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14 July 2008

A Holy Grail?

By Jonathan Theodore

Footage containing the missing quarter of Metropolis (1927), long deemed forever lost, has been discovered in a small museum in Argentina A seminal film from the silent era, Fritz Lang’s tale of violent class struggle in a futuristic Berlin is the visual and technical prototype of every artsy sci-fi picture since. Yet it was butchered by Paramount to around half its original length for the US market, erasing key characters and plotlines, which makes the surfacing of this longer cut akin to the discovery of the Holy Grail for cinephiles. Historic importance aside, it will be interesting to see whether eighty years of pining for the missing material has been worth it.

Unappreciated genius

What futuristic fiction gained this week it also lost with the suicide of the American science fiction writer Thomas Disch. Known for his dark wit, skepticism and biting social observations, Disch belonged to the self-styled “New Wave” of 1960s sci-fi writers who aped their French cinematic counterparts and entertained lofty artistic ambitions for their work. Yet Disch never earned the respect given to Godard or Truffaut, which may have contributed to his years of depression. Sci-fi is a much maligned genre – forever associated with underdeveloped adolescents – and with a very few exceptions (Wells, Huxley, Clarke) its brightest authors are shunned by the literary Establishment.

Double standards

Salman Rushdie has capped his long list of literary prizes with the 40th anniversary “Booker of Bookers” for Midnight’s Children, the second time he has earned the award. In a very deliberate act of democracy the final choice was through public vote, making Rushdie a virtual shoe-in. That said, the shortlisting process looked decidedly undemocratic, as the shortlist of six was decided by a panel of three, a list whose launch in May led to news stories about its startling omissions, in particular AS Byatt’s Possession and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Not that they are likely to have budged the result. One only wonders how much Rushdie’s win was down to his celebrity profile, rather than the literary merits of the book.

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Jack Black‘s irreverent cartoon romp Kung Fu Panda is currently causing quite a stir in China. Defying a multitude of critics and government officials who wanted it banned for demeaning their beloved national treasure, the film has gone on to triumph at the box office there, and its whirlwind success has prompted heated parliamentary debate about the lack of Chinese films that properly address their own culture. Slightly less popular with the public has been the Hitler Waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s Berlin branch, which despite some very tight security measures was decapitated by its second visitor. One might feel more sympathy for his actions if they hadn’t been revealed to be the result of a bet. The investment bank Lehman Brothers cut the stock rating on Monday of Walt Disney Co, Time Warner and other top entertainment companies, adding to the increasingly dismal picture of an industry unable to tackle download piracy and which has hugely overestimated the appeal of high-definition films – the latter are typically priced at around £25, whereas the humble DVD dinosaur can be picked up in bargain bins for around a fiver. Will Disney be able to reverse the trend with the hotly-anticipated Pixar animation WALL-E? Check out next week’s NS to see what our film critic Ryan Gilbey makes of it.