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September 2010

'Metropolis,' Lost and Found

Kino International

One of the primary functions of the British Film Institute is the preservation of the BFI National Archive, the world's largest collection of film and television. Acting upon this remit, the BFI recently identified a body of work from one of Britain's most respected directors, Alfred Hitchcock, which is in desperate need of restoration and preservation. Rescue the Hitchcock 9 is designed to raise funding to support the preservation of Hitchcock's surviving silent films, including his debut feature "The Pleasure Garden" (1925), "The Manxman" (1929) and "Blackmail" (1929), a landmark feature that ran as a silent film but also as one of Europe's first talkies. In the digital age, film has a medium that can guarantee the survival of such cinematic gems for all time, and as such the importance of such preservation projects cannot be understated. The success of such initiatives, while a boon for the film industry, will inevitably put paid to the romance of rediscovering lost films, such as the remarkable story of the recent discovery of a definitive copy of Fritz Lang's dystopian classic "Metropolis" in the archives of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires in 2008.

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A Future Rediscovered

Metropolis (1927)

Kino International

"Metropolis," a German film made in 1927, was as groundbreaking in its time with its special effects as "Titanic" was in 1998. Although originally a flop at the box office, through the years "Metropolis" has grown in stature until it is now considered one of the most important and influential movies ever made, as much of a game-changer as "The Godfather" or "The Matrix." In fact, it's now impossible to see the movie with fresh eyes, as its imagery and ideas have been adapted, borrowed or outright stolen for countless films since then. For instance, there is the layered neon city of "Blade Runner," C-3PO, "Star Trek's" transporter beams, Nicole Kidman's first sequence in "Moulin Rouge!" – on second thought most 1920s nightclub sequences, the creation scenes in "The Fifth Element" and "Young Frankenstein," and any factories where nameless workers scurry underneath steaming behemoth machines. Another audience member even said of the lead actress, Brigitte Helm, “She looked just like Kate Bush” – which rather wonderfully missed the point.

"Metropolis" was edited down for length after its disastrous premiere, and the missing footage was long thought irredeemably lost. Its undeniable power meant it achieved its influence despite being a bit of a mess. Then in 2008 someone went through old film reels in an Argentinean museum. Nearly 30 minutes of missing footage, key to understanding some of the intricacies of the plot, have been restored and the re-release is to celebrate this fact. For the first time, we are able to see the movie almost as director Fritz Lang intended, and this is as close as we are ever likely to get to the film as it originally premiered.

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Going Out on a Limb

127 Hours (2010)

Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight Pictures

With “Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle finally broke his streak of hyperkinetic movies that ultimately left the audiences cold. But following his Oscar triumph, that nagging problem threatens to rear its ugly head once more in the big-screen adaptation of rock-climber Aron Ralston’s memoir “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” Starring James Franco, “127 Hours” retells Mr. Ralston’s harrowing ordeal of having his right arm pinned between a fallen boulder and a canyon wall at the Blue John Canyon in Utah, an experience that would end in self-amputation.

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Yo Quiero Taco Hell

Machete (2010)

Joaquin Avellán/20th Century Fox

As a two-minute “fake” trailer accompanying the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino opus “Grindhouse,” “Machete” had its charms. But just as many such high concepts, it suffers from “Saturday Night Live” syndrome, petering out when elongated to feature length. Mr. Rodriguez’s love for Mexploitation reverberates throughout the picture, but the sense of spontaneous, over-the-top joy that abounds in the better recent B-movie “Piranha 3D” is conspicuously absent.

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