Friday, March 16, 2012

Metropolis (2010 restoration) (live cinema event: RSO Helsinki, Frank Strobel)

DE 1927. PC: Ufa. D: Fritz Lang. 147 min

The 2010 restored version (Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung / Deutsche Kinemathek - Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin), restored by Martin Koerber, Anke Wilkening, and Frank Strobel.

Live cinema concert at Helsinki Music Centre, 16 March 2012 (Finnish premiere of the Gottfried Huppertz music played live, Helsinki premiere of the 2010 restored version of Metropolis).

The movie was projected on 35 mm, and the Finnish subtitles were by Marjukka Eronen.

The Gottfried Huppertz score was conducted by Frank Strobel, who made the arrangement to the 2010 restoration of Metropolis. The Radio Symphony Orchestra of Finland played at the strength of 80 players.

A dream come true: since over 20 years we have tried to convince the decision-makers of the Helsinki concert scene to arrange a Metropolis live concert with the original music, and now it was finally realized, thanks to the RSO Finland and Tuula Sarotie.

I have seen Metropolis with perhaps 15 different music solutions, but ever since I saw Metropolis with the original score in the Metropolis Centenary of the Cinema concert during the 1995 Berlinale at Konzerthaus Berlin: Schauspielhaus am Gendarmenmarkt, Berndt Heller conducting his own 1988 arrangement performed by Filmorchester Babelsberg, it has been the only true Metropolis music for me. A memorable feature of that powerful concert was the experience of "the Metropolis organ". A recurrent, punctuating motif of Metropolis is the image of the factory sirens, and the concurrent sound is from the thundering magnificent organ playing at full blast, making the house rock, letting us feel the pressure of the air, and making the chairs tremble. An effect like in a rock concert, but totally justified in Metropolis, which is about the day of judgement.

My number two favourite music for Metropolis is Die Mensch-Maschine by Kraftwerk (1978), and I find certain passages and solutions in Giorgio Moroder's 1984 Metropolis restoration excellent. I also agree with Moroder that colour is necessary for Metropolis. Certain scenes and images are meant to be tinted and toned.

Hosted by Olli Alho, Strobel talked about Metropolis and its music for 40 minutes before the concert. Strobel reflected on the fact that a traditional late Romantic music style was selected for the futuristic movie, although there were also avantgarde composers available. But he stated that even for today's science fiction films a similar traditional late Romantic style is often selected.

I had seen Strobel conduct the 2010 restoration of Metropolis in Bologna, and I found the experience the best ever of Metropolis for me.

This RSO performance at Helsinki Music Centre was musically even better. A great concert hall is the ideal place for music (the Bologna performance was at the city square). Strobel arranged the music and participated in the restoration based on the 1028 synchronization points of the original score. Now he told that he has as many as 2000 synchronization points in the arrangement. The image and the music fit perfectly and powerfully. Minor comments: 100 players would be justified for the great crescendo and climax effects. There is for the moment no real organ at the Helsinki Music Centre, and the substitute solution failed to create the awesome, thundering impact needed. The Metropolis score has a great dynamic range, and everything else worked like in a dream.

The music critic Lauri Otonkoski wrote an interesting review on the concert, published in Helsingin Sanomat on 18 March 2012. He comments that as uninhibitedly as Lang swarms us with references to myths and creeds, as openly Huppertz refers eclectically to historical layers of European music history. According to Otonkoski, the Huppertz score is a single compendium of stylistic references, challenging the listener to a constant effort to recognize Wagner, Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mendelssohn, and Puccini references. Finally Otonkoski was deeply impressed by the powerful Gesamtkunstwerk created by Lang and Huppertz.

Myself, a layman in the world of music, clearly recognized only the Gregorian hymn "Dies irae" / "The Day of Wrath" (from the 13th century, and still included in the official Finnish Lutheran psalm book: "Vihan päivä kauhistava"), which is about the Day of Judgment, and which links Fritz Lang's movie to the later works of Dreyer (Vredens dag / The Day of Wrath) and Kubrick (The Shining begins with a Wendy Carlos synthetizator arrangement of it). It would be interesting to read a full account of the music references of Metropolis.

Metropolis the movie is an architectonic vision, and so is the music: it is meant to build in space, and especially the Metropolis / Babel main theme with its rising stair impact works ideally in a big concert hall. It is great that the Helsinki Music Center has taken such ambitious work in its programme. The visual circumstances of the film projection are not yet ideal (the presentation did not pay justice to the vision of Fritz Lang and his fellow artists), but everybody is looking forward to improvements in the next future.

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