A train speeds through the country on its way to Berlin, then gradually slows down as it pulls into the station. It is very early in the morning, about 5:00 AM, and the great city is mostly quiet. But before long there are some signs of activity, and a few early risers are to be seen on the streets. Soon the new day is well underway - it's just a typical day in Berlin, but a day full of life and energy. Written by
Berlin, Symphony of a City is a remarkable historical document of the mighty city before its Wagnerian capitulation within less than twenty years of its filming. Along with Paris, Berlin was the epicenter of a Europe emerging from World War 1 into the Roaring Twenties and director Walter Ruttman for the most part captures the energy and pace of the 20th century metropolis.
Moving from morning to night Symphony emphasizes the cities industrial muscle but also divides evenly portraits of the have and have nots of Berlin, the grime as well as the glitter. It is a city on the move and move it does from the crowded sidewalks to the congested avenues and its varied populace . It is in the faces of these Berliners that the film holds its greatest fascination for me watching children playing and youth sporting events with the knowledge that most of them will be of draft age for the oncoming conflagration that will reduce this city to rubble.
The documentary does have problems with some scenes clearly staged (in one case a suicide filmed in close-up) and a roller coaster scene is overlong but overall when put into historical context this is a valuable visual document of a city that is extinct as Atlantis.
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