Cities And Urban Sensibilities In Ways essay example

644 words
Early Motion Pictures and the Urban Experience Early motion pictures were a way of seeing cities and urban sensibilities in ways we have never seen before. As discussed in class, "unlocking" cities and urban landscapes before us in panoramas and conversely labyrinths. Walter Benjamin said that films were a way "man could represent his environment". The 19th century environment was civically not a wholesome or healthy one. It was in shambles and it took a book of rules to simply move through the public spaces genteelly. What was needed in the cities at the end of the 19th century, was culture, public spaces, and a coherent image of themselves.

The Nickelodeon could do this with their very public gathering spaces, their honest pretensions to art and the ability to show us a slice of the world around us we could not otherwise have seen without the aid of film. (Muybridge reminds us of this with his horse film.) We needed a way of comprehending this urban sprawl and our relationships to each other. The rowdy to the genteel, the politico to the common man, there was little interaction. The rift was getting too far-flung, too incomprehensible.

Then film helped to bring the world into focus, up close or as Benjamin wrote, .".. factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came film and burst this prison world asunder". The panorama in pictures was a way of looking at cities and trying to create legibility and cohesion while civically the cities were falling apart. These panoramas were wildly popular. (They are like the "new" panoramic cameras of today.

Are we looking for that same "legibility" or genus locus?) The melodrama Greed is an extreme example of simply "seeing" the city of San Francisco but urban perception would be more clearly seen later in Berlin, Symphony of a Great City. This film tries to and detach and view the city with a dispassionate eye and show the whole, naked city before us in an unblinking manner. Actually the film is both an enhancement of the city and a contrived personal statement. The director gives you both positive city images of shoppers, vendors, cafes, tennis, nightlife complete with fireworks and political statements about poverty and greed seen in the food clips, medicine shows, the difficulty crossing the street, the dizzying opening flight above the over crowded city and the dehumanizing factory scenes.

Both views combine to give an interesting urban perception of Berlin. Southern California and the Raymond Chandler detective derives much from the city. The hero is a "panoramist of the labyrinth" Marlowe, with his "touching faith in rationality" sees the criminal living in the hills with a prospect or literally with a view -- a panorama or a future metaphorically. The criminal gained this future, this panorama, and this view by illegal or brutal acts from the past. It is the detective's job to bring the criminal back down into the labyrinth of the city and back to the criminal's history. These films stylishly show the city in both panorama and labyrinthine views.

The urban experience initiated film by the need to see the world in another way, beyond still photography. Muybridge's horses showed us a new way of seeing the world and there was no going back. At the turn of the century we needed to be assured that human connection could still be made. Film reached out and tied us together. Cities were literally too big to take pictures of so we needed a new way to see and to communicate across ethnic and social boarders. Film enhanced not only our perception of our cities but our perception of who we were.