It didn’t take long after the invention of cinema for its sheer power of spectacle to become clear. Arguably, it was apparent even in the pioneering work of the Lumière brothers, though they attempted only to capture images familiar from everyday life at the time. But in a decade or two emerged auteurs like Fritz Lang, who, having grown up with cinema itself, possessed highly developed instincts for how to use it to captivate large and various audiences. Released in 1927, Lang’s Metropolis showed moviegoers an elaborate vision, both fearsome and alluring, of the industrial dystopia that could lay ahead. But it also had dancing girls!
Or rather, it had a dancing girl who’s actually a robot — a Maschinenmensch, according to the script — built by the film’s villain in an attempt to besmirch the heroine who would liberate the titular city’s downtrodden workers. (Both the real woman and her mechanical impersonator are skillfully played by Brigitte Helm.)
In the video above, you can see the scandalous and cinematically innovative spectacle-within-a-spectacle that is Metropolis‘ dance scene colorized, upscaled to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, and newly soundtracked with a track called “Lemme See About It” by Max McFerren. This is recognizably Metropolis, but it’s also a Metropolis none of us has ever seen before.
The production also combines visual material from different versions of the film, quite a few of which have been edited and re-edited, lost and recovered over nearly the past century. (The running times of the officially released cuts alone range from 83 to 153 minutes.) Certain differences in quality between one shot and the next make this obvious, though the consistency of the overall colorization eases the sudden transitions between them. A Metropolis fan couldn’t help but feel some curiosity about how the whole picture would play with all of these enhancements, not that it would resemble anything Lang could originally have envisioned. But then, no single cut exists that definitively reflects his intentions — and besides, he’d surely approve of how the film’s dance sequence has been made to captivate us once again.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.