Not so silent: Showing "Metropolis" in the original Fox Theatre

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is one of the most beloved silent films – and sci-fi cult favorite – of all time. Released in 1927, Lang set out to make the biggest film ever produced. Costing more than one million dollars and a running time exceeding two and a half hours, Lang achieved just that with his dystopian film depicting two warring classes. This film nearly bankrupted the German production studio, received mixed reviews during its run and was only shown as a highly edited version to American audiences. Despite that, the film has persisted as a cult phenomenon through the decades. Its groundbreaking special effects caused audiences to applaud throughout the film and those effects are still recognized as being revolutionary today.

More than 70 percent of all silent films from the era are lost – whether intentionally or accidentally. Given silent films are the birth of the modern film industry, they have an undisputed relevance to the cultural fabric. In particular, Metropolis is heralded as the inspiration behind many modern sci-fi works and its artistic styling has been alluded to by many pop culture icons such as Madonna and Lady Gaga. Lang’s masterpiece is certainly a case of being “ahead of its time” for at the time, it was poorly received. Celebrated sci-fi author H.G. Wells openly criticized the film at the time, calling it the “silliest film” he had ever seen.

Metropolis has persisted, even though for several decades, the version of the film was cut drastically with a run time almost one half of Lang’s original version. It wasn’t until a near-complete restoration of the film in 2010 were viewers able to see 90 percent of Lang’s original vision for the film. It’s this 2010 version, including all original and restored footage we’ll be showing on our silver screen on March 17.

Showing silent films in the Copley Symphony Hall is a special way to honor the Hall’s legacy as the Fox Theatre, a movie palace built in 1929. This French Renaissance-inspired movie theater served as the premiere movie venue for San Diegans and the third-largest theater in the country with 3,000 seats.

In the 1920s, it was typical for silent films to be shown with a live music accompaniment because film at the time couldn’t contain any audio and the live, local musicians added a theatrical element to the film viewing. With this tradition in mind, patrons will have the opportunity to hear the Hall’s original pipe organ, played by organist Russ Peck, to accompany this dramatic, haunting film. Between the pipe organ and the grandeur of the theater, patrons can really transport themselves back to this incredible film era and experience a classic the way it was intended to be seen – with live music and on a large projector.

Catch Metropolis in the Copley Symphony Hall on Saturday, March 17 and celebrate everything black, white and green with this latest Fox Film Series performance.  

This post was written by Kelly Hillock, marketing assistant for the San Diego Symphony.

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