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We couldn’t be more excited to present the Eastern Canadian premiere of one of the most significant film restorations in the history of moving images. It is impossible to overstate the impact that Fritz Lang’s expressionist science-fiction masterpiece had when released upon a 1927 world. An ultimate game-changer, its influence has had a reach far beyond the borders of cinema, informing modern culture in virtually all corners—music, literature, comics, fashion, art, video games, advertising, even architecture. It also pioneered the coding of daring political discourse in genre film narratives. Incredibly, METROPOLIS doesn’t feel familiar in the way that vintage trailblazers usually do when viewed many decades after their production. It retains an impact that is almost narcotic—and is certainly alchemic. This is a film of preposterous ambition that somehow pulls off everything. To this day, the scale of its sets and vision make the biggest Terry Gilliam film feel minimalist. From the evocative cinematography of Karl Freund (who would later photograph such classics as KEY LARGO and Tod Browning’s DRACULA) to its cast of 36,000 (!) and the Art-Deco-by-way-of-German-Expressionism set designs and architecture, METROPOLIS is a work of visual wonder that defies the ages. For those of you who hold an aversion to seeing a silent film (you know who you are!), this is the one that will make you a believer.
Seeing METROPOLIS on the big screen—in any version—is cause for celebration, but the version we will be unspooling is nothing short of a revelation. As many of you know, the film originally hit Berlin screens in a much longer version. This was Lang’s preferred cut, yet after its Premiere engagement, before being distributed outside Germany, its distributors forced a drastic recut of the film in the hopes of boosting its commercial viability with a streamlined plot and more conventional running time. Lang famously referred to these forced cuts as “mindless and dictatorial,” yet over the years, it’s been this bastardized version that has captivated generations of cineastes and shaped the minds of people like Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Federico Fellini, James Cameron and George Lucas. Even in diluted form, METROPOLIS is a force to be reckoned with! The excised footage has long been thought lost, but in July 2008 (during the dates of Fantasia!), news came out that rocked the cinema universe: an essentially complete print of METROPOLIS had been found in Argentina. This kicked into gear a restoration project of enormous scale—almost as big an undertaking as the film itself—and the results are something nobody had ever thought could be possible. Featuring over 25 minutes of new material (1,257 shots, including entire new sequences), this is METROPOLIS as it has not been seen in 83 years.
To make this unveiling even more bedazzling, we will be screening the complete METROPOLIS as a special gala event at the 3,000-seat Wilfred Pelletier theatre in Place des Arts. For this special night, internationally renowned silent film composer Gabriel Thibaudeau is writing a new score for the film, which he will perform with a 13-piece orchestra live at the screening. It will be a fantastically historical night in every sense of the word, as “the mother of science fiction cinema” is resurrected in its full, staggering glory. – Mitch Davis
Notes on the music for METROPOLIS by Gabriel Thibaudeau
For the last 22 years, I have been resident pianist and composer for the Cinematheque québécoise. METROPOLIS is one of the first films I played to.
Writing a new score for this film represents for me a long-cherished dream. The film’s modern feel and visual treatment lends itself well to experimentation and is a pure joy to create sound for!
How to express musically the class struggle and dialectic that are the foundations of this work? By utilizing not one, but two chamber orchestras! Quite simply, at stage left the orchestra represents the elitist spirit of the city through a string quintet and keyboard. At stage right, a brass quintet with organ will form the second orchestra, symbol of the strength of the workers in the subterranean city. The percussion section in the center will form a link between the two worlds/ensembles.
For this two-and-a-half-hour performance, specially commissioned by the Fantasia Film Festival, the majority of movements will be precisely written and perfectly synchronized with the images on screen. However, certain passages will be more free, created live through “soundpainting,” a technique of improvising from coded gestures used by the conductor.
– Gabriel Thibaudeau
About Gabriel Thibaudeau
Composer, conductor, and pianist for the Cinémathèque québécoise,
Gabriel Thibaudeau is ranked among the world’s great silent-film accompanists. His score for Julian Rupert’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is frequently performed in Europe, the United States and Canada, and appears on the Arte DVD release. Gabriel’s works have been commissioned by a variety of institutions and artists, including the Cineteca Bologna, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Octuor de France, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, the Musica Camerata Montréal chamber ensemble, and Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà. In 1998, the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Directors’ Fortnight commissioned an original score for Paul Leni’s THE MAN WHO LAUGHS. After the gala event at Cannes, Thibaudeau embarked on a world tour with the Octuor de France, performing in such major centres as Tokyo, New York, Bologna, Athens, Paris, Boston, Barcelona, Rome, Minsk and Montreal. In September 2005, he premiered his score for NANOOK OF THE NORTH for the Toronto International Film Festival. Featuring Inuit throat singing, a flute quartet, singers and percussion, the screening/concert was termed “unforgettable” by the French daily l’Humanité.