On May 31st, 2018, the projection of the movie Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang, pioneer of science fiction, took place at the Arriaga Theater in Bilbao (Spain), while its original soundtrack composed by German Gottfried Huppertz was performed live by the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra – Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa conducted by Nacho de Paz.
Felipe Mugica attended the concert, and has collaborated with SoundTrackFest writing the following article describing that evening.
In recent years it has become quite common in capitals of our country to find film screenings accompanied by an orchestra performing its soundtrack live; mostly big Hollywood blockbusters, but also films belonging to the silent era. Undoubtedly, these films are the ones that can benefit most from this experience, because without sound or dialogues, the soundtrack becomes an essential accompaniment during the complete screening of the film. Not only that, but it also becomes a kind of flashback to that time when the exhibition of the films was accompanied by live music, most of the times on piano and improvised, and other times with a small orchestra.
In this case, we were fortunate to attend on May 31st at the Arriaga Theater (Bilbao-Spain), to the screening of Metropolis (1927), the science-fiction classic directed by Fritz Lang. A title that surely many people will know and recognize from its iconic images (like the robot Maria).
A great influence in the future, with an architecture that has inspired so many futuristic films such as Blade Runner or super-heroes movies like Tim Burton’s Batman; and the robot itself, Maria, which is easy to see as an inspiration for the popular Star Wars saga and C3-PO… The film also includes several social messages, easily perceptible: the futuristic society divided into the upper classes (at the top of the city) and the lower ones (in the subways of the city, working dehumanized); the easily manipulated and irresponsible social mass…
Although, watching the film now, requires a transposition to how was the cinema of that time and how movies were shot and acted (there are no dialogues, and the actors are forced to carry out exaggerated performances to express what they cannot verbalize). Anyway, it is still an interesting experience.
We have to keep in mind that the version shown at the Arriaga Theater is the most complete version available. For a long time that version was believed to be lost, until part of the footage until was found in 2008 with the full version in Buenos Aires (Argentina). After an exhaustive restoration work, the new scenes were added to the movie, becoming the version that we saw on May 31st Fritz Lang’s favorite version. During the screening, it was easy to spot those unreleased scenes since the image quality, despite the cleaning and restoring, still showed some dirt and deficiencies.
Talking about the purely musical subject, the original soundtrack composed by Gottfried Huppertz (a regular collaborator of Lang during his silent movies), was performed live by the BOS, the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra – Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa, conducted by Nacho de Paz.
Upon entering the theater we found that the orchestra was located in the pit, so both the musicians and the conductor were quite out of sight (especially if you were sitting in the front rows). On the stage, only three instruments were placed: the harp, the celesta, and an organ. The film, which lasted almost two and a half hours, was screened with a pause of 20 minutes after an hour and a half, but not for the audience’s rest, and mostly to give a break to the orchestra.
And it is here when the work of the BOS can be considered an authentic tour de force, since we must bear in mind that they don’t have a list of pieces to be performed with pauses, one after another, but we had uninterrupted music throughout the whole film. This gives a lot of merit to the performance of the musicians, since we could enjoy music without any appreciable failure. The fact that the orchestra was hidden in the pit, added to the excellent performance, made it easy to forget that there were many musicians playing live, and that it was just not the regular soundtrack of the film as in any cinema.
On Gottfried Huppertz’s score, I could say that the listening experience allowed me to discover an excellent work, fully symphonic and of classical influence, where you could recognize leitmotivs or musical themes associated with certain characters or situations (a resource created by Richard Wagner, Huppertz’s influence), and so we have themes for the central character, for the romantic story…
It is inevitable to highlight some musical moment as the dynamic and aggressive sound movements to portray the city of the workers, in clear contrast with the rest of the score. Also I cannot resist commenting on how the orchestra became an occasional creator of sound effects, such as when a character plays the bell of the cathedral, and it is the percussionist of the formation who hits the bell (delivering to the audience the feeling that it is a real bell from the film the one they’re hearing).
In short, a stimulating experience the one we were able to experience last May 31st at the Arriaga Theater with the BOS. This, together with the opportunity to watch Metropolis on the big screen (and in a scenario as unique as the Arriaga Theatre), as well as having a perfect interpretation from the orchestra, made us feel for a moment like in a movie theater, almost 100 years ago, watching this movie for the first time.
Article by Felipe Mugica