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March 1995, Week 2


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 10 Mar 1995 12:30:23 CST
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----------------------------Original message----------------------------
     Gene Stavis' comments regarding Moroder's 1984 version of
_Metropolis_ are similar to those of David Smith, in the sense
that they are both basically evaluative (one likes subtitles and
the other doesn't). The underlying disagreement, however, appears
to be an ethical one: Smith argues that Lang's film has been
desecrated, whereas Stavis contends that this adaptation has allowed
the film to reach a wider audience.
     My position is that we are dealing with two different films:
one which almost does not exist anymore (Lang's film was severely
cut over the years), and one which was designed to be a kind of
feature-length music video (cf.Roger Odin's excellent article on
this phenomenon in _Iris_ #8, 1988). Indeed, while subtitles might
be more agreeable to the eye (i.e. more modern) than full-screen
titles, the fact is that these full-screen titles were an integral
part of silent film editing strategies. In other words, remove the
full-screen titles, and you might have jump cuts to deal with.
     In a comparative analysis I did about ten years ago, I found that
while Moroder had added almost five minutes of new footage to the film
(compared with the "standard" MOMA print), he also removed about ten
minutes (not including the titles), spread out over approximately
sixty scenes. So it isn't simply a question of turning the sound off
if you don't like it: _Metropolis_ was re-edited to fit the new
soundtrack (remember, Moroder's a composer).
     I don't see anything wrong with that. What *is* problematic, it
seems to me, is the way in which Moroder tries to justify his tactics
by quoting Lang in the opening titles, where Lang says that he was
never good with sound, or music. Instead of recognizing that he has
created a different film, Moroder passes it off as Lang's work with
a new soundtrack, which is really a kind of misrepresentation.
     There is a different approach to this whole question of reviving
silent classics, one which attempts to take into account the original
context in which the film was produced. A few years ago, the Munich
Film Archives had their restored version of _Metropolis_ tour some
cities in Canada (I don't know if it made it to the States), with a
live orchestral accompaniment of Gottfried Huppertz' original 1926
musical score. The painstaking historical approach practiced by Enno
Patalas and other film archivists has an interest that film historians
can appreciate, even though it might not reach as many people. Moroder
is trying to have it both ways.
     Philippe Mather.
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