Forget the Iron Curtain: Berlin Film Festival Raises Recycled Curtain on Metropolis

60th Berlinale 2010 opens with restoration of Metropolis image

Image: Metropolis, Original Film Poster, UFA

Do you know which film inspired C-3PO in Star Wars? Or gave Superman's home its name? It is Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Lang produced his epic silent film in the brief period of stability and astounding intellectual productivity between the two world wars known as the Weimar Culture. With a budget equivalent to over $200 million in modern currency, Metropolis was the mega-blockbuster of 1927. But the film was too long for audiences and underwent a series of cuts and edits shortly after its original Berlin opening.

Film historians gave up on ever restoring the film to its original condition, as missing bits simply could not be found. Nonetheless, the film was the first ever to be recognized in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" register. Now it will open the Berlinale Film Festival next week--in its full, original version. To properly frame the significance of the event, Berlinale directors turned to American designer Christina Kim, renowned for selling eco- and human-friendly couture under the brand name dosa. The story of the recovery of Lang's film, and the details of the recycled art project grand enough to pull back the curtain on it, are as provocative and fascinating as the city which will once again premier the original cut of Metropolis.

60th Berlinale 2010 Opening The Curtain photo

Images: Vorhang Auf -- The Curtain, Berlinale

In an attempt to capture all the magic and power of cinema in a single installation, artist Christina Kim (image) will recycle old film festival billboards, film footage, dvds, and other film-related materials -- interweaving them into a huge curtain which will be raised for the showing of Metropolis at the Brandenburg gate. Kim -- whose fashion-followers reportedly include Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, and Nicole Kidman -- has worked around the world developing organic textiles and creating economic opportunities for indigenous design.

In the tradition of Berlin, the curtain will be drawn back in front of the "fan mile" along one of Berlin's main boulevards, so that visitors from around the globe can join the fun of the star-studded event at the Friedrichstadtpalast Theater. The gala premier, accompanied by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin playing the original score live, will be broadcast to a huge screen at the Brandenburg gate, the symbolic dividing point of the former East and West Berlin.

Where once the Iron Curtain cast its long shadow, 60 years of cultural progress will give testament to the power of creativity to survive adversity. The survival and restoration of Lang's original cut will echo that incredible message.

The missing footage certainly contributed to the mystique of Metropolis, keeping alive an irrepressible urge to recover the original. This living legend probably contributed to the discovery of a 210-minute 16 mm reduction negative of the original cut of the film in the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The museum curator and the director of the film department of the Museum of Latin American Art naturally thought of these missing scenes upon hearing an anecdote from a cinema club manager who remarked on the unusual length of the film. The footage was found buried in the archives and turned over to experts, who verified the authenticity of the find.

Metropolis developed remarkable advances in special effects, including the use of mirrors carefully crafted to make actors appear as if they have been placed inside miniature sets. The design and visuals in Metropolis continue to influence modern film-makers as well as graphic novelist. A couple examples:

  • The special effects supervisor in Blade Runner used stills from Metropolis when lining up shots.
  • The climactic cathedral scene in Tim Burton's Batman parallel the cathedral scene in Metropolis.
  • Scenes from Metropolis influenced DC Comic's All-Star Squadron, Alan Moore's graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, and Japanese manga artist Osamu Tezuka's eponymous novel and anime film.

The return of Metropolis to the world stage at the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Berlinale will certainly weave itself into the fascinating tapestry of the history of this reunited city. Behind the scenes, Christina Kim is working to make certain that the upcycled fragments of film history woven into The Curtain will continue to serve a useful purpose after the festival. Various options are under discussion to give her artwork a life after Berlinale.

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Sundance Film Fest 2010 Debuts New Hot Eco-Docs
Green Film Festival Hits Toronto: Planet in Focus
Environmental Film Festival Underway in DC
Tokyo International Film Festival Going Green

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