Restoration and Authenticity: Questions of Definition

The Cine-Files, issue 11 (fall 2016)

Anne Marie Kelly

Graduate Student, School of Cinematic Arts, USC


In the 21st century, film restoration grants audiences access to movies which they would otherwise not see. Film restoration has been an established business in America since the rise of television created new viewers for old movies in 1950s and 1960. However, the ethics and practices of restoration have not been made as available as the films being restored. The result is that while digital film restoration has caused a new boom in the technology and availability of restored movies, the content-changing decisions made during this process have remained cloaked in claims of “authorial intent” and “authenticity.”

This video essay examines three restorations of one of the most infamously re-restored films of all time: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). Because the original film was cut, edited, or outright destroyed, the movie has existed in many forms over its 89-year lifespan. The three versions used in this essay have diverse goals and histories: the 1984 Giorgio Moroder restoration heavily edited and manipulated image and music to create new art. The 2002 “definitive” restoration was touted as a heavily-researched return to Lang’s original concept. The 2010 “complete” restoration was based on a 16mm near-unedited source found in Argentina and is now considered the closest possible match to Lang’s original movie. A comparison between these myriad restorations raises questions about what the function and result of film restoration should be.


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Borde, Raymond. “Film Restoration: Ethical Problems.” In Protection and Preservation of Films, edited by Ramon Espelt, 90-98. Barcelona: Oficina Catalina de cinema, 1998.
The Complete Metropolis. Directed by Fritz Lang. Kino Lorber, 2010. DVD.
Edmonson, Ray, Audiovisual Archiving: Philosophy and Principles. Paris: UNESCO, 2004.
Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis. Directed by Fritz Lang. Kino Lorber, 1984. DVD.
Metropolis. Directed by Fritz Lang. Kino Lorber, 2002. DVD.
Usai, Paolo Cherchi. Silent Cinema: An Introduction. London: British Film Institute, 2000.


The Cine-Files, issue 11 (fall 2016)