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The Bootleg Files: MetropolisRemix

BOOTLEG FILES 702: “MetropolisRemix” (a new riff on the silent classic).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO:
None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: An unapologetic case of copyright infringement that will not be allowed into commercial release.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE:
Not likely.

In 1984, music composer and producer Giorgio Moroder unveiled his restoration of the 1927 Fritz Lang silent masterpiece “Metropolis.” Film preservationists were aghast at the liberties that Moroder took – color tinting and isolated color effects within monochromatic scenes, a faster frame projection, subtitles in the place of intertitles and a new rock score that didn’t quite match the vibe of the classic production. However, audiences were mostly appreciative of this endeavor, and for a generation of moviegoers this marked the first time they experienced a silent film in a theatrical venue.

At the time, Moroder’s version was the most complete version of “Metropolis,” which had been butchered in the editing process over the years. (Moroder inserted still photographs into sections where segments were long lost.) The 2008 discovery in Argentina of a 16mm version of the original uncut “Metropolis” made the Moroder version obsolete, and in 2010 Kino Lorber released “The Complete Metropolis” on DVD and Blu-ray, with the original 1926 score created by Gottfried Huppertz added to the soundtrack to enhance the viewing experience.

One might imagine that there would be no further tinkering with “Metropolis,” but in 2017 something called “MetropolisRemix” turned up on YouTube. This was “The Complete Metropolis” with the intertitles removed, a new score added and dialogue dubbed on the soundtrack. That version generated approximately 27,000 views and mostly positive comments from YouTube viewers.

On September 21, “MetropolisRemix” was re-released, this time adding colorization to the black-and-white film. When judged against this new version, Moroder restoration looks like the model of artistic fidelity.

To be charitable, the newly colorized version of “MetropolisRemix” is the most recklessly bad idea for a film since “All This and World War II,” the infamous 1976 nonsense that united Second World War newsreel footage with mostly unsatisfactory cover versions of Beatles music. By twisting a black-and-white silent film into a color film with spoken dialogue, “MetropolisRemix” tramples over an aesthetic vision from a distant era and tries to punch it up into something that would appeal to today’s digital culture.

Much of the problem involves the poverty of the soundtrack. Every sound is magnified a thousand-fold: the opening of a door, the closing of a gate, the clump of footsteps blares at ridiculously elevated levels. This is the noisiest silent film ever offered.

As for the colorization, in fairness it should be noted that the digital hues were done tastefully and did not look like the Earl Scheib-quality paint jobs that Ted Turner splashed on the old flicks. In “MetropolisRemix,” the colors are closer in quality to the soft two-color Technicolor process used in the 1920s and early 1930s – if Lang had made the film in color, it might have resembled this. But there is a downside: adding color to the picture emphasizes some of the garish visual touches that were not so obvious in the black-and-white version, most notably the heavy make-up worn by Gustav Fröhlich’s Freder (he looks like a drag queen in this version, with ruby-red lips and a Kardashian’s quantity of eye shadow). The color also calls attention to many of the stylized sets, albeit for the wrong reasons: what seemed stark and utilitarian in monochrome looks fake and cheesy when colors are splashed on.

And the vocal dubbing? Well, it seems the inspiration for “MetropolisRemix” was the dubbed imports that American International Pictures used to dump in grindhouses and drive-ins during the 1960s: voices that don’t match the actors’ appearances, let alone their lip movements, and seem to come out of another movie experience. Sometimes the effect is painful – particularly the emotionless line readings when Freder seems crucified by the giant clock-like machine he is operating – but often it is unintentionally funny, especially the “Hogan’s Heroes”-level German accent given to the mad Rotwang.

Ultimately, the tinkering on “MetropolisRemix” doesn’t destroy the film. But, at the same time, it doesn’t improve it. To their credit, the creators of this endeavor – Garrett Guynn and Andrew John Holt – acknowledge their effort is a “fan modernization.” But, at the same time, Guynn and Holt claim their work “contains samples” from the Kino Lorber release, when it actually rips off the full presentation. Music from “The Matrix” and “Legacy” are also “sampled” for the score.

This new “MetropolisRemix” accumulated more than 34,000 views on YouTube within four days from its posting, which is admirable considering its popularity is strictly word of mouth. But in this case, word of mouth is doing fans of “Metropolis” a disservice. After all, silent movies are a distinctive art form of a bygone era and grafting unnecessary improvements to these treasures is an act of defacement and not a tribute.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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