Berlin in Focus: Cultural Transformations in Germany

By Barbara Becker-Cantarino | Go to book overview

7
Wim Wenders' Berlin: Images and the Real

Brigitte Peucker

Only film commands optical approaches to the essence of the city.

-- Benjamin, "A Berlin Chronicle" ( 1978, 8)

According to Siegfried Kracauer, Carl Mayer, famous scenarist of the Weimar cinema, was "standing amid the whirling traffic of the 'Ufa Palast am Zoo' when he conceived the idea of the City Symphony. He saw a 'melody of pictures' and began to write the treatment of Berlin ( 1927)" ( From Caligari to Hitler 1947, 182). As Kracauer also notes, Karl Freund, the cameraman who shot Berlin: Symphony of a City--perhaps tired of the virtuoso effects he had created for earlier films--longed to follow the lead of the Dziga Vertov group in making use of the camera in its recording function. Kracauer represents Freund as a man "starved for reality" and, indeed, Freund represents himself in the same way. "I wanted to show everything," he claims in an interview of 1939, "Men getting up to go to work, eating breakfast, boarding trams or walking. From the lowest laborer to the bank president" ( 1947, 185). To this end, Freund devised various means of taking candid footage while walking or riding through the city streets. But when--much to Kracauer's disgust--Walter Ruttmann, known for his work on abstract films, cut Freund's material on rhythmic movement and subjected it to principles of associational montage, in Kracauer's view this imposition of avant-garde techniques upon documentary images created a film notable for its visual surface rather than its recording character. From Kracauer's perspective, Mayer's "melody of pictures" had become a

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