Thomas Elsaesser, Metropolis (Britisch Film Institute, 2012) 112pp.

book cover Metropolis is a monumental work. On its release in 1925, after sixteen months' filming, it was Germany's most expensive feature film, a canvas for director Fritz Lang's increasingly extravagant ambitions. Lang, inspired by the skyline of New York, created a whole new vision of cities. One of the greatest works of science fiction, the film also tells human stories about love and family. Thomas Elsaesser explores the cultural phenomenon of Metropolis: its different versions (there is no definitive one), its changing meanings, and its role as a database of twentieth-century imagery and ideologies.

In his foreword to this special edition, published to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the BFI Film Classics series, Elsaesser discusses the impact of the 27 minutes of 'lost' footage discovered in Buenos Aires in 2008, and incorporated in a restored edition, which premiered in 2010.


“Thomas Elsaesser is one of the most important film theorists of the last three decades, specialising in early and German cinema. His study of Fritz Lang's controversial masterpiece 'Metropolis' is exemplary, covering the production history, the films' many sources, the extraordinary Weimar culture from which it emerged, the original (largely negative) critical reception, the subsequent(even more negative) ideological interpretations that followed World War Two, and the film's current status as a post-modern classic of the city.

Elsaesser's clarity is all the more gratifying in that 'Metropolis', more than any other film, has been entangled in so many conflicting debates that the film itself tends to get lost; and exists in so many different cut versions that an 'original', director's version doesn't even exist. As fact gives way to theory in the second half, the study is a bit harder going, but Elsaesser is to be congratulated for showing how Giorgio Moroder, with his notorious 80s revamping of the film, 'revealed' it as much as he distorted it.”

“This was a terrific book. The author had a whale of a challenge on his hands, since, as he points out, Metropolis has been cut and recut many times since it premiered in Jan. 1927. In the book, he explains the difference between the different versions and also traces how critical response to the film has changed over the years. Finally, he also points out the many movies and videos that have "borrowed" from Metropolis since the 1980s.

The result, to me, was to show Metropolis as not a stuffed classic but a film that is always changing, always spinning off new interpretations, and generating imitators.”

“Metropolis is a work that seems to renew and remake itself every few years. First, it came out in different versions and different meanings. Is it a story about love lost or about science gone mad? It is fantasy or science fiction? Is it against the Nazis or for them? Was it made as a piece of art or to make money? Thomas Elsaesser explores one of the most amazing movies ever made. Yet also one that can't be pinned down. The meanings change with time and with those who view it.”


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