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Film Comment + Lang Restored: “Metropolis” and “Die Nibelungen”

The Auteurs Daily

"[J]ust as there are two Marias, so there have long been two Metropolises," writes Chris Fujiwara in the new issue of Film Comment. "For years now the false Metropolis has been running amok, courting charges of proto-Nazism, furnishing video backdrops for nightclubs, and fueling predictable academic studies (put a cyborg in a futuristic city as seen from Weimar Germany and you have the PhD motherlode). The Lang film had been mutilated in so many ways that its creator insisted that it had ceased to exist. But it turns out that Lang's Metropolis survived after all, locked away all this time (as the true Maria is locked up for part of the film). With the new restoration that premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February and that will come out on DVD later this year after a rep-house tour, Lang's work has finally re-emerged: in many respects a new film, neither smothered by overfamiliarity nor butchered by cutting."

The Complete Metropolis opens at New York's Film Forum on Friday for a two-week run and among the many telling the story of the restoration is Larry Rohter in today's New York Times: "So an 80-year quest that ranged over three continents seems finally to be over, thanks in large part to the curiosity and perseverance of one man, an Argentine film archivist named Fernando Peña." See also: Kaleem Aftab (Independent), Mark Asch (L), David Bordwell, AJ Goldmann (Wall Street Journal), Danny Leigh (Guardian), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) and Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York).

You'll find Lang on either coast this weekend. Just three years before the premiere of Metropolis (1927), he completed his spectacular adaptation of Die Nibelungenleid, an epic saga written in four-line stanzas dating back to the 12th or 13th century. LACMA will be screening Part 1, Siegfried, on Friday and Part 2, Kriemhild's Revenge, on Saturday.

For her screenplay, Thea von Harbou drew on the original poem but also on Friedrich Hebbel's 19th century play and, of course, Wagner's Ring cycle, currently being performed by the LA Opera. What's more, the exhibition Myths, Legends, and Cultural Renewal: Wagner's Sources is on view at LACMA through August 16.

Die Nibelungen was the first film to draw serious attention to Lang in the US; unfortunately, Goebbels and Hitler were pretty taken with it, too. In his biography of Lang, Patrick McGilligan quotes from an interview the director gave to the Village Voice in 1976: "When I made my films, I always followed my imagination. By making the Siegfried legend into a film, I wanted to show that Germany was searching for an ideal in her past, even during the horrible time after the First World War in which the picture was made. To counteract the pessimistic spirit of the time, I wanted to film the great legend of Siegfried so that Germany could draw inspiration from her epic past, and not, as [Siegfried] Kracauer suggests, as a looking-forward to the rise of a political figure like Hitler or something stupid of that sort. I was dealing with Germany's legendary heritage — just as in Metropolis, I was looking at Germany in the future."

Just over a week ago now, a newly restored version of Die Nibelungen, completed (as with Metropolis) by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, saw its premiere at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin (which has just wrapped its big roll-out of the Ring cycle). The papers raved: Jürgen Otten (Frankfurter Rundschau), Hanns-Georg Rodek (Die Welt), Christine Tilmann (Der Tagesspiegel) and Peter Uehling (Berliner Zeitung). Let's hope for a stateside tour and another DVD release.



Back to the May/June issue. First and foremost, the avant-garde poll, three lists constituting a "tabulation of the number of mentions a given film or filmmaker received in poll responses from a 46-strong group of critics, programmers, and teachers" — best films and videos of the decade, the top 50 filmmakers and "25 Filmmakers for the 21st Century." And there's another poll: "The Best Very, Very Long Films." #1: Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore.

For Roger Smith, Nikki Finke represents "a case study in the Internet's extreme degrading effects on journalism."

Andrew Sarris: "In the total context of Polanski's hard life and grim ordeals, and admittedly errant behavior, The Ghost Writer constitutes a miracle of artistic and psychological resilience."

Chris Chang calls for a distributor for Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay, looks back on the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival and revisits the making of Andy Warhol's Lonesome Cowboys.

Jesse P Finnegan recommends Lynne Sachs interactive exhibition Abecedarium: NYC and Dennis Harvey reviews Jack Stevenson's Scandinavian Blue: The Erotic Cinema of Sweden and Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s (see, too, Christoph Huber's piece here in The Notebook).

Plus: Irina Leimbacher on Laura Poitras's The Oath, Chuck Stephens on Fassbinder's World on a Wire, Amy Taubin on Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers, Nicolas Rapold on Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love, Andrew Chan on Neil Jordan's Ondine and six short reviews.



The Marfa Film Festival runs through Sunday. That's in Texas, of course, way out west, where There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men were taken out and shot.

Starting today, "in the afterglow of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, we'll have a 2-week run of 11 of the films you may have missed at the Festival or On Demand," announces Tribeca Cinemas, and the New York Times is running reviews of the first batch today.

AO Scott on Julien Nitzberg's The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia: "Its governing spirit, captured in the raucous music that punctuates the story (including songs performed live by Hank Williams III), is one of outlaw celebration." Also, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is "a dutiful and admiring film about Ian Dury, one of the more eccentric stars of British punk rock. The film, directed by Mat Whitecross and written by Paul Viragh, hits the usual narrative marks: childhood trauma, artistic struggle and triumph, family upheaval and substance abuse. Its flashes of style are sometimes lively but more often seem, like the slavish period décor, to be desperate attempts to overcome the built-in inertia of the genre."

Neil Genzlinger on The Infidel: "Omid Djalili has a fine time playing Mahmud, a moderate Muslim in England who discovers while cleaning out his recently deceased mother's house that he was adopted and was born to Jewish parents."

"The typical American high school comedy is more concerned with sex than with socialism, but leave it to Canada to reverse that balance," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "In The Trotsky, a study of teenage dementia set in Montreal, a privileged 17-year-old named Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel) is convinced he's the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky."

Also opening in New York but not at Tribeca Cinemas is Talentime, the last film Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad completed before her death last year. Neil Genzlinger senses "a collision of tones that leaves the film feeling unfocused." And Rachel Saltz finds that Dev Benegal's Road, Movie "rambles along amiably and predictably enough, stopping now and again to glory in the 'magic of cinema.'"



"In her new memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, [Pam] Grier, 60, revisits a career that took off in the early 1970s when she became blaxploitation cinema's first female action hero," writes Felicia R Lee in the NYT. "She sprang to prominence again in Quentin Tarantino's 1997 film, Jackie Brown, and she popped up in the 21st century in the groundbreaking Showtime television series The L Word, about the lives of lesbians. Foxy, however, reveals a darker personal life, including, for the first time, the details of her sexual assault at 6. It also recounts the diagnosis of cervical cancer Ms Grier received in her late 30s and the untimely deaths and suicides of family members and friends. There is space, too, for her romances with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who wanted her to convert to Islam), Freddie Prinze (who battled drugs and wanted her to have his baby) and Richard Pryor (who thought she could help save him from drugs)." The Takeaway runs an excerpt.

"Peter O'Donnell, creator of seductive crime fighter Modesty Blaise, died at the weekend aged 90," reports Alison Flood in the Guardian.

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