From Metropolis to Moonfleet

I’ve seen it three times now and I still can’t quite believe that we’ve got the all-but-complete “Metropolis” in our hands after all these decades of trying to decode the hopelessly screwed-up Paramount edit. In the new Blu-ray from Kino that comes out this week, Marti Koerber’s restoration from the original camera negative looks ever more magnificent, and while the 25-minutes of rediscovered 16-millimeter footage from the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires can’t measure up to the main body of the film, it does have the perverse advantage of allowing us instantly to identify the Paramount edits, down to fleeting, individual shots.

In its almost integral form, “Metropolis” may still not be a masterpiece: a lot of the added material goes toward making a more questionably overt Christ figure out of Freder the Mediator (Gustav Frohlich), though the shot of Fritz Rasp’s Judas figure, The Thin Man, reading “The Metropolis Times” is worth the price of admission alone. Surprisingly, though, “Metropolis” turns out to be a much more polished and efficient entertainment in Lang’s edit, with a far more effective action-suspense finale and a more satisfying resolution to the love story than the supposedly more commercial Hollywood version has to offer.

Coincidentally, Lang’s 1955 “Moonfleet” has slipped out on the Warner Archive label, and while the transfer is nothing special (the colors seem just as dusty as they did on the old Laserdisc edition), it does demonstrate the unbroken continuity of Lang’s thematic concerns and visual ideas from Ufa to MGM. Once again, fathers and sons, absent mothers, underground chambers, strange stone idols . . .

My New York Times review is here.

132 comments to From Metropolis to Moonfleet

  • Barry Lane

    Tom–

    In fact, I do.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Unfortunately your reductio ad absurdum arguments against auteurism belie your claim of understanding it.

    Quite a few of us have defended it against your claims, responded to your arguments, defended the theory. You have failed in response to defend your position with counterarguments addressing what you have claimed. So no, in fact I don’t believe you understand auteurism or the ability of the director in some cases to be the main artistic force in a film.

  • Junko Yasutani

    Barry Lane, I was making joke to you, not to offend.

    Tom has written, ‘You have failed in response to defend your position with counterarguments addressing what you have claimed.’

    We cannot agree about auteurism, but we can discuss different understanding that you have. What is your understanding?

    You have written that job of work, people in entertainment industry do not think director can be author, producer could be author, Orson Welles only was author, it is only concept from Europe. Is that argument you are making against auteurism?

    Good thing you have done is provoke many good post explaining about auteurism. Thank you.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry Lane’s indictment of auteurism reminds me of the never-ending rejection of evolutionism in favor of so-called “creationism” by countless religious fanatics. No matter how weak, even absurd their arguments, they keep coming back again and again and every time they have to be reminded, patiently but to no avail, that they just don’t make sense. Just like evolution is not a “belief” but a fact, auteurism is a reality that makes absolute sense, no matter how much abused and misconstrued that “theory” has been at times. Critics who write about auteurs and auteurism are not always right, and some excesses can seem laughable. Darwin was not a hundred per cent right on all the details, but that doesn’t prevent ” On the Origin of Species” to be, as Edward Wilson wrote, “arguably history’s most influential book.”

    How strange that the same discussions, the same arguments, the same deafness always have to come back. As for auteurism, I often wondered whether it couldn’t have been more widely and easily accepted if other words than “auteur” and “auteurism” had been used. “Auteur” was no problem for the French, who created the “politique des auteurs,” but it seems to have been, (to be) problematic to an English-speaker’s ear. And “auteurism’ is a purely English (American) coinage which somehow annoyed plenty of American readers and viewers. I’m not suggesting that the problem is purely semantic but it’s interesting to follow the rather tortuous evolution of the auteur theory from its French origins to the United States and its Sarris version. Oh well, maybe I’m drifing off topic…

  • Gregg Rickman

    At the risk of piling on Mr. Lane and his (actually very frequent) questions and expressions of “common sense” skepticism directed at those of us who like thinking about our movies as art… which implies an artist… I have a somewhat tongue-in-cheek question about what he called (Nov. 27 at noon) his “personal quest to become an auteur.” On Nov. 25 at 10:18 am he said he had “a long history within the entertainment industry. Including film, theatre, radio and television.” There are three Barry Lanes listed on IMDB: are you the director of MOUNT AMERICA (1985), the actor in THE SEX PERILS OF PAULETTE (1965) or the actor in the TV series HOW WE USED TO LIVE (1969)? Given how Pauline Kael’s followers were called “Paulettes,” please please please let it be the second one.

  • Barry Lane

    Gregg Rickman:

    I am certainly one of these.

    Never let it be said that I disagree with the auteur concept. Only the interpetation. In a collective enterprise, filmmaking, there is usually a dominant individual. Sometimes, more than one. Budd, Randy, Burt and Harry did pretty well together. Budd was the author…? A good case could be made for Burt and Randy. Maybe Randy most of all.

  • Alex Hicks

    Auteurism strikes me as a useful device for the organization of a lot of film criticism around contributions of the type of film maker who tends to be most central to the quality of a given film and as a useful device for the organization of a lot of film scholarship around continuities and developments in the careers of such film makers. Its foci on personal expression and style are very useful for efforts to treat film as art.

    However, “Barry Lane’s indictment of auteurism reminds me of the never-ending rejection of evolutionism in favor of so-called “creationism” by countless religious fanatics” strikes me as over done.

    Analogy between rejectors of empirically well established scientitic theory and a interpretive perspective in the humanisties strikes me as rather strained.

    Right or wrong in thrust or specific argument, Barry Lane’s view of film making as multivocal beyond easy claims for an auteur strikes me as quite reasonable.

    The uses of “rejection” and “religious fanatics” are not a little ironic in this context. Indeed, isn;t the hueristic strength of auteur theory founded on a somewhat stylized quest a key “creator” behind each work of cinematic art?

  • I always like to think of the auteurist perspective as being a non-exclusive framework for investigation and analysis of directors credited with a fairly substantial body of work.

    I wonder whether it is useful for a single-shot director (like Laughton). Wouldn’t one typically need more than one (or just a few) data points to assess whether it is helpful to consider a particular director an auteur?

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Alex, my “analogy” was indeed rather strained, for the reasons you cite. It was not my intention to assimilate adversaries of auteurism to religious fanatics!My simple point was the similitude in the periodical recurring of discussions about beliefs that are, admittedly, of a quite different nature.

    And yes, Alex, I wasn’t unaware of the “irony” of mentioning religious fanatics, because there is no doubt that the danger of auteurism is that it can fairly easily turn itself (or be turned) into a kind of religion.

    Seems to me that Barry Lane, after starting with a thorough rejection of auteurism, later gradually drifted to this most recent recantation: “Never let it be said that I disagree with the auteur concept. Only the interpretation.” A safe statement few will disagree with.

  • Arthur S.

    In the case of film-makers with only one film, like the case of Laughton’s ”Night of the Hunter” auteurism still applies since the primary creative drive on that film was Laughton who also determined the film’s visual style, deliberately styling it after D. W. Griffith’s pastoral films and the very self-conscious casting of Lillian Gish. In the case of Barbara Loden’s ”Wanda”, her connection with Kazan is what makes the film so very surprising since it is nothing like his style at all. In both cases the film-makers impose their own personality on to the project, create their own style against the popular strains of their contemporaries and their immediate influences.

    What makes auteurism possible is the deliberate un-scientific nature, there are kinds of auteurs and no two auteurs have the same style and concerns. What each of them have in common is that all of them make great films which are different from the others.

  • Michael Worrall

    Michael Kerpan wrote: “Wouldn’t one typically need more than one (or just a few) data points to assess whether it is helpful to consider a particular director an auteur?”

    Jean Vigo has only four films in his filmography, cut short by illness, but yet I believe he is consider an auteur.

  • jbryant

    David Bordwell’s perusal of recent changes to the Hollywood Trade papers leads to thoughts on the proper aspect ratios of various films, including Lang’s WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS and MOONFLEET, here: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=11057

  • Oliver_C

    “Jean Vigo has only four films in his filmography, cut short by illness, but yet I believe he is considered an auteur.”

    So should be, for example, Whit Stillman, with only 3 features to date.

  • RIP Irvin Kershner (auteur?) and Leslie Nielsen.

  • Arthur S.

    What about Terence Malick? Then Jacques Tati made 6 features and Eisenstein left just seven completed films, two of the seven are part of an incomplete trilogy and there is one unmade project. His career is in greater shambles than Welles’ and yet he was a bonafide publicly accepted auteur.

  • Alex Hicks

    Just had the pleasure of reviewing Losey’s THE CONCRETE JUNGLE – a film with a rather marked autuer’s signature despite its genre template.

    In watching it, I noticed that its protagnonist is a “Michael Carter” and wondred if the Carter of Mike Hdges GET CARTER might be a cross reference or homage. Wonder if anyone thinks Hodges might be well regarded as an auteur?

    On auteurs with short filmography’s, I think the main problem is a sort of “small sample” (epistemological) problem involving one’s confidence that a particular director is an auteur rather than a catgorical (ontological) one restricting the possibility that a director is or is not in fact an auteur. As in the sciences, a case study might suffice to limit or nullify the “small sample” problem — as where auteurist criteria of stylistic self-expression, distinctiveness and skill and thematic self-expression seem not to strong confront disqualifying claims. The empirical inaccessibility to evidence of thematic development may be trumped by consideration of the other criteria. (I’m happy with Sarris’ stylistic and thematic pair of criteria, though each has blurry boundaries (e.g., on how far “style” may extend into acting and writing — and even staging– and, thus, beyond the distinctively cinematic.)

  • Tom Brueggemann

    If it is an homage, it would have been initially made by Ted Lewis in his 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home, with the name Carter being used there.

  • Antti Alanen

    A criterion of a film-maker being an auteur: it makes sense to create an adjective of his / her name: Langian, Wellesian, Tatiesque…

  • Am I alone to like Selznick and to consider him as an exception, as a “”producteur-auteur”?

    Blake, I think you are too tough with him.
    Duel in the sun, Portrait of Jennie, Gone to earth, Gone with the wind are great movies which are as much related to each as Metropolis, Fury and Moonfleet can be.

    Reading his memos makes you understand how he was involved in every detail of film-making.
    I have learned a lot about cinema by reading them.

  • Christophe, Selznick certainly considered himself a “producer-autuer,” generally to the detriment of his projects. “Gone to Earth” was massacred by Selznick and released in the states in his butchered version as “The Wild Heart,” and you are among the few non-Academy members I’ve ever met who would consider the much interfered with “Gone with the Wind” a great film. His alliance with Dieterle in the late 40s did produce a few interestingly baroque melodramas, but overall I find his work as uneven and overrated as that of his main rival for “producer-autuer” status, the truly dreadful Samuel Goldwyn — who belongs on the permanent List of Shame for what he did to pervert the very promising career of the very talented William Wyler. A far cry from the generally sensitive and supportive work of John Houseman, with whom this rather surprising (and by now quite drawn out) debate began.

  • Lang is a good test (and taste?) case for auteurism, to once again state the obvious. His career spans silence and sound; he worked in different countries; in Hollywood he worked at most of the studios; his budgets ranged from lavish to minuscule; different producers, numerous screenwriters; and of course several actors, many of whom were bad (as in Kubrick, who also often didn’t seem to care about or just coped with bad actors from time to time, the overall pattern seeming more important). Yet through all these tools chiseling at his artistic integrity (in the “wholeness” sense of the word) Lang maintained several distinctive narrative through lines, themes, and image clusters, while also evolving in his concerns and ideas. He has a definite world view, more so I would guess, than Walter Wanger. Did a Hollywood producer say, “Hmm, here’s a script about a guy struggling against implacable fate … think I’ll call up Fritz”? Or did a project come along and Lang read the screenplay and thought, “Well, I think I can do something interesting with this, despite all the impediments”? Or was he (also) drawn unconsciously to certain ideas, images, topics? Or was his artistic personality so strong the he tilted widely disparate subjects to his own concerns – obsessions? What would a Lang be like today? A prolific Mumblecore Lang? A bombastic Michael Bay Lang? An art and pop culture straddler like Spielberg and the other Movie Brats? A meticulous Kubrickian recluse? Lang got on surprisingly well, it seems, with his aesthetic polar opposite, Godard, while making Contempt. It’s curious if not sad that just as the studio system was breaking up (to reduce a complex history to its bare essetials) and independent production was a viable alternative, the still-living Pantheon auteurs were too old to partake of that relative freedom – or would they have been able to, temperamentally?

    Speaking of nomenclature, though it is called a theory here in the U. S., aueurism is no longer is a theory, if it ever was, but an option; as everyone knows, in CduC it was a policy, an editorial position. I, too, wish there were a different phrase, but it is still useful through 60 years of usage because the phrase has come to mean something sightly different than simply “author,” something more like “a central artistic consciousness ofen among collaborators worthy of study”

    And now, on to Fantasia! …

  • david hare

    Agree with Dave on Selznick but his earlier pre Baroque period as producer with RKO during the 30s at least sees him making alliances with Schoedsack/Cooper and having the guts to latch onto Technicolor for feature production from 1935. But later even Hitchock had to fight off his control freakery.
    Genet also only made one film – un Chant d’amour – discounting the two interview films directed by others and his piece about Palestine. Chant is a poetic masterpiece and dozens of viewings have convinced me it’s entirely his own work, not at all guided by Cocteau as so often suspected.

    The most interesting case for argument about dual auteurship to me is Les Enfants Terribles – melville’s channelling of Cocteau is masterful. As though he has come to completely inhabit Cocteau’s sensibility, and cast it in his own style.

  • Brian Dauth

    One last producer: Hal Wallis.

    And Sam Goldwyn did produce GUYS AND DOLLS – a great musical – of which Louis Marcorelles in Cahiers wrote: “Mankiewicz wishes to make both ‘All About Eve’ and ‘The Bandwagon’ at once. That is, to blend the New York sophistication of the former with the contagious liveliness and lack of ulterior motive of the latter. His film is maybe only a half success.” I think it is far more that a half success, but fully acknowledge the outlier nature of this opinion.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, I’ve now caught up with the most recent doings here and I see that indeed it IS the same old story as time goes by. Nevertheless, I would like to get in some last licks.

    The point is well made that within the time period of the studio system, movies were not considered to be art of a timeless nature and most everybody who worked on them described themselves as artisans regardless of whatever their private thoughts were regarding their work. Further, to this day I believe that is pretty much the “code of the cinematographer” that he is there to help realize the director’s vision.

    There was a very interesting story on the extras for the DVD of SPYS where the producer said that he and Irvin Kershner (did somebody say that he had just died?) had pretty much decided on Gerry Fischer for their cinematographer. Then they saw Lumet’s THE OFFENSE and began to have their doubts. They had Fisher in for an interview and told him of their misgivings and Fischer got up to leave telling them that they didn’t want him because what they had seen in that film is what the director had wanted and he considered it his job to give it to him. The producer and Kerschner told Fischer to please stay since that was what they were hoping to hear.

    Barry Lane, I fully agree that it should be fun to post here and I wish more readers would regardless of their viewpoints. However, the same unanswered questions seem to keep coming back over and over again. Now it is why can’t we think of Randolph Scott as more of the central force rather than Budd Boetticher. By the way, you left out Harry Joe Brown in your initiial posing of this. Well, just as you never addressed the differences between Stanley Donen and Ralph Nelson on the two Cary Grant-Peter Stone movies, I would ask why not look at the differences between the earlier Scott and Boetticher westerns to see whose work those films most resemble.

    Also, I really can’t understand your singling out Orson Welles as a directorial “auteur.” Jerry Lewis maybe, but Welles!?! I mean, didn’t he have some guy named Shakespeare working on a lot of those scripts? Let’s give SOME credit to the writer here!

    And finally, while I take no offense even if you were having fun at my expense, I DO take exception to your uncalled for slandering of coffee houses; one of the finest institutions in this or any other country.

  • Barry Lane

    All of those things, and more. It’s not so simple to define coordinated, but disparate elements. And, I did not entirely leave out Harry. But, most importantly, please do not confuse your individual idea of art with a finished, manufactured product. And, Jerry Lewis should be included with Orson. How about Hugo Haas…? I wouldn’t do it, but he fullfills the criteria.

    Nothing against coffee houses. Just a center for intellectual and pseudo-intectual posturing.

  • Barry Putterman

    Barry Lane, I have never had any trouble in distinguishing the difference between an idea and a product. Could you please explain what, if anything, is the difference between an art form and a manufactured product?

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Barry Lane

    Again, whatever merit your argument has is effectively diminished when you, once again, resort to absurdities (like equating Haas to masters), when autheurism assumes nothing of the sort.

    That you can’t argue against it without resorting to strawman arguments pretty much shows us you’ve got nothing. I could do a better job of arguing against auteurism than you have done here.

  • Barry Lane

    The written word, in whatever form, painting, an invidual work of almost any kind and description. A movie is manufactured. At leasat that is my view. No reason for anyone to be unhappy as long as the result is satisfying.

  • Barry Putterman

    The written word in any form. You mean as in a book or a magazine or a newspaper? And those things aren’t manufactured?

  • Barry Lane

    One of you guys needs to have the final entry. I am done until another one of Dave’s essays grabs hold.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well my final entry will be one of admiration for a sensibility which feels no shame in failing to answer any questions put to it during an exchange of ideas (manufactured or not). Junko may or may not be accurate in assessing your possibilities as an auteur, but I predict a great future for you in the world of politics.

  • Dave K>
    Gone with the wind may not be a masterpiece, it is bloated, it is not full of good taste but it is a crazy, romanesque, baroque and deeply original movie, at the opposite of the classical hollywoodian aesthetic. The fact that it has became the symbol of the Golden age for people who don’t know the Golden age is quite funny.
    I like Selznick because he was a visionary who had an intimate understanding of cinema.
    Loot at Duel at the sun…There are not two films like that. Each shot is a “morceau de bravoure”.

    Thus, I agree with you about the very boring Goldwyn.