly, together with her husband Emilio Villalba Welsh, a larger-than-life character who had been a prolific screenwriter and was in charge of the Fondo Nacional de las Artes. Towards the end of the year Beatriz called me and asked me to go and see her husband. The Fondo wanted to donate a collection of films to Núcleo. He gave me a list of titles, among which I did not find Metropolis as appealing as several silent Argentine movies.

On the next day, before my meeting with Emilio Villalba Welsh at the Fondo Nacional de las Artes, I had lunch with Sammaritano to talk about this issue. He told me that the collection at the Fondo had belonged to Manuel Peña Rodríguez. Sammaritano explained who Peña Rodríguez was and recalled the screening of Metropolis he had attended back in 1959, when he had to put his finger on the gate of the projector for two hours and a half.

First I thought that "two hours and a half" was an overstatement. Three years before I had seen a version of Metropolis with music by Giorgio Moroder; it was eighty minutes long. But then I remembered: at the beginning of the film there was a text explaining that the complete version of Metropolis was lost and that the missing parts had been replaced with title cards and stills. 

"Salvador, are you sure? Two hours and a half?"

"I remember it distinctly! My finger is still in pain!"

When I met Emilio Villalba Welsh at his office in the Fondo Nacional de las Artes, I asked him if I could copy part of the material in videotape, because some of the movies in the list could be used in classes at CERC. He encouraged me to do that, and he sent me to the office where they kept the canisters, which was in charge of two persons I will never forget: a technician, Martorelli, and his boss, Osvaldo Cimenti. They taught me that the ways of public administration can be extremely inscrutable. Even though I had the authorization of the director of the Fondo to go into the archives, Martorelli and Cimenti showed no desire whatsoever to help me. After much insisting and a couple of days, they allowed me to take two Argentine movies from the collection – Hasta después de muerta and La chica de la calle Florida in order to copy them to videotape at CERC. While I was watching the films I became aware of the damage they had suffered when transferred to 16mm. The amount of stains and scratches made obvious that the copies had been made without cleaning or checking the originals, but the photographic quality was acceptable. Definitely, I thought, I'd rather have these copies than nothing. After returning the material I asked if I could see the canisters containing Metropolis, but Martorelli briefly informed me that it was not possible. I replied that I only needed a couple of minutes, but Cimenti's response was final: "Those in charge do not know how difficult it is to run this place."

Here we'll take a pause, as in a novel by Ellery Queen. Had Martorelli and Cimenti displayed a different attitude, the complete version of Metropolis would have showed up twenty years ago and the Fondo Nacional de las Artes would have been credited for this finding. But this is not how the story goes. Let's continue.

As it was assumed that eventually all the material would end up in Cine Club Núcleo, I stopped insisting and devoted the following weeks to do some research about Peña Rodríguez and his collection. I had to hear the story of the tragic cuts a couple of times, from very different people: Jorge Miguel Couselo, Víctor Iturralde, Rolando Fustiñana, Claudio España, Enrique Bouchard. Each of them added his grain of salt, but all agreed in one thing: after the awful cuts suffered by the originals and the massacre perpetuated by Moglia Barth, what was left of the collection was only useless crap. The thing was: I had seen two copies, and I had not found them useless… Moreover, I tended to think that the rest of the material could not be so awful. After all, it had been shown on TV!

Meanwhile, I decided I was going to know everything there was to know about Metropolis. Besides Giorgio Moroder's version, I was acquainted with two other ones. The first one was two hours long in 9.5mm format. Fabio Manes, whom I had met at CERC, owned a print. The second one, an 8mm print which collector Alfredo Li Gotti had given me as a gift, was approximately 90 minutes long. Even though they were incomplete versions, they were different from each other, and both of them were different from Moroder's. I had to find out why. At Héctor Vena's huge library I found several articles on the film, but no agreement as to the duration of the original.

The first certainties appeared in an interview with historian and restorer Enno Patalas published by French magazine Positif on the occasion of the release of Moroder's version of Metropolis. Among other things, Patalas explained that he had spent the last twenty years trying to restore Metropolis, that all the world had seen the Paraufamet version, that the complete version had only been seen in Berlin in January 1927 and for a couple of months after, and that the best sources to attempt a reconstruction were the score by Gottfried Huppertz, the censorship files, the novel of the film written by Thea von Harbou and the list of original title cards. Using all these materials it was possible to replace the missing scenes with elaborate explanatory texts. According to this same collection of materials, the original version of Metropolis would have been two hours and a half long.

So, if Sammaritano's finger was to be trusted, the version of Metropolis preserved by Peña Rodríguez was the complete original version. However, since it had only been projected in Berlin for a couple of months, what was it doing in Buenos Aires? I went to the Library of the Argentine Congress and conducted extensive research in the newspapers section. I went over all the releases from January 1927 on. A couple of days later I found the date of Metropolis's premiere in Buenos Aires, and I noticed that the ads mentioned Terra as the company in charge of the distribution. This meant that the version premiered here was not the one cut by Paraufamet. I still had to find out which of the German versions Terra had bought for distribution in Argentina… I needed something more specialized than a newspaper to figure this out. Vena kept a collection of Excelsior, a magazine devoted to film. In one of the issues I found the interview in which Adolfo Z. Wilson, the owner of Terra, declared that he had acquired Metropolis, among other films. The article had been published on February 18, 1927, only a month after the release of the original version of the film and two months before UFA started the process of cutting it.

1988 went by, and at some point in 1989 I heard that the Fondo was not donating the collection due to a series of institutional difficulties. I tried to take a look at the materials for the last time, but Cimenti and Martorelli did not allow me to get in the room where they were stored. Shortly after, Emilio Villalba Welsh left his post at the Fondo Nacional de las Artes; this meant there was nobody there who would authorize me to make a new attempt. The curtain falls, while Cimenti and Martorelli dance the dance of the triumphant bureaucrat.

Around 1998 I learned from journalist Paraná Sendrós that the Peña Rodríguez' collection had been donated to the Museo del Cine (Film Museum) Pablo Ducrós Hicken. I told him I would ask the authorities to let me take a look at the collection, but Sendrós, who worked at the Museum, told me, visibly saddened, that the collections were packed because they were going to move to a finer building. In 2004 I tried again, but David Blaustein, director of the museum, told me, visibly saddened, that the collections were packed because they were going to move to a finer building. I had an uncanny feeling of déjà vu.

In April 2008, Paula Félix-Didier came to see me. She had been appointed director of the Museum shortly before, and she wanted to renew the collaboration agreements I had with the institution. I told her I would gladly renew my commitment, provided I was allowed to go over the Peña Rodríguez collection in order to prove a hypothesis that was more than twenty years old. I thought she was going to tell me that it was not possible, that the collections were packed because the Museum was moving yet again… but I was wrong. In less than a week I was allowed to take an intensive look at the material for the first time.

Thirty minutes were enough: the print of Metropolis had images I had never seen and titles I had only seen in the reconstruction by Patalas. The print owned by the Museo del Cine, owned before by the Fondo Nacional de las Artes, Manuel Peña Rodríguez and Adolfo Z. Wilson, is the only existing print of Fritz Lang's original version of Metropolis.

A treasure, a problem, an epilogue

Metropolis
space.

Metropolis was the most outstanding finding in the Peña Rodríguez collection, but it was not the only one: more material is being found, as the original titles are located. As far as Argentine cinema is concerned, there are four important silent full-length films, which have not been seen in eighty years (Bajo la mirada de Dios, by Edmo Cominetti; Afrodita, by Moglia Barth; La quena de la muerte and Dios y la patria, both by Nelo Cosimi). There are also films from Spain, the Soviet Union, the USA, Italy, Germany, France and the Czech Republic. The process of reconstruction is slow due to the huge and unpredictable puzzle perpetrated by Moglia Barth. Just to give an example: most of Metropolis was found in two canisters that were correctly labeled, but there was an eight-minute-long fragment in a different canister, together with several rolls from other movies, and two additional shots only showed up after a month of work, in a test roll. In any case, sixty percent of the collection consists of films that were considered lost, an interesting proportion for material that for forty years had been deemed useless.

The version of Metropolis found in Argentina poses a problem: how original is this original version? The print has shots and scenes that are missing from the previous restoration, undertaken by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in 2001. It has also many sequences composed out of different shots, that is, alternative takes. The practice was usual in silent movies: the camera material was used to produce two negatives, one for the foreign markets and the other for the local audience. When it was possible, the director used two simultaneous cameras to film the same sequence, thus obtaining the material for the two negatives. However, when the angle of shot made this impossible, the director had to use two different shots. He would then choose the one he liked best for the local audience; the second one would be exported.

If the process of restoring a film implies returning it to its original shape, then, which is the correct decision when there is more than one option to restore a shot? How can we possibly know which shot Lang liked better? Spanish historian Luciano Berriatúa, an expert in the films of F. W. Murnau, posed this same question when he found different versions of Faust, and his answer was that each of these versions was an original one in itself. Regarding Metropolis, the work to be undertaken will be more of a reconstruction than a restoration, since it will have to combine fragments of different versions. Still, the version found in Buenos Aires deserves being preserved in its entirety, not only because it will contribute missing fragments to the reconstruction of the film, but also because of the significant amount of alternative takes that it contains.

The Film Museum Pablo Ducrós Hicken, reporting to the City of Buenos Aires, has been working with an insufficient budget since its foundation in 1971. It has survived two changes of address and its present location (Salmún Feijóo 555, in Barracas) is considered inadequate and temporary. Argentina has lost ninety percent of its silent production and fifty percent of its sound movies. Most of what still exists has been preserved by mere chance, ephemeral commercial interests or the efforts of a few individuals and has been generally stored in inadequate facilities, with poor budgets and unsuitable work tools. Seventy-seven years have passed since Peña Rodríguez created the First Argentine Film Museum, and there is still no institution in Argentina capable of fulfilling its purposes.

Metropolis
space.

Acknowledgements

Fernando Chiappussi, Edgardo Cozarinsky, Octavio Fabiano, Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, Alejandro Intrieri, Andrés Insaurralde, Víctor Iturralde, Alfredo Li Gotti, Leandro Listorti, Evangelina Loguercio, Fabio Manes, José Martínez Suárez, Octavio Morelli, Adrián Muoyo, Sergio Olguín, Luis Ormaechea, Virginia Petrozzino, Rolando Fustiñana, Diego Trerotola, María del Carmen Vieytes, Héctor V. Vena, Beatriz and Emilio Villalba Welsh, Clara Zapettini and the staff at Museo del Cine "Pablo Ducrós Hicken."

Daniel López kindly answered a number of questions on film history, particularly those connected with Adolfo Z. Wilson.

I thank the library of the Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales for the daily effort to turn the research process into something pleasurable.

And I have to thank especially Paula Félix-Didier. Without her knowledge of the subject matter and her political determination, the original version of Metropolis would still be in its canisters and these pages would have not been written.

Additional research: Florencia Calzón Flores and Daniela Kozak.

Fernando Martín Peña
© FIPRESCI 2010

Excerpted from the author's book Metrópolis (23o Festival Internancional de Cine Mar del Plata Argentina, 2008).


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bullet. # 6 (4.2010)
bullet. # 5 (5.2009)
bullet. # 4 (10.2008)
bullet. # 3 (11.2006)
bullet. # 2 (7.2006)
bullet. # 1 (4.2006)

 

issue #6 (4.2010)


Contents

bullet. Retrospectives
bullet. The Big Circus
bullet. Festivals with Alexis
bullet. Then and Now
bullet. Indonesia
bullet. Cem Mil Cigarros
bullet. Apichatpong
bullet. On Film Festivals
bullet. Assayas/Debord
bullet. Ethics of Criticism
bullet. Metropolis Found
bullet. Targets
bullet. Gomorra
bullet. Distant
bullet. The Limits of Control