If Fritz Lang’s Iconic Film Metropolis Had a Kraftwerk Soundtrack

The case of the copy­right his­to­ry of Fritz Lang’s influ­en­tial sci-fi mas­ter­piece Metrop­o­lis is as con­vo­lut­ed as the his­to­ry of its film print. Lang’s vision, and his orig­i­nal almost-three-hour cut was doomed to cen­sor­ship right from the start. The Nazis took out its more social­ist scenes. It’s been edit­ed, col­orized, put back togeth­er and restored. Wikipedia cur­rent­ly lists nine dif­fer­ent ver­sions. Sim­i­lar­ly, who owns the film had shift­ed from dis­trib­u­tors back to pub­lic domain, then *out* of pub­lic domain the more orig­i­nal footage was redis­cov­ered. And then comes 2023, where Metrop­o­lis will once again land in the pub­lic domain, at least in Amer­i­ca. Will we see as many legal bat­tles as we will see new remix­es and re-scores? Prob­a­bly a bit of both.

Its orig­i­nal orches­tral score is avail­able, but many fans also seek out a score more befit­ting its futur­ist ori­gins. Some­thing more elec­tron­ic.

In fact, the four-minute clip above is YouTu­ber “Kar­maGer­many’s” 2009 fan-made edit using the music of Kraftwerk. If any band of the late 20th cen­tu­ry was born to be paired with Lang’s tech­no­log­i­cal vision, it’s the Fab Four from Düs­sel­dorf. Their icy roman­tic melodies strike the right bal­ance between Metrop­o­lis’ bat­tle, then syn­the­sis, of machin­ery and the human heart. And, look Kraftwerk even cre­at­ed a song called “Metrop­o­lis,” which becomes the actu­al score above. 

Like watch­ing the Wiz­ard of Oz while Dark Side of the Moon plays, Kraftwerk’s “Metrop­o­lis” seems writ­ten for the film, with its open­ing fan­fare over the shots of the future city wak­ing up, then how it switch­es to its motorik beat as the work­ers begin their alien­at­ing fac­to­ry day. (We haven’t done a side-by-side of the extant cut of the film, so there very well may be some edit­ing at play here.)

Now, while this is just a fan’s very well made use of the band’s full cat­a­log (it dives back into the band’s spaci­er ear­ly work for the films more ten­der moment), oth­ers have gone a more offi­cial route. Kraftwerk con­tem­po­rary and mem­ber of Clus­ter, Dieter Moe­bius record­ed a four-part, 40-minute suite Musik für Metrop­o­lis. It was released posthu­mous­ly in 2015, and it is one of his spook­i­er works.

Pri­or to that, tech­no DJ and com­pos­er Jeff Mills (no rela­tion) com­posed an hour-long score in 2000 that also had its own accom­pa­ny­ing edit, and mar­ried his career in both ambi­ent and futur­is­tic elec­tron­ic beats.

If the Kraftwerk re-edit whets your tech­no whis­tle, that clip was just the open­ing scene of the 90-minute fan edit from John McWilliam. His notes: “Orig­i­nal­ly two and a half hours long it has been reduced down to one hour 23 min­utes to pace it up includ­ing remov­ing the sub­ti­tle cards between shots and plac­ing them over [the] pic­ture instead.”

The last instruc­tion from McWilliam could apply to what­ev­er score you choose, as long as it’s for Metrop­o­lis: “Best watched on a big-ass TV hooked up to a big-booty sound sys­tem.”

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Kraftwerk’s First Con­cert: The Begin­ning of the End­less­ly Influ­en­tial Band (1970)

The Case for Why Kraftwerk May Be the Most Influ­en­tial Band Since the Bea­t­les

Watch Metrop­o­lis’ Cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly Inno­v­a­tive Dance Scene, Restored as Fritz Lang Intend­ed It to Be Seen (1927)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (5)
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  • Michael Bowe says:

    This is a bril­liant idea. I hat­ed the rock sound­track that accom­pa­nied the col­orized print that was released back in the 80’s. For­tu­nate­ly I was able to see it at the TLA in Philly and they had this old guy who had actu­al­ly been a movie accom­pa­nist dur­ing the silent era play piano live with the sound­track mut­ed. It was great!

  • Peter Verkaik says:

    How was queen allowed to use parts of this world for radio gaga ?

  • Yossarian22 says:

    I did this very thing 30 years ago using Kraftwerk, Ralf und Flo­ri­an, and Tan­ger­ine Dream.

  • Ben Frawley says:

    Gior­gio Moroders ver­sion did a great job at rekin­dling inter­est in such an old film. I still lis­ten to that sound track and love it.

  • Ben Frawley says:

    Because the film was out copy­right.

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