Buenos Aires, Aregentina--It's not so hard to imagine researchers finding that lost hour from "The Magnificent Ambersons" after this week: film restorers at the German F.W. Murnau Foundation have been informed that a 16mm negative is in the possession of the Museo del Cine Pablo C. Ducros Hicken with all but five minutes of the original 1927 premier cut.
It's a windfall that nobody expected to happen, and now it actually has. This will inevitably raise hopes in the search for other lost films and lost footage from international classics of cinema.
Helmut Poßmann, managing director of the Murnau Foundation states that: “In continuance of the restoration from 2001, the Murnau Foundation would very much like to compile a complete version of the film together with the former partners and the Museo del Cine Pablo C. Ducros Hicken in Buenos Aires and to open it to the public, all the more because “Metropolis” is the first film which has been affiliated in this restored version from 2001 – safety lug Nr. 1 – to the Memory of the World register of the UNESCO.”It's going to get a full reconstruction, this, one of the greatest achievements in world cinema! What's out there, sitting in the world's archives and warehouses? We can only be surprised, because many of these films are found in a long-lost closet, drawer, vault, or storage room. Most of them have remained untouched in storage immediately after completion of production and release to the public.
“This sensational discovery places the Murnau Foundation into a position being able to restore the film to a very large degree. That way it could be achieved to come as close to the masterwork of Fritz Lang as never before possible and present it to the world”, says Eberhard Junkersdorf, head of the board of trustees. (http://www.murnau-stiftung.de/en/04-00-00-news.html)
The Argentine-print (accounts vary, calling it a "print," while the Murnau Foundation refers to it as a "16mm negative") was actually shown in the 1960s in the capitol city. It took a movie buff to prod the museum to finally rifle through their archives for the film materials:
In the 1980s, Argentine film fanatic Fernando Pena heard about a man who had propped up a broken projector for "hours" to screen Metropolis in the 1960s - but the version of the film he knew was only one-and-a-half hours long.For years, he begged the Buenos Aires' museum to check their archives for the man's longer version.This year, museum researchers finally agreed and in April uncovered the reels in the museum's archive. ("Long-lost Metropolis scenes shown," BBC News, 07.04.2008)
The irony is that the the Murnau Foundation worked with the Buenos Aires museum on the 2001 restoration of Metropolis, and that other missing footage might have been provided back then. Sometimes the channels of communication get crossed. How many times do you think this has happened to researchers looking for lost films and footage?
Finding many of these lost film materials will be a long-shot, but saving cultural artifacts like these films should be an international priority. Sadly, it isn't, but the DVD market is getting some results. It would behoove governments around the world to ensure these films are found and preserved for future generations. Rumors persist over comments by director William Friedkin that those lost scenes from Ambersons have actually been found. But wouldn't that be news, just like this discovery? It doesn't seem likely that Warner Brothers would sit on that information for very long.