Reading Comics and Watching Metropolis

by John Holbo on July 29, 2008

My friend Doug Wolk just won an Eisner for best comics-related book for Reading Comics. And, I might add, we’ve been hosting a little book event in his honor over at the Valve the last couple weeks. Kip Manley just write a very nice little essay, for example.

In other news, somehow I missed the news a few weeks ago that long-lost footage from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis had turned up in Buenos Aires. That’s almost as good as when they found a nice print of Dreier’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) in a Norwegian insane asylum, eh?

Although the new material is in a terrible condition, according to the first appraisals by the German film historians, including Rainer Rother, the director of the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum in Berlin, the newly discovered scenes give a surprising insight into the characters’ motivation. They finally give “Metropolis” a coherent story-telling rhythm, whose absence was often criticized. For example, characters who were practically extras in the shorter version, such as the spy Schmale or Josaphat, Freder’s friend, actually had significant supporting roles and the original dramaturgical concept, which before could only be reconstructed using textual sources and photographs, is now apparent on film for the first time since 1927.

I don’t think we even knew the spy Schmale’s name. He’s always just been ‘the thin man’, right? And he’s onscreen for all of 3 seconds, looking very tall and sinister. I’m looking forward to seeing a bit more. Here’s a YouTube video that includes tidbits of the new stuff, starting with Schmale, I presume, peeking over a Metropolis newspaper:

And, in other German typeface-related news, we are finally going to get to see the lost Yoshiwara district scene.



Tiny Hermaphrodite 07.29.08 at 8:28 pm

No John, ‘Der Schmale’ means ‘The Thin Man’ in German. It’s a (slight) translation error.


bill benzon 07.29.08 at 8:40 pm

More on Metropolis at David Bordwell’s site:


christian h. 07.29.08 at 9:43 pm

Ahem. “Thin Man” is simply a translation for “Schmale”, “schmal” being an adjective meaning “thin” or “narrow”.


Grand Moff Texan 07.29.08 at 9:55 pm

Now, if we could just find that swim scene with Heddy Lamar …


John Holbo 07.29.08 at 10:48 pm

Oh, sorry. I do know what ‘Schmale’ means. I just thought we were discovering he was actually named ‘Mr. Thin’.


christian h. 07.29.08 at 11:21 pm

Yeah, that seems likely, as he’s called “Schmale” not “der Schmale”.


Tiny Hermaphrodite 07.29.08 at 11:54 pm

As I said it’s a translation error. Here is the original german article. Search for “des Schmalen”.


novakant 07.30.08 at 12:41 am

Metropolis was one of those films I immediately thought was utter rubbish (cool VFX though), but felt compelled to find at least worthy – was I glad when I found out that Lang himself didn’t like it either (Bogdanovich interview). M is awesome, though.


John Holbo 07.30.08 at 2:19 am

Thanks for the correction, Tiny. Yes, that seems right.

novakant. Yes, but it’s a GOOD bad film.


JJO 07.30.08 at 3:29 pm

#4: That’s Hedley!

Oh, wait … different movie.


astrongmaybe 07.30.08 at 3:49 pm

Novakant, am with you on the relative merits of Metropolis and M. It’s worth checking out Spione (1928) too – it’s been recently transformed by archival discoveries and a stunning restoration job by the Murnau foundation. If you’re into the close-up grotesquerie (“Red! Green! Red! Green!”) in M, there’s tons more of that there.

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