METROPOLIS IS THE SORT OF MOVIE that makes filmmakers feel like garbage. I know I'd be sad if I spent all that time in film school, plumbing the depths of my imagination to come up with a single shot or set-piece that justified the money invested, only to watch Fritz Lang invent 75 percent of the modern sci-fi genre in one whack, with a film so visually hypnotizing that almost 100 years after its release, people are still searching the globe for every last frame Lang shot.
The Complete Metropolis, as the version playing this week in Portland is billed, is a bit of a misnomer—thanks to bits of film lost to time and poor storage technology, there are still missing scenes and interstitials explaining plot chunks. But after a 16mm copy of the film was found in Argentina, containing a full half-hour of footage that nobody thought existed, this is the closest the world has come to seeing Metropolis the way it was intended to be seen since 1927. Sure, there are versions of Lang's cautionary tale about unchecked capitalism that exist on video that attempt to make up for the film's missing reels by careful mood-tinting of the black-and-white hues or added synth-rock soundtracks—but the version screening at Cinema 21 not only features entire restored subplots, but a beautiful rerecording of the original score.
Years after making Metropolis, Lang admitted he didn't much like the story in his magnum opus, and admittedly, the mind will wander as it plays—most likely running down a checklist of the hundreds of landmark sci-fi films that have since ripped Metropolis off.
The restoration doesn't mean the film looks brand new, either. Hundreds of hunched-over nerds diligently scrubbed the dirt from their digital captures, but there's only so much 83-year-old image they could repair. The effort is worth it, though: The film is an exercise in sheer imagination, and the imagery flickers and jitters across the screen like the flame of tattered genius burning behind Lang's eyes.