In 1927, Metropolis premiered to critical acclaim, citing both the incredible new film making techniques of Fritz Lang as well as its story, in light of recent political developments in Europe. While the film is seen as revolutionary movie in cinematography, it has undergone quite a few changes in the years since its original release in Berlin. I happened to watch the restored version (2010), which is the “most complete” version and is the one deemed closest to Lang’s original release. However, the movie that most audiences saw was not this release, but rather a fraction of the film due to cuts made at the studio level for commercial reasons.
The reasons for the cuts was profitability and recent political developments in Europe. The movie in its original length ran two and a half hours, a long stretch even for some modern films. The film released was pared down to ninety minutes, removing much of the thematic content and motivation for some of the action. For example, the entire plot line of Rotwang’s revenge was removed in order to speed the movie up. While this has little to do with its impact on Europe, it is the other cuts that change the thematic content of the movie.
There is an entire sub-plot of communist revolt that was not released to the masses during Metropolis’ original theatrical run. This theme was originally developed by the author of the short story in response to the Russian (and other subsequent) revolutions; but in light of recent political changes and the economics behind this content, the decision was made to cut this from the film. While there was no political body behind this decision, this is one of the first major examples of self-censorship by the studios. This decision, although it had little impact on movie-goers, set a precidence for future studio executives, leading to further censorship in cinema.