World's Most Expensive Movie Poster Seized in Bankruptcy Case

Metropolis Title Image - H 2012

Metropolis Title Image - H 2012

A rare and coveted Metropolis movie poster -- one of only four known surviving copies from the 1927 silent classic -- has been seized as part of a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy case involving its owner Kenneth Schacter, a well-known collector. The poster will be auctioned off soon. 

The case is being overseen by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles, with John Menchaca serving as the bankruptcy trustee. 

German painter Heinz Schulz-Neudamm (1899-1969created this poster for the famed 1927 film directed by Fritz Lang (1890-1976). The film is based on the novel of the same name by his wife Thea Von Harbou (1888-1954) about the dystopian future of the year 2000.

Metropolis is generally considered a masterpiece of early German filmmaking and the forerunner of mdoern science fiction movies. 

This is the international version of the poster (the German version includes the credits).  Distributors in other countries commissioned their own posters to advertise this film, but this is the first use of the robotic woman image that has became the iconic representation of the film. (See the full poster below.)

The historical importance of the Fritz Lang-helmed movie and the rarity and beautiful art deco design of the Metropolis poster combine to make it “the crown jewel of the poster world," according to Sean Linkenback, a well-known poster dealer. 

The poster had been offered for sale in March for $850,000 by Estimates vary as to what it would fetch on the open market. Schacter paid a still-record $690,000 for it in 2005.

In the bankruptcy filing, he estimates its value at just $250,000, a number most observers view as comically low. High-end estimates put the value of the poster at more than $1 million, which would make it the first poster to cross that barrier in a public sale. Conversely, a sale at Schacter's low estimate of $250,000 or even any number below $690,000 would represent a softening of the poster market at a time when other collectibles such as movie props and rare comics are selling for record amounts.

Other key items in Schacter's collection include a King Kong poster from 1933, which is considered by experts to be nearly as valuable as the Metropolis poster, and a 1933 one-sheet teaser from The Invisible Man. The total collection could be worth as much as $5 million, according to court filings, but the exact value is uncertain because Schacter has ignored court orders to provide a full and complete inventory.

It was THR's reporting about the poster being offered for sale that pushed Schacter from a Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy to a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy. Schacter had filed for bankruptcy protection on Dec. 12 to avoid a judgment over a roughly $500,000 loan from Robert Mannheim, an investor who provided money for Schacter to invest in posters to sell for a profit.

When Mannheim learned about the possible Metropolis sale via Movie Poster Exchange, it reinforced his belief that Schacter was trying to conceal assets to avoid repayment.  (The owners of Movie Poster Exchange were unaware of the bankruptcy case when Schacter consigned the poster to them for sale and immediately withdrew it from the site when they learned of the dispute.)

Mannheim filed a motion to force a conversion to a Chapter 7, which the court granted March 12, concluding that Schacter had indeed abused the Chapter 11 process by failing to disclose his full inventory or complete financial assets. 

Schacter was required to immediately turn over his entire collection to a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, which he failed to do. On May 16, the court found Schacter in contempt, ordering him to submit a list of his holdings by May 31 or face a $2,000-a-week contempt fine. 

Schacter submitted an inventory of his collection, but the bankruptcy trustee still is trying to assess whether it represents his full and total holdings at the time he filed for bankruptcy (to account for any sales he may have surreptitiously made after filing). The trustee is in possession of the Metropolis, King Kong and Invisible Man posters but only has a list of many of the other items.

Once the inventory investigation is complete and creditors have submitted timely claims, the bankruptcy trustee intends to hold a liquidation auction. If the court approves the request, the trustee is likely to use Heritage Auctions, one of the largest auctioneers of movie posters, to conduct the liquidation sale.

Given the size of the Schacter's collection, Heritage might auction it in waves, but no final decision has been made. The liquidation is expected to begin before the end of 2012, but the exact date is dependent on the speed of the inventory assessment and the court's ruling on the application to conduct the sale.