Preceding Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (1929), and before Adolf Hitler's rise to power, Walter Ruttmann's urban symphony of Berlin is a semi-documentary in five acts. Employing an enthralling visual rhythm, seamless jump-cuts, double-exposures, and a sense of perpetual motion, this non-narrative love-letter to the bustling German capital documents a single day in the life of Berlin, from sunrise until late at night, and everything in between. Against the backdrop of ceaseless movement, the camera swiftly follows the myriads of workers as they flock into towering factories, then, it moves from work to all sorts of entertainment, never shying away from sharp contrasts: the rich and the poor; humans and heavy machinery; beauty and ugliness.Written by
more interesting as history than film-making, but it has its moments
Berlin: City Symphony is one of those early experiments in montage - early as in before sound was invented and right after Battleship Potemkin changed everything. It's not always montage, as some might believe from its recommendations (i.e. Koyannasquati), as the director Walter Ruttmann is making documentary as much as city-scape. It's about a full day and night among the dwellers and the objects of a city: the moving trains, the people shuffling by about their various concerns, and the people at jobs and things like a factory at work and phones being answered used for editing fodder.
Some of this is dazzling work, cut and speed up to reflect a mood of a city that is vibrant and hectic, imaginative and crazy, and sometimes tending for the dramatic. Ruttmann also has a rather weird design with the pacing at times; a woman in one 'scene' looks over a river, and in a state of sorrow falls over. People rush over to see what has happened, and we see a shot of the water and the woman gone under... and then it cuts right away to a beauty pageant! It throws a viewer off to see Ruttmann's unconventional choices, and how images flow together like the racers (cars, horses, people, boxcars), and there develops a simple but engrossing poetry of people as "actors" in front of a camera on their daily travels or having fun like at the funshow in the auditorium. It's not always as exciting or delirious as a Russian counterpart like Man with a Movie Camera or Kino Eye, but it pays loving tribute to its city at its time and place, showing the light with the dark, the commonplace with the unusual.
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