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Film 50: History of Cinema: The Cinematic City

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
3:10 p.m. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City
Walther Ruttmann (Germany, 1927)

35mm print!
Live Music/Judith Rosenberg on Piano
Lecture/Marilyn Fabe


(Berlin, die Sinfonie der Grosstadt). The great “city symphonies” of the silent era celebrated the pulsating life of the streets. Berlin was the joint effort of Carl Mayer, the expressionist scenarist; Karl Freund, the great cameraman; and Walther Ruttmann, at the time an abstract filmmaker. For all its basis in reality—capturing a late spring day in the German capital, from dawn to midnight—it was conceived as an abstract artwork, rigorously organized according to musical principles. The filmmakers wandered the city for over a year, filming from high buildings, in tunnels and sewers. They popularized the Russian Dziga Vertov’s kino-eye technique in a film that was shown around the world and still stands as a great achievement of urban cinematic art.

• Written by Carl Mayer, Karl Freund, Ruttmann. Photographed by Reimar Kuntze, Robert Baberske, Läszlo Schäffer. (70 mins, Silent, B&W, 35mm, From Library of Congress)

Preceded by A Trip Down Market Street (Miles Brothers, U.S., 1906). A filmic time capsule from San Francisco before the great earthquake of 1906. (12 mins, Silent, B&W, 35mm, PFA Collection)

Total running time: 82 mins