Whither genre?

A couple of genre-related items in the New York Times today and yesterday:
A complete print of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was found in a cinema archive in Buenos Aires,

For fans and scholars of the silent-film era, the search for a copy of the original version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” has become a sort of holy grail. One of the most celebrated movies in cinema history, “Metropolis” had not been viewed at its full length — roughly two and a half hours — since shortly after its premiere in Berlin in 1927, when it was withdrawn from circulation and about an hour of its footage was amputated and presumed destroyed…

That a copy of the original print of “Metropolis” even existed in Buenos Aires was the result of another piece of serendipity. An Argentine film distributor, Adolfo Wilson, happened to be in Berlin when the film had its premiere, liked what he saw so much that he immediately purchased rights, and returned to Argentina with the reels in his luggage.
“If he had gone two months later, he would have come back with a different version,” Mr. Peña said in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires. Initially, the F. W. Murnau Foundation, a German film-preservation group named after the great silent-era director, which holds the rights to Lang’s silent films, did not respond when the Argentines notified it of the discovery. So Mr. Peña made a DVD and while on a business trip to Madrid took it to a prominent film scholar there, Luciano Berriatúa, who watched the film with him, enraptured, and immediately phoned the Germans to tell them, Mr. Peña recalled, “It’s the real thing.”

Cool story. Good for cinema, good for history. But then there’s this at the end of the article:

The cumulative result is a version of “Metropolis” whose tone and focus have been changed. “It’s no longer a science-fiction film,” said Martin Koerber, a German film archivist and historian who supervised the latest restoration and the earlier one in 2001. “The balance of the story has been given back. It’s now a film that encompasses many genres, an epic about conflicts that are ages old. The science-fiction disguise is now very, very thin.”

With all due respect, Mr. Koerber, fuck you. It boggles my mind that a film historian puts “story” and “epic” on the opposite end of a scale with science-fiction. If there’s a persistent flaw in sci-fi, it’s overambition, too grand a scale. Also, why can’t it be about both science fiction and age old conflicts? Frankenstein: science fiction + man’s desire to replace God. Aliens: science fiction + the consequences of human greed. The works of Jules Verne: science fiction + escapism. It’s an established art tradition, deal with it.
We also have Ross “Asshat” Douthat whining about how superhero movies are distracting great directors from making non-superhero movies:

Sometimes I try to imagine what the 1970s would have been like if comic-book movies had dominated the cinematic landscape the way they do today. Francis Ford Coppola would have presumably gravitated toward the operatic darkness of the Batman franchise, casting first Al Pacino and then Robert De Niro as Italian-American Bruce Waynes. Martin Scorsese would have become famous for his gritty, angry take on the Incredible Hulk, with Harvey Keitel stepping into Bruce Banner’s shoes and Diane Keaton as his love interest. Dustin Hoffman would have been cast as Peter Parker opposite Cybill Shepherd’s Mary Jane in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Spiderman.” The Superman movies would have starred Warren Beatty instead of Christopher Reeves. Steven Spielberg would have directed “Iron Man” instead of “Jaws,” with Robert Redford playing Tony Stark and Julie Christie as Pepper Potts; George Lucas would have made an X-Men trilogy instead of “Star Wars,” with Marlon Brando as Professor Xavier opposite Jack Nicholson as Wolverine. Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider would have been known to moviegoers primarily for their turns as supervillains. And Terence Malick — well, O.K., Malick probably would have still made “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven,” and then disappeared for 20 years.
If this revision of the ’70s sounds like a cinematic paradise, you probably liked “The Dark Knight” a whole lot more than I did.

This is basically an excuse for Douthat to be silly about the movies. I would love to see a serious superhero movie from all the directors that he mentioned, but that’s beside the point. He would have cause to bitch if: a) directors like Christopher Nolan, Brian Singer and Sam Rami are not developing other projects. b) it would be a good idea to give franchise/superhero directors like Brett Ratner and Tim Story financing to make their “art” movies.
First, you can’t ignore that the best superhero movies are made by the best director of movies, period. I don’t agree that Christopher Nolan made the best superhero movie ever (that distinction goes to Brad Bird of The Incredibles), but he is an amazing filmmaker, and I think he gets extra credit for developing his own story ideas and screenplays, something that’s rare in this age of franchise movies. That’s what Douthat should be bitching about, if anything. Of the top grossing movies of the past 10 years, some of them have been superhero movies: The Dark Knight, Spiderman 3, but almost all of them are entries in a film franchise: Pirates of the Carribean, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Shrek, Lord of the Rings. He should be wondering how many Taxi Drivers could be made with the budget of Spiderman 3.
Nobody wants to see a Brian Singer, Brett Ratner, Tim Story, or Sam Rami arthouse flick.

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