For a black-and-white German film from the silent era, Metropolis has had a colourful and noisy history in its 85 years of being, but rarely has it been as bizarrely ebullient as when an Italian music producer famous mostly for disco records slapped pop music and a synth score onto the soundtrack.
Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking 1927 sci-fi received a new lease of life in 1984 when Giorgio Moroder, the man behind Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”, among many others, led a full-scale restoration of the film, and added his own (at the time) achingly cool music, along with songs from some of the artists he’d worked with: Adam Ant, Freddie Mercury, er, Pat Benatar.
In the early 80s this bold experiment must have been viewed as the most cutting of all edges. Fast forward to today and it becomes something of a double artefact, time capsules from two eras to marvel at. Both visions offer interest to those of us who live in the future (we’re only thirteen years away from 2026, when Metropolis was set), yet somehow it is Moroder’s contribution which dates worse.
Some of his musical efforts are almost like a bad joke – what we now regard as risibly cheap synths, the kind found on a children’s keyboard, now only heard at retro nights and in Garth Merenghi-style parodies. Moroder was not new to film music, but where his soundtrack for Brian De Palma’s Scarface aligns perfectly with the film’s gaudy 80s kitsch, here it is a clash of styles and ideals, and one that never fully reconciles itself.
There are some harmonies to be found between the flamboyant nature of 1980s pop and Lang’s sometime histrionic, operatic setpieces, and the more you watch, the easier you settle into the confusing hybrid. But then the over-inflated Welsh lungs of Bonnie Tyler blare through the speakers again, and it becomes hard to take anything on screen too seriously.
Which is a shame, as Metropolis remains stunning and powerful – science fiction technofear meets biblical mythology meets overwrought melodrama meets German expressionism – in the future! To watch it is to see the influence of many generations of filmmakers to come, and it has not lost its ability to thrill and intoxicate.
Moroder tinkers elsewhere, with mixed results. Swapping clunky old intertitles for subtitles is a deft move and allows things to flow a lot smoother, at least for a modern pair of eyes. Colourising the original sepia film is perhaps a tamper too far – it may only be a purist’s concern, but it feels an unnecessary imposition on, and deviation from, Lang’s original vision.
This is definitively not the definitive version, and if you are new to the film, it is highly recommended you start with a more conventional soundtrack. But those revisiting may want to explore such a unique curio, if only for the unintended amusement to be had from seeing a thousand film extras from a hundred years ago soundtracked to a Loverboy power ballad.