Report (6 May 2005) to The New Zealand Film Archive on the nitrate holdings of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (Updated 2011)
The print of Fritz Lang's Metropolis held in the New Zealand Film Archive (NZFA), Wellington, is an original, first generation tinted nitrate positive print dating from the initial March 1928 Australian and New Zealand release of the film by the Australasian company Cinema Art Pictures, local distributor of UFA film. Though the New Zealand print is based in part on the United States version edited by Channing Pollock and released by Paramount (Parufamet) in March 1927, 3 months after the German premiere, it was in fact compiled by UFA in Germany and based on the version prepared for the British market during 1927. The NZFA copy is in good physical condition and substantially complete. It is also a near identical copy to the print held by the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, though possibly with some additional elements. Both the Canberra and Wellington prints are significant in that they contain elements of the film not found in any other surviving prints or negatives of Metropolis, apart from the 2008 South American copy.
In June 2004 I was notified by Ray Edmondson, Emeritus Curator of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, that the New Zealand Film Archive (NZFA), Wellington, held a nitrate copy of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. After contacting the NZFA Client Services Manager, Bronwyn Taylor, to obtain further details, on Monday, 4 April 2005 I visited the Archive in Wellington and, under the supervision of Senior Curator Kurt Otzen, viewed over a light table the 5 reels of Metropolis and associated loose frame clips.
This copy of Metropolis had been acquired from a private collector in 1987. Prior to my inspection the available description was largely based on the physical elements of the film, with no precise information about age or content. I therefore sought to address the following issues during my visit: (1) Age of the nitrate print; (2) Provenance; (3) Condition, and (4) Content. I was also hoping to identify any material within the NZFA print which may be additional to Metropolis holdings in film archives around the world.
Detailed Description of Findings
The 5 nitrate reels of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in the NZFA are first generation, tinted prints on AGFA (German) film stock. This version of Metropolis derives from one of the three UFA Metropolis negatives produced during original filming in Germany between 1925-6. One negative was used to produce Fritz Lang’s 13,701 ft (4189 metres) version which premiered in Berlin on 10 January 1927. A second negative was sent to the United States at the end of 1926 and edited by local playwright Channing Pollock. This version was released in March 1927 and ran over 10,600 ft (3241 metres), though it was further cut at the end of 1927 to 8,039 ft (2,458 metres). A third negative – the so-called export negative – was used to compile a version for the British and foreign markets, including Australia and New Zealand. According to German film archivist Martin Koerber, the NZFA print is derived from the British edition.
The original German export negative was used to produce copies of the fully tinted print which was sent to Australia and New Zealand for distribution by Cinema Art Pictures (UFA) in 1928. Compiled by UFA in Germany, it was inspired by the Pollock edit and the credits specifically name the American playwright. Despite this, the Australasian print of Metropolis differs significantly from Pollock’s edit in both film content and intertitle language. Both the US and Australasian print also differ markedly from Lang’s original cut of January 1927.
The NZFA print is on AGFA stock throughout, with a short, tinted insertion on German Goerz Tenax nitrate film during the Moloch sequence. This latter segment also bears a marking of ‘Eastman Kodak’ along the edge of the film. This is explained by Martin Koerber as follows: “As the Moloch scene is an optical (though partially made in the camera), it is possible that this scene was shot or printed on Kodak and then duplicated onto Goerz stock - or vice versa. Depending on the printer type used, you would print through the margin and thus imprint the edge mark of the first stock onto the second.” The use of AGFA film throughout points to a German origin for the Australasian print.
The NZFA print differs from the Australian NFSA print only in that it contains one or two additional intertitles and some of the shots appear to be longer, suggesting that elements of the Australian print have been cut through use or censorship. In addition, the NZFA print contains a leader bearing a 1942 censorship certificate, stating:
Reg. No. 7184 New Zealand Certified for Approval for Registration Cinematographic Films Act 1928 The film: Metropolis length 9350 feet, registered as a Foreign Quota film, is hereby approved for general exhibition. Dated at Wellington the 29th day of April 1942. W.A.O. Kingsley Censor and Registrar.
This is followed by a J. Arthur Rank leader, pointing to the film’s local re-release in 1942, or at least preparation for re-release at that time. The 1942 material has been attached to the original 1928 release print. Other leaders and end pieces attached to the NZFA print show the logo of Cinema Art Pictures, pointing to the 1928 origin of the print. The quality of the print also indicates a first generation origin.
It is interesting to note that the 1942 New Zealand censorship certificate indicates a length for Metropolis of 9350 feet, which is 1670 feet – or approximately 1 reel - longer than the present copy, which runs for 7680 feet over 5 reels. Both of these are, of course, significantly shorter than Lang's original cut of 13,701 ft.
The NZFA copy of Metropolis derives directly from the German film production company UFA via Cinema Art Pictures, the Australasian distributor. The original Cinema Art Pictures leader attached to two of the NZFA Metropolis reels clearly associate the print with the original 1928 Australian and New Zealand release of the film. It is a first generation tinted print derived from one of the three original UFA negatives and similar to the British release edition. The 1942 censorship certificate attached to the leader of reel 1, and the J. Arthur Rank logo indicates a possible release of the film during that year by the British-based company. The history of the print after this is unknown. The quality of the print would suggest that it has only ever had a limited period of public exhibition and has not been heavily used since 1942. It was subsequently acquired by a private collector and transferred to the NZFA in 1987.
The 5 reels of 35mm nitrate film comprising the NZFA print of Metropolis are substantially in good condition. Most joins are original, with only 2 uses of repair tape noticed over the total extent of the 5 reels. The surface of the film is in good condition, with only minor scratches and other evidences of wear. Very few torn perforations were observed. There was one instance of the film being torn over 4-5 frames and temporarily repaired. Nitrate chemical deterioration was only evident by intermittent spotting, and this was rare amongst the 5 reels. A more detailed examination may reveal more instances of this. The film was substantially complete and in original order, though reel 3 had mistakenly been listed as a separate reel of fragments. The print exhibits evidence of minimal use. The existence of a small number of frame clips with the collection suggests that perhaps a second print was available in New Zealand for general distribution during 1928, and that this print was subsequently destroyed, with only the few frame clips from the most significant scenes kept.
The NZFA print comprises 5 reels of 7658 feet in length. It was inspired by the version of Metropolis prepared by American playwright Channing Pollock, though it is similar in image and intertitle content to the British release print of 1927. As such, the Australasian version includes content not surviving in American or European copies, perhaps due to censorship restrictions e.g. the parade of women in the garden and Maria in the Yoshiwara nightclub. A detailed scene breakdown of the Australian and New Zealand prints of Metropolis is available on request. It should be noted that the NZFA print also appears to contain additional elements to the Australian print, though more detailed study is required to confirm this. There is no doubt that the Australian and New Zealand prints, in combination, represent a substantially complete version of the version of Metropolis as released in Australasia during 1928. The original Cinema Art Pictures leader (logo reproduced above from the print) appears unique to the New Zealand print.
The New Zealand Film Archive copy of Metropolis is an original, first generation tinted nitrate print derived from the original UFA negative and inspired by the Channing Pollock edit. The film stock is AGFA throughout, indicating the German origin of the print. This copy dates from the initial 1928 Australian and New Zealand release by Cinema Art Pictures (UFA). The NZFA version contains elements additional to the American version, though with significant cuts from the original Fritz Lang’s version. The NZFA copy is in good physical condition and substantially complete. It also contains some original lead elements. It is a substantially identical copy to the print held by the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, though possibly with some additional elements. Both the Canberra and Wellington prints are significant in that they contain elements of the film not found in any other surviving prints or negatives of Metropolis. The good, original condition of the NZFA print is also noteworthy.
In 2008 a near complete, degraded second generation print of Metropolis was located in South America. During the subsequent process of preparing a new public release of the film, a number of shots from the New Zealand print were including as they represented the best available copies of this material. At the time a digital copy of the New Zealand film was also received by the author from the German film archivists. The copy ran for approximately 68 minutes and did not include footage of the various leaders.
Site last updated: 5 February 2010