Symphony of Great Cities; Berlin, Moscow Star in Documentary Films

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 24, 2008 | Go to article overview

Symphony of Great Cities; Berlin, Moscow Star in Documentary Films


Byline: Gary Arnold, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

During the late 1920s, a semi-documentary genre called the city symphony flourished in a number of places, Berlin conspicuously included. It was the title character in a famous example directed by Walther Ruttmann, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, first shown in September 1927 and preserved in a somewhat spare DVD edition available from Image Entertainment.

The genre was intended to be pictorially evocative rather than factually informative. The format of Berlin proved serviceable time and again: an impressionistic mosaic of city locales and social life, commencing in the morning with the arrival of a train bound for Berlin and concluding after dark with a survey of the city's nightlife, now beloved in cultural legend for being notoriously uninhibited and unsavory.

Mr. Ruttmann pretends to keep time more accurately than other observers by inserting clock faces at various points of his continuity, divided into five acts. The movie was enhanced by a musical score but not narration or intertitles. The images were meant to tell a succession of representative stories about the way city streets and buildings and factories look; the way residents and the work force awaken, commute and plunge into their jobs; the way these activities subside for the lunch hour and then resume; and finally the way recreation predominates after work hours, from participation in sports to attendance at movies, vaudeville theaters, nightclubs and saloons.

It's a safe assumption that legions of amateur cameramen have been inspired to record the look of their surroundings over the past century. That treasure trove of imagery helps preserve the reality of many places that time has effaced. The Berlin that attracted Mr. Ruttmann's camera crew is largely a lost city now, due to political calamity as well as ordinary growth and decay. Politics has left the movie with unforeseen aspects of the haunted and poignant.

Similar, if somewhat less ambitious, tone poems about Paris and Amsterdam coincided with the appearance of Berlin. The impulse remains very much alive in contemporary filmmakers, even when the city symphony element is subordinated to conventional narrative purposes. For example, Woody Allen's Manhattan was an acknowledged valentine to the location itself. Michael Mann's cutthroat crime thriller Collateral was much easier to like as a pictorial immersion in Los Angeles after dark.

It's believed that Berlin was directly influenced by a Russian city symphony of 1926, Mikhail Kaufman's Moscow. Video editions seem to be nonexistent in this country, but the same filmmaker was conspicuously involved - as principal photographer and title character in a movie that followed Berlin and contrived to surpass it in numerous stylistic and human-interest respects.

Also distributed by Image Entertainment, this creative landmark of the late silent period is Man With the Movie Camera, a 1929 production conceived and supervised by Mikhail Kaufman's slightly older brother Denis, who had assumed the name Dziga Vertov several years earlier. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Symphony of Great Cities; Berlin, Moscow Star in Documentary Films
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.