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.”
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.