For film fans of a certain age (myself included), Giorgio Moroder’s demented mash-up of Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece was their first experience of seeing the film. It’s strange in hindsight that the first silent movie I saw was sped-up, colour-tinted and set to a ‘pulsating’ (big term back in the day, trust) pop-electro-rock score but that was the 1980s. Strange times.
I knew the film’s reputation but was completely unaware as to how this new version had come about. Music maestro Moroder had undertaken the herculean task of personally restoring a film that, at the time, was only available in compromised versions of varying quality (and then only in libraries and through film societies). This was a personal crusade at some cost to the producer. Surely this would earn him much kudos, particularly from the critical establishment?
Moroder’s dream project came with some major embellishments of his own – his composite had new inter-titles replacing the standard title cards, text layered over various scenes (taken from both the original script and various prints). It also had tinted sequences, and some rudimentary digital FX. For many, this project was more aberration than salvation.
And then there was the score. Along with his own instrumental compositions, Moroder chose to pepper the new version with pop songs co-written with regular collaborator Pete Bellotte and performed by Freddie Mercury, Pat Benatar and – clearly the logical complement to any dystopian futurist masterpiece – Bonnie Tyler.
So the 1984 Metropolis sounded very much in tune with the era Moroder himself had helped define – driving synth-led beats, alternately warm and cool, with soaring crescendos and mighty hooks. This was four years after American Gigolo (with its masterful blend of bubbling electronica and the Blondie smash Call Me) a year after Scarface and just before Moroder would oversee the biggest-selling soundtrack of the ’80s – Top Gun.
Typical the purists of the day went nuts. But now, with the many restored versions of Lang’s work readily available, it’s time to look again at Moroder’s vision. This is a project which now seems both fabulous and naff. Ironically this version is absolutely frozen in time and manages to simultaneously heighten and diminish its source material.
Inspired by the restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon undertaken by Coppola’s Zoetrope studio, this was a sincere attempt to bring together something that closely resembled Lang’s original vision, albeit with the producer’s own flourishes. You have to respect the endeavour. Aesthetics aside, there is a very solid argument in Moroder’s favour that this undertaking inspired the further work of German film historian (and his collaborator on this project) Enno Patalas. Patalas went on to work on the restoration of many great silent classics, including the eventual, complete Metropolis and Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.
Although in hindsight maybe this was out of fear that Giorgio was going to get Nik Kershaw and Heart to do the score for Potemkin.
So, is the METROPOLIS PARTY MIX a classic case of a fan killing the thing they love? Ultimately, if you consider how the overall result turns out so ridiculously camp, yes. There is a sincere attempt to integrate the ’80s sonics to the futurist ’20s visuals, albeit with mixed success.
It must be said that in terms of integration, Moroder’s electronic analogue suites (similar to his work on Schrader’s Cat People) fit the visuals an awful lot better than some of the tunes (Pat Benatar’s ‘Here’s My Heart’ is excruciatingly over-used), but there is an undeniable charge to the overall experience, perhaps because the songs are so rigidly wedded to their time. Moroder spent three years getting the restoration together; some of these tracks sound like they were cooked up in three minutes.
It’s a fascinating aberration. The sped-up/slow-down technique is ungainly and the quiet majesty of Lang’s epic, awe-inspiring future visions are chopped up over a brisk 80 minutes. This is basically THE HITMAN AND FRITZ, Moroder whisking the German expressionist maestro through time, depositing him in a terrible Wigan nightclub for 80 minutes until he’s sick on himself and gets in to a fight over a kebab.
And yet there are some truly epic moments, where Moroder’s synthesis reaps gold. Some of the tracks are staggeringly awful (Loverboy, ugh) but others have a clean, epic sweep that complements Lang’s simple, powerful fable remarkably well. There’s something dreadfully cut n’ paste about many of the match-ups (music fading or cutting away abruptly before certain scenes end) but the moment of Maria’s creation, set to Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Here She Comes Again’, still crackles with vibrant, freaky energy.
It’s at these times when you briefly think “OK, this is genius, why can’t we set all silent classics to ’80s music? Now bring me Murnau’s Sunrise and a copy of NOW 5!” Then, in the clunkier, less synchronised moments, the ugly sequencing and over-determined music cues summon forth the spectre (and demonic floppy ears) of Jive Bunny.
Kudos again to those Masters of Cinema for getting this cult favourite out there. Though it must be said that, visually, anyone expecting something comparable to the 2008 restoration will be seriously underwhelmed. There’s nothing wrong with MoCs remastering, but remember the original material is still a bit shonky. The 5.1 score is a bonus or a curse depending on your taste for the songs. The one extra is an 18-minute vintage documentary ‘The Fading Image’, which is noteworthy for two things: giving a wealth of info about the silent film restoration process and having the fastest delivered voiceover on a documentary I have ever heard. Maybe Moroder sped this up too for giggles? It sounds mildly digitised. Either way, it manages to be both informative and hilarious.
A fabulous folly, Moroder’s Metropolis can now be seen as that most ’80s of tributes – the remix. As with any cover version, the peerless original is always there, and please god do see it first of you haven’t (though dare I say this one is more fun?) An endearing curio with moments of mad genius, whose time for true appreciation seems to have finally arrived.