berlin symphony

Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2010

Man With a Movie Camera, Berlin Symphony of a Great City, Metropolis

man with the movie camera

Discussion Questions:

Please answer the questions below. Use paragraph form. The answer length will vary for grad and undergrad. The questions are all graded individually so extra effort in preparing your answer is rewarded.

Email me your responses in Word .doc format to: I will be posting these each week after the class. You should be prepared to deliver your answer in class -- but paraphrase, do not read it. Please only send to my sympatico address as I use this for the film course so that I run less of a risk of misplacing your answers.

In this first set of questions we are going to explore the general interpretation of METROPOLIS as reflected in the three urban centered films that we will have seen to date.

Feel free to include internet reference links in your answers.

The answers are due in my Inbox on the day that they are presented in class.


updated Monday, December 27, 2010 8:14 PM


1. Question: What is the significance/iconographic reference to the use or occupation of the subterranean realm in Fritz Lang's? How does the aspect of the film relate to Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera?

Elaine Chau: Answer:

The subterranean world shows the contrast between the two existing societies that are nested within Metropolis. Difference helps us to understand the relationships between range and extremes that occur within the film. Clear dialectics help the viewer to understand the foundation of the society as a whole. In Metropolis, the major struggle lies in the tension between classes. The upper class and the lower class are represented quite literally as the upper class lives above ground and the lower class resides mainly below ground. Each character in the film embodies a separate ideal. The subterranean realm talks about the machine and the “hands” as the driving force behind the workings of the city. The machine needs to be monitored at all times. Time is presented unconventionally as the 24 hour clock becomes the 10 hour clock. The shifts between workers are endless - it alludes to the fact that time becomes irrelevant in the working world. The “heads” are at the top of society. They are the architects responsible for the creation of a metropolis and are the ones that truly enjoy its pleasures. Given these fortunate circumstances, the upper class are given the opportunity to indulge in the “sins” of life.

Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera look into similar ideas of capitalism, consumption and industrialization. The impressions of the city are explored through a montage of views that showcase the transformation of the city throughout a day. In Berlin, every act is structured so that it contains a beginning, middle and an end. The build-up to every end shows a collection of clips that indicate the intensity and energy associated with working life. It is fast paced and almost deadly in nature. It recognizes human labour within the framework of an assembly line – the goal is to produce. There is a strong focus on the repetitive nature associated with labour. This is explored through several continuous shots of machinery in motion. Man with a Movie Camera underlines similar relationships, that the means of production are necessary for further development as a whole. Even though ownership of labour lies within the upper class, it is an important relationship as it drives the means for production and progress.

This draws back to the message that Metropolis is trying to convey. It simply states that there needs to be an understanding between the “hands” and the “head” in order for them to work in harmony. This is established by the workings of the “heart”. In the end, the subterranean realms add to the complexity of the films by providing a new perspective into seeing the world that is being investigated.





2. Question: What is the significance/iconographic reference to the use or occupation of the “highrise” realm in Fritz Lang's Metropolis? How does the aspect of the film relate to Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera?

Anne Cheung: Answer:

“The mediator between the head and the hands is the heart.” The movie Metropolis delivers a symbolic message through the story of Mr. Fredersen and Freder in the metropolis. The highrise realm, being the power and authority of the city symbolizes the “head”. The people in this realm are all dressed in suite or other kinds of more formal clothing as a symbol of their status. In this realm, people have control over their lives as well as the ability to create things. They are not constrained by the built environment and time. They have the choice to dress themselves according to different occasions and to their own occupations. When Freder switched his outfit with one of the workers, their identities are swapped. Unlike the workers and the machines in the under-ground world, the “highrise” functions with individuality as represented by ones outfit.

In Berlin Symphony of a Great City, social classes can also be easily identified by the way people are dressed. Since the separation between the social classes is not as evident as it is in Metropolis, the significant of the outfit becomes the more dominant method for the audiences to identify one’s social status. For example, police officers are dressed in uniforms; educated children are dressed in suits and nice dresses while they go to school; man or woman at a higher-end restaurant are more well dressed than the construction workers who dines on a picnic table.

The focus of Man with a Movie Camera is slightly different from that of the other two movies. It portraits the city at a scale that social identity in not the most important aspect of it. However, the movie is still presented with two separated “worlds” the “reality” and the “filmed”. The “reality” scene shows us what goes on in the theater and the “filmed” world is the city captured by the movie camera. The movie defines the two worlds relatively to their outfit as well. In the theater, most of the audiences are dressed up in more formal outfits, or at least look respected; whereas, the “filmed” world captured people who are dressed for everyday life.  The audiences’ appearances show that they are expecting for a static entertainment therefore can be clearly identified from the activities in the “filmed” world.



3. Question: How does the recognition of the impact of vertical transportation impact the film: its narrative, plot, connection between upper and lower? What is its significance?

Andrew Dadds: Answer:

Vertical transportation, or the elevator, denotes the modern invention of the vertical super-city. Along with the city, comes the vertical stratification of the classes. Metropolis uses verticality to illustrate the class struggle. The worker city is below ground, and the upper class above ground. The elevator is an allegory for the impact of the machine on modern man. The elevator has a sense of non-direction, people merely get on and off the elevator, appearing and disappearing. The elevator is the unconscious answer; the machine herds people to their destination as if they were blindfolded. This idea of the machine evoking superficial thought is echoed in other areas such as the man-machine fueling the rage of the workers, who in turn up rise and almost cause the deaths of their children. The man machine corrupts the minds of the upper classes as well, causing men to lose their heads and turn on one another.

Apart from the elevator symbolizing a loss of consciousness for humanity, it illustrates the class struggle within the Metropolis. The elevator serves the two classes in opposite ways. For the workers, it is seen as being enslaving, a means of herding individuals to the depths of the machine. Fritz Lang uses powerful imagery of a machine like mass of oppressed workers being regimentally fed to the barred elevator. The viewer sees this sequence as the workers and their actions being placed on the level of the machine, instead of aiding them, it is oppressing them. In a sense, the workers are becoming machine-men. Non of the workers have elevators in their buildings, only stairs are seen as the circulation for the workers private lives, the elevator remains a symbol of oppression and the work schedule. Echoing this idea is when the workers tend to the machines, their bodies and movements are rigid and sudden, the man and the machine act as one entity. The elevator on the upper city is actually that of possibility, not oppression.

The elevator speaks of a limitless ability to reach destinations and new heights. It shows the elevator as serving the people, but only the upper class people. I think Fritz Lang used the elevator in a way to illustrate the machine’s takeover of the future city, a dangerous invention that can seduce and oppress, while simultaneously taking them to new heights.


4. Question: Why was the representation of the urban future presented by this film so believable for people in 1927?

David Domanski: Answer:

Being a film set in the future we realize that the images of people and places are staged images, as this future reality is not in an existence that it can be captured on camera. The act of participation, in watching, invokes forgiveness of the obscene delusions in an artist's projection of a future urban reality and an overall acceptance of the composition of Fritz Lang's futuristic imagination. The 1920's is a period characterized by a flourishing economy, and having come after the first industrial war, World War One, the landscape of concrete and steel has become a familiar sight. The utilitarian, industrial and urban "styles" are established. Undoubtedly the urban form comes across as foreign, alien, peculiar - yet the overall image of urban setting is composed of elements recognizable to any built civilization. Archetypes of the wall, the column, the building, the street facade; down to the personal scale of the door, the window, the stairs; even the material quality of concrete, of glass and steel and of the trees and vegetation of the "garden of brothers" so-to-speak are communicable and resonant with human experience. Modes of transportation, trains, and elevators express the human experience of getting around in the city. There is a concept of time by which the occupants of this futuristic city apply themselves to. Best of all, and as simple as it sounds: there are other people in it. The story is not developed around an alien culture or history, it takes cue from Our history, from human history, even from story of the Tower of Babel. The are family relations, romantic relations, relations of duration and growth between friends and companions. There is the development and dissonance of faiths. It is in the cumulation of present momentum in terms of social and economic context in the 1920's, the enduring historical memory of human experience, and the unfolding of a human story that lies believability in the urban context portrayed in this film.



5. Question: Describe the architectural references of the above ground world. How do these compare to the type of urban architecture documented in Berlin and Man With a Movie Camera?

Mark Kim: Answer:

The film was made during the period when art deco was highly desired style because it symbolized progress of human towards utopian society. The above ground, which was to be a stark contrast to the underground world, is filled with art deco references.  The office of Freder’s father is a great example of how people in the 1920’s viewed the future as neo-classical world, with reference to the idea that cleanliness is godliness. Everything is white, from drywall to white clothing, giving everything a very clean and precise look. This is in great contrast to the world underground where it is filled with dirty machines and contraptions. The architecture of the future is imagined to be larger extrusions of what they had at the time period.  In fact, many of the design, architecture, technology, and style present in Metropolis can be found in the real world, but in a different scale (such as the buildings and roads).

Architectural style in Berlin is starting to show the rising trend of art deco and modernism, though most buildings more or less designed in industrial standards brick and mortar. One in a while we see some taller buildings that start to resemble buildings from Metropolis. But largely, the above ground scape in Berlin is a mixture of both fancy buildings and industrial buildings. Unlike Metropolis, where the classes have been separated and poor people are driven underground, in Berlin we see a diversity of people and style of architecture that varies from one area to the other. 

The architectural style in Man With a Movie Camera is that of a Stalinist/communist style which was prominent in that time period. The style symbolizes the power of the people, with large public buildings and vast open public squares. It is similar to Metropolis in that scale of the building has been used to demonstrate the human capacity to build bigger and taller after industrial revolution. However, the buildings in the city that the film was taken lack the aesthetics and richness that buildings in Metropolis has. In conforming to Marxism, the idea of beauty and aesthetics is abolished, and is instead replaced with sterile and banal looking facades and interiors.





6. Question: Do you think the visualization of the above ground representation of transportation is significant in Lang's Metropolis? Why or why not?

Peter Kitchen: Answer:

Yes, I think the above ground representation of transportation is significant in Lang’s Metropolis for a variety of reasons.
This film was produced in 1926 and uses spectacular special effects for its day such as stop motion. Motion pictures were a new form of media and entertainment. Since Metropolis is set in a futuristic time and place, this makes it even more influential and important for Lang to represent transportation in an innovative way. If he hadn’t, it may not have been seen as a futuristic city, or believed to be as futuristic and progressive.

The motion of the cars, planes and large shaft elevators were inventive. The stop motion was inventive. These effects had never been seen before on such a large scale, and worked so successfully.

Another reason it is so significant is that it gives the city a life on another level. The commotion of the city can be understood and related to. The city is alive. It is not frozen, there is motion on the ground, in the buildings and in the sky. From the cars, to the planes, air taxis, trains and elevators, Lang brings the city to life in a mechanical, built and motion-filled way.

With Metropolis, Lang also fuels the development of a North American city; built on transportation and more importantly the car. By using visual representation to animate the above ground transportation in Metropolis, in a way Lang is stressing the importance of it. He is stressing the grandeur of transport. It could be argued that he is suggesting that transportation is what builds a great city, a futuristic city, like the one in Metropolis. We must remember that the year is 1926, the mass production of cars for transportation is in its youth and building momentum. Lang is adding to that momentum by developing the special effects to animate its importance, making the visualization of the above ground transportation quite significant.



7. Question: Why are machines personified as evil in Lang's Metropolis. How does this compare with the image of machines in Berlin and Man With a Movie Camera?

Lu Liu: Answer:

Lang personified machines as evil because the most enormous power can only be expressed through the acting of evil. Considering the extreme weather conditions, such as tempests, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes, they are the typical cases which demonstrate how the extreme powers always bring us the most tremendous disasters. Therefore, I don’t think Lang personally holds a negative point of view towards machines as it described in the movie. During the interview with Lang, he said he was very interested in machines. [] I believe the machine to Lang is the theme for which he conceived the Metropolis. He has the choice whether to use positive or negative narratives, but he finds positive expression is not strong enough to illustrate the huge impact machinery brings to our lives.

The most enormous power can only be expressed through the acting of evil

Comparing to Metropolis, Berlin and the Man with the Movie Camera employs positive narratives to document the changes machinery brings to human activities in that era. In these two documentary movies, people are actually enjoying the company of machines. The repeated scenes of railways and buses show the velocity of modern cities; the batch-type production of bottled milk illustrates a healthier and securer lifestyle; the movie production itself is a kind of demonstration of the technologies within the camera.  Both of them realistically depict the on-going lives in that machinery era, which can be considered as a celebration of the industrial revolution. We can always sense the joyfulness and peacefulness from these two movies.

The railway system illustrates the velocity of modern cities.

The movie production itself is a kind of demonstration of the technologies within the camera.

We can always sense the mood of harmony and joyfulness from Berlin and the Man with the Movie Camera. However, Metropolis gives us a strong feeling of fear towards machines. Although Berlin and the Man with the Movie Camera are documentary films, they can’t document in every sensation people hold for machines. I believe that fear is existing in people’s minds. People have been very well enjoying the existence of machines, but at the same time, they have no idea about the details where the machines come from, how they work, and what they will evolve into. Metropolis, on the other hand, describes this mood of fear. It sets in the future which forms the best way to demonstrate the imagination in people’s minds.  The movie turns the imaginary fear into reality, but is ridiculously wrong comparing to the real future (today).

The machines in Metropolis illustrate the sense of fear in people’s minds.


  8. Question: The title of the film, Berlin Symphony of a Great City, is quite a descriptive set of words, carefully chosen to reflect the position taken by the director of the film in the way he has chosen to portray the city.

Considering the title "Berlin Symphony of a Great City", speculate on a similarly formatted title for another city, and the film that you would create about that city. (ie. name of city, type of music, of a , descriptor, city type). Your title should infer your intended manipulation of the urban realities of your city film.

Describe the type of film that you would make. Colour. Black and white? Sounds? Music? Sequencing? etc. Describe the creation of your film in a way that can help us to visualize your film. Speak about the film in cinematic terms. What types of angles. What sorts of scenes. What part of the city would you specifically include/exclude to manipulate your audience.

Andrew Ng: Answer:

Tokyo, as a city, has a few characteristics which define it from other metropolises around the world; as one of the biggest, densest and arguably the most cultured mega-city in the world, the Japanese capital boasts advanced infrastructure, extreme convenience and beautiful views. The city itself, especially at night, is a phenomenal place to be and to photograph, and the pace of life is much faster than that in North America. A film about Tokyo would incorporate the three things that define it as a city: intensity of movement, density of lights, and the phenomenal consumerism. One such name for the film could be Tokyo, Movement and Lights of the Consumerist Capital. 

The film would open with large panoramic views of Tokyo; time lapsed over a 24-hour period. The rest of the film would then relocate to different parts of the city over the same period. Unifying the different elements and locations would be quick time-lapses of the general city. The film would definitely be shot in colour, as the lights and the movement would need to be very apparent. In order to capture the intensity, flow and movement, most of the movie would be time lapses of different scenes. The music would be classical music like the Bumble Bee which varies in intensity, speed and key; it would match with moving elements in the film and show the pace at which the city of Tokyo lives at. The general focus of the film would be the movement, the lights, and the shopping that occurs in the city.

The JR, Shinkansen, and the Tokyo Metro work in conjunction to move people within the city as well as between the suburbs and other towns near the municipality of Tokyo-to. An intricate system of transport is formed as many different routes and lines overlap, creating systems and networks of movement orchestrated at a very specific schedule. Trains are set to arrive at similar times to facilitate transfers, and come together from many different directions and elevations. Multiple shots would be taken; some views taken from the trains, some from above and some below bridges in order to capture the crossing, converging and diverging of the train paths.
The Shibuya Crossing, also known as the Hachiko Crossing, is one of the largest and most famous scramble crossings in existence. Filming the incredible amount of people who move in all directions at the crossing; while setting a time lapse in the middle of the crossing would not be possible, an eye-level camera crossing with others would be an interesting view in conjunction with the top view. The crossing, when time lapsed, would also show the interesting character between the two flows of traffic: people and vehicles. This would be taken throughout the day to show patterns over a 24-hour period.

Ginza, probably the most famous location in Tokyo (aside from Harajuku), is often known as a bright, night-life area, where many offices are located and the office lights are consistently on. Most oftenly shown in movies that contain Tokyo, it’s the most photographed and filmed location in Japan. The “lights” of Tokyo are centred greatly in Ginza, and worms-eye-view and elevational shots of the buildings and architecture would demonstrate the lights that exist in the region best. The time lapse would attempt to capture the lights turning on and off from morning to night, and the frames would potentially be sped up to show the flickering of the lights and sun.

Shibuya and Roppongi, two big districts in Tokyo, are known very well for their shopping. Shibuya is more Eastern and Japanese, where Roppongi hosts more large complexes with more English-speaking personnel and brands. Filming would primarily be taken at Shibuya 109, the largest shopping complex in the area. Mostly the footage will be taken with cameras at eye level, observing the shoppers. Cameras will be placed at the cashiers and watch transactions and interactions between parties.


  9. Question: The title of the film, Berlin Symphony of a Great City, is quite a descriptive set of words, carefully chosen to reflect the position taken by the director of the film in the way he has chosen to portray the city.

Considering the title "Berlin Symphony of a Great City", speculate on a similarly formatted title for another city, and the film that you would create about that city. (ie. name of city, type of music, of a , descriptor, city type). Your title should infer your intended manipulation of the urban realities of your city film.

Describe the type of film that you would make. Colour. Black and white? Sounds? Music? Sequencing? etc. Describe the creation of your film in a way that can help us to visualize your film. Speak about the film in cinematic terms. What types of angles. What sorts of scenes. What part of the city would you specifically include/exclude to manipulate your audience.

Connor O'Grady: Answer:

New York, Inten-city of a Strange Place.

It is well known that most people in New York City are not native to New York. This is a phenomenon that is a representation of masses of people that coexist in the city. New York is filled with people who come and go, who hope to find themselves or their dreams or to find a little money or experience. New York as a city seduces people through its massive cultural center for both arts and ethnicities, as well as its business hub in one of the largest economies in the world.

The film I would create manipulates New York as a representation of the city that intends to display an intimate metamorphosis of the relationship between an individual person and the big city. Much like meeting a person for the first time, the film represents this phenomenon of being strange to a new place.

The video will begin fast and intense, Grand Central Station, an epicenter of the overwhelming intensity of a new place and a new city. As sounds of radio stations and tv programs, concerts, and cars honking overlay themselves in the audio, everything seems to be inaudible. The wide angle shots, panning up and around will be long and delayed. The filmography is meant to give a feeling of being lost in the buildings and areas as the are distinguished by their size and colour. A bokeh style of filming abstracts the city from its details, yet still provides a frame work of the city. Many significant iconographic buildings and areas are filmed. Museums, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Ground Zero, Empire State Building filmed with the same lens and sound quality at an upward angle as the structures stand intimidating.

As the film looks across the skyline from the top of the Empire State Building the city skyline slowly begins to come into focus. There is a moment of pause as the noise fades and clear music is heard.

Music: Pianist Envy-Chilly Gonzalez
A mixtape created by a Montreal based pianist provides a hybrid style of hip hop, electronic, and solo piano that perfectly amalgamates a music with the same sort of complexity and articulation that is found within the city. As the music changes speeds so do the length of the frames.

The frames begin to be shot in real time, without distortion. The frames become shorter, but now the video shoots the infrastructure of the subway system, the offices, the small parks and shops, food carts, and the areas between the tourist spots. As the film continues, the music speed increases and there is a tilt shift development within the film, slowly focusing in more and more on direct angles. Clips of the different burrows outside of midtown fill the screen. The film becomes desaturated as the film becomes intense and direct yet more distilled.

The film ends as a subway disappears into the darkness. It is the metamorphosis of the understanding of the city. The fading away signifies an understanding the switch from skimming the surface to the underneath.


  10. Question: The title of the film, Berlin Symphony of a Great City, is quite a descriptive set of words, carefully chosen to reflect the position taken by the director of the film in the way he has chosen to portray the city.

Considering the title "Berlin Symphony of a Great City", speculate on a similarly formatted title for another city, and the film that you would create about that city. (ie. name of city, type of music, of a , descriptor, city type). Your title should infer your intended manipulation of the urban realities of your city film.

Describe the type of film that you would make. Colour. Black and white? Sounds? Music? Sequencing? etc. Describe the creation of your film in a way that can help us to visualize your film. Speak about the film in cinematic terms. What types of angles. What sorts of scenes. What part of the city would you specifically include/exclude to manipulate your audience.

James Strong: Answer:

“Toronto: The Racket of an Underground City.”
I think, given a twenty-first century preoccupation with the unseen, a contemporary version of ‘Berlin Symphony of a Great City’ would focus less on the obvious daily routines of the masses of the city and more on the underground or disregarded cultures that make the city unique. Ultimately I think that the style of ‘Berlin’ limits its description of a city to the rituals of its time period; these things are not unique to one city.  All over the world people wake at 7am, they shower, eat breakfast and leave for work.  They break at noon, have lunch, return to work and then return home on public transit and engage in all manner of things in the evening.  I think the real richness of a city, and a truly interesting film, lies in things unseen.  How does a city get its water? Where does a city deposit its garbage? How does a city deal with crime, and what is the nature of the places in which a city’s criminals are born and raised? What social scenes occupy a city’s youth? Etc.

The answers to these are anomalies.  They are either intentionally hidden or disregarded; thought of as unimportant and things that a ‘regular’ person doesn’t come into contact with on a day to day basis.  They are cultures and sub-cultures that are more often than not contemplated at a safe distance rather than engaged in directly.  Where one person may, for instance, engage directly with one culture, say an indie music following, they may not know where their sewage is being deposited; and, more likely than not, don’t care.

In that respect a contemporary film that portrays a city in a faithful way in a style that suits ‘Berlin’ would disregard the obvious rituals as common knowledge and focus instead engaging things forgotten; a tool for describing a city that is in some sense sedated.   I don’t intend to suggest that this is a condition unique to a single city, but I think that in the exercise of revealing these things hidden the uniqueness of a city would come to light, contrasting the monotonous tone that carries through ‘Berlin’ where the viewer can’t help but wonder, would the film be any different if the titular city were replaced with another?

That brings me to the identification of a style of music to follow the film.  I think that the best soundtrack of music for a city that describes an underground is always changing.  In a world where every person celebrates an inherent individuality in regards to the style of music they listen to it is impossible to ascribe to a social class or a demographic subset a genre that is appropriate to every person.  I use the word ‘Racket’ in the title because I think an amalgamation of a number of styles incorporates the theme of engaging directly in things we either normally find uncomfortable or ignore altogether.

I have to admit that a film that comes to mind immediately when thinking about how to answer this question is Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’.  Behind the movies narrative is a portrait of New York City in the 1970’s following the Vietnam war.  Taxi Driver dives into a perfect example of a subculture unseen; that of the New York City Taxi service.  I won’t go too far into it, but through Travis’s eyes the viewer is forced to engage a culture of New York that is often unseen and intentionally ignored. 

As a result this would have to be a film that is shot with a strict attention to detail; one that utilizes intense close-ups and quick cuts jumping across multiple facets of the unseen, and definitely shot in colour.  The movie would be quickly paced. Instead of giving the viewer a coherent narrative the focus would be to deliver the impression that there are so many unseen facets to the city of Toronto, providing a collage of images and short videos that are intended to force the viewer to engage directly with these ‘things unseen’.



11. Question: The title of the film, Berlin Symphony of a Great City, is quite a descriptive set of words, carefully chosen to reflect the position taken by the director of the film in the way he has chosen to portray the city.

Considering the title "Berlin Symphony of a Great City", speculate on a similarly formatted title for another city, and the film that you would create about that city. (ie. name of city, type of music, of a , descriptor, city type). Your title should infer your intended manipulation of the urban realities of your city film.

Describe the type of film that you would make. Colour. Black and white? Sounds? Music? Sequencing? etc. Describe the creation of your film in a way that can help us to visualize your film. Speak about the film in cinematic terms. What types of angles. What sorts of scenes. What part of the city would you specifically include/exclude to manipulate your audience.

Eric Tai: Answer:

Hong Kong: Union of East of West

In my film, I would want to examine and portray the city of Hong Kong as a contrast and culmination of two distinct cultures. Unlike cities like Toronto which has so many cultures it becomes hard to make a very solid comparison between them, or American cities which have been historically known as “The Great Melting Pot”, or Chinese cities which still remain heavily unicultural despite all the outside exposure and influence, Hong Kong interests me in that these two cultures exist simultaneously and symbiotically, and have woven themselves together into a new and unique society.

Unlike Berlin Symphony of a Great City, which has many sequences taken from afar, I would want to have shots where the cameraman is right in with the scene, with some camera shake that mimics walking and follows the citizens from beside and from in front. I would want live recordings, though ideally from stationary microphones to keep the audio steady and keep the focus on the video.

Music background would be unique for the film; I was imagining an overlapped mix between classical symphonic music and traditional Chinese hymns and chants. The idea of the film is to portray the cultures as a union and not in dissonance, so the pitch/key and tempo of the music pieces would be matched (or altered to match) and would partially fade in and out of each other depending on the imagery.

There are many scenes and parts of the city that are possible for this comparison film. I don’t necessarily think that “East” and “West” need to be taken based on actual or factual data (especially since nowadays cultures are propagating so quickly in the global village), but should also consider our personal associations of Eastern and Western culture. These include:

Industry:                Although much of China is now a consumerist economy, Hong Kong claimed this title much earlier. Comparing this with (stereotypical?) beliefs of Chinese frugality can show the dangers of the lulls of consumerism.

Religion:                There is both heavy Christian presence and high Buddhist influence in the mid-town areas of Hong Kong. It is not unusual for these religious sanctums to be adjacent. Architecture students in Hong Kong study both Hellenic architecture and Feng Shui.

Food:                      The fusion of British and Chinese food has created an interesting dining experience in Hong Kong. A typical lunch could be a ham and egg sandwich with coffee, or steamed dumplings and siu mai with pu’er tea, or in some restaurants a combination of both.

Infrastructure:      The dense condition of Hong Kong has caused many interesting settings where vernacular Chinese architecture mixes in with urban superdevelopments. One example is the entrance to a community village where an elevated rail system passes by, and has one of the exits named after the village.

Lifestyle:                In the district of Kennedytown there is a stretch of road straddled by a seafront park and a long row of bus stops. In the mornings you could see on one side a line of businessmen in suits waiting and chasing the busses, and on a meditative group of Tai-Chi practitioners.

The movie is heavily scene-based (unlike Berlin: for example, which was composed around music) but for the purposes of the comparison, I would like to illustrate the coexistence, union, and fusion of the two cultures in as many facets as possible.



12. Question: How might a contemporary GREEN or SUSTAINABLE preoccupation with the urban environment influence the reading of Berlin as “not so great” a city?

Bei Wang: Answer:

In this film, Berlin is portrayed as a living machine.

In the post industrial revolution era, the formation of the metropolis is enabled by the invention of the stream engine.

Locomotive is a recurring theme throughout the film, from the long opening sequence of the fast moving railroad track and the ever accelerating speed of the train wheels to the rapid motion of the factory machines, the metropolis is both created and sustained by the combustion engines powering these machines.>

There appears a large contrast between the quiet, calm predawn Berlin in its “sleep” and the hustling and noisy metropolitan.

A shot of the empty streets, pan to the silent machine gears, still frame of the factory chimney.

But the city awakens as the machines begin to turn, the trains leave the station, the cars crowd the streets, and the chimneys begin to billow black smoke into the sky.

In a more contemporary setting, where there is more environmental awareness, the shear volume of “black smoke” or carbon footprint of a city, is seen, not as a “breath” that measures its liveliness but an alarm that is set off which becomes detrimental to its reputation and the health of its inhabitants.



13. Question: How is the idea of the city presented by Fritz Lang in Metropolis SIMILAR to the reality of the German city presented in Berlin Symphony of a Great City?

Shuo Wang: Answer:



14. Question: How is the idea of the city presented by Fritz Lang in Metropolis AN EXAGGERATION of the reality of the German city presented in Berlin Symphony of a Great City?

Stephen Wenzel: Answer:

The city in “Berlin Symphony of a Great City” is presented as a bustling, modern place driven by the new power of technology and industrialization. The streets are full of pedestrians, horse drawn carriages, automobiles, streetcars and buses with the train, a symbol of progress barrelling towards the city. The City, while full of life, is congested and dangerous at times. On a most basic level, “Metropolis” takes this bustling view of and amplifies it. The sky is filled with planes and highways are suspended a hundred feet of the ground and the built environment has swallowed the whole landscape.

The lives of the city dwellers are dictated by the economy created from this fast-paced, machine-driven world. They wake up in the morning and working frantically all day, to be released in the evening when they are able to celebrate and recreate. In “Metropolis”, Fritz Lang creates a caricature of this view of the city, exaggerating the role of the machine and its power over the lives of the everyday people. The workers are forced into a manic pace in order to keep up with the machines they operate. Technology is mutated from a tool of efficiency and production, in “Berlin”, into force which sucks the life out of the people. The city becomes a place in utter opposition to human nature rather than a place that brings humans together to accomplish greater things. When the workers are finally released from their shift, they are not free as the workers in “Berlin” But become mere zombies, completely worn out by the machines.

“Berlin” presents a great divide between social classes as a key characteristic of the city. The rich are seen dining in cafes, the workers run shops and operate machinery while the poor sit hungry along the sidewalk. Nevertheless, everyone shares the same streets. The whole spectrum of inhabitants combines to create the reality that is the city. The poor may at times become invisible to the rich, but in public they are still part of the fabric of one city; only in private are they able to fully divorce from each other.  In Metropolis, This division between the rich man and the worker is greatly exaggerated. The two no longer share the same street; the rich inhabit the sky ruling like gods, high above the ground while the poor inhabit the underground worker’s city. Like an extreme version of Berlin, the high-class are blind to the reality of the poor as seen in the case of Freder who, in his life of luxury, is oblivious to the workers city until his pursuit of Maria.

Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” takes the Idea of Berlin as the bustling, industrial, and sometimes harsh working man’s city and, through exaggerating its qualities transforms it into both a fantasy and a nightmare.



15. Question: What do you feel was the primary aspect of the Urban Life presented in Metropolis that was DYSTOPIC?

Lisa Wong: Answer:

The primary aspect of the Urban Life presented in Metropolis that is dystopic is the society's division into different classes. Notably there is the class of those who enjoy the luxuries above Earth, and the class of those who toil in poverty underground. Although one class seems better off than the other, both are somehow manipulated by repressive social control.

That the underground workers live in dystopia is beyond question. Firstly, their work - which maintains their city and the city above - is often very hazardous, absolutely exhausting, and seemingly endless. The workers' city was likely established underground in order to keep the continuous labour under control.  Furthermore, the authority maintains control over the working class by stripping away their identity. This is demonstrated by the clothes they wear as well as by the fact that each person is given an identification number rather than a full name (i.e. Georgy 11811). This loss of identity is further shown when Freder easily switches places with Georgy 11811. Simply by donning the workers' uniform, Freder loses his identity as Joh Frederson's son, and is able to blend with the monotony of the workers' world with ease.

In contrast, the planners and managers of the city live luxuriously and as far away from the Earth as possible. However, because their lives are so disconnected from the lives of the workers in the underworld, these people have little to no knowledge of the underground city and its inhabitants. This ignorance is also a means for the authority to keep his people in check. The authority cannot predict what people might do should they be informed of the horrors that occur in the underground city. Thus it is no surprise when his son learns about the world below, Joh Frederson charges the Thin Man to spy on him in order regain control over his son's actions.

In the end, although there is mediation between the two social classes, the division remains. But it is with the reconciliation between the Head and the Hands that there is hope for a less dystopic future.



16. Question: How might a contemporary “green” city be presented differently than a 1920s Industrialized city such as those presented in the two “documentary films”?

Shuyin (Sophia) Wu: Answer:

In both of the films, city is portrayed through an abstract and inhuman eye. The reality seems to be a visually appealing surface that floats in space and time. However, I think contemporary "green" city might focus more on meaningful place and occasion.

In both "Berlin: Symphony of a Great City" and "The Man With the Movie Camera", the directors ignored individual inhabitant. Dziga Vertov's  slogan " life caught unaware" seems to convey an indifferent attitude that pursues merely the happening of events in the city rather than digging more deeply into relationships and interconnectedness of social life. I think contemporary "green" city might want to explore the networks of social lifes because of the shrinking of "a global village". Both films stay at a distance with the stories of individual and develop more abstract visual designs that is appealing to the eye. On the contrary, "green" city might be a stage where drama happens, where thoughts and emotions are being communicated and experienced. "Green" not only means a hygiene environment but also a mentally healthy society.  The density of a contemporary city requires more understanding with each other. Otherwise, because of this competitive density, city life feels more isolated than ever. We can no longer be contented with just visual stimuli now but we need something deeper that might touch our heart to be felt alive in this world where virtual space and technology makes life and death a remote idea. In other words, a constantly changing living cycle that consists the life style of a "green" city inhabitant might be more appropriate than the life that contributes to the epic poems of the power and pace of a city machine with endless motion and mechanics transformation.

Also, industrialized city in both films seems manipulated because of the amount of editing involved. Through their perception, reality is manufactured. It is more of a propaganda and contemporary city has enough advertisement already. Contemporary "green" city might want to reveal more naked truth that is down to earth, because our natural resources are exhausted. We have more stake on our hands upon the future that serious contemplations are necessary in contrary to an irresponsible craze that follows a visually appealing future. More social thematic features such as homelessness and nuclear weapons might prepare the audience with a deeper understanding of the reality. Contemporary art finds beauty in everything that even awful thing has its own beautiful side.

In summary, today's green city needs more mediation rather than driving to the destination like a machine.



17. Question: The run time of Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera are both in the 65-70 minute range. This allows for a wide range of image sequences to be included to portray a detailed picture of the city. What might these films look like if they were reduced to 10 minutes in run time? What might be cut out? Could they still give a thorough understanding of life in the city?

Ying Xu: Answer:

Both are silent documentaries and are realistic captures of activities in the city at that time. They had no script and therefore no plot during the actual filmage and only a vague one attempted at post-production as the editors arranged and rearranged the clips that the camera took. However, the worlds that the two movies try to convey are different. While Berlin is purely illustrating the minor events of today, Man with a movie camera is trying to convey a Marxist idealistic world that is futuristic from the time. Not only do both movies get into very particular activities of human life in the cities - such as “man waking up from a street bench”, “withdrawing curtain of a store display”, “woman putting on cloths”, they also focus on nature and technologies that invade the cities, which create the atmosphere - like “birds flying onto ledges of a roof”, “wind blowing and making trees dance”, “camera lens zooming in and out of focus”, and “people running in excitement of a moving plane.”

If the films were shortened to 10 minutes, all of the particularities of mentioned above would be diminished. Clips would be categorized in to types and one would be chosen to “represent” the category, as what I have already done in the last paragraph. “Man waking up from a street besnh” and “woman putting on cloths” become the single illustrations of human activity, “Bird” and “wind” become the natural phenomenon, and “camera lens” and “plane” become the representative technologies of the films. It would feel as if the scenes were very carefuly chosen in order to convey a message constructed by these scenes that would in turn become symbolic.

The films would lose their richness. The accompanying music would shorten to the length of a pop song and would also lose much of the dynamicism and variation in rhythm that supported the original pulsing pictures in transformation.



18. Question: The run time of Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera are both in the 65-70 minute range. This allows for a wide range of image sequences to be included to portray a detailed picture of the city. Describe the content and presentation of a 30 second “trailer” for Berlin? i.e. What are the essences that you would deem MUST be included?

Yifei Yuan: Answer:

The way of presentation of the movie is very ordered, it coincides with modern people’s life in a metropolis city. Start with empty streets and architectures, and then gradually the street becomes full of people and cars crossing each other.  The strong symbol of morning life is factory’s door opening and machines start to rotate. It characterizes the start of many people’s everyday life. 

The 30s trial will blur the much sequenced order; it will give both the mechanical trajectory and the harmonious nature of the city. And by alternating two discord image of Berlin, a feeling of wonder and exploration is inspired. The first 15 second will start with trains passing by and railways flying away (about 4 second). This gives a strong visual impact that caught viewers’ eyes, giving a strong feeling of excitement. And immediately followed by the opening of factory doors and the starting of machines rotating (about 4 second), these images of sudden movement will stimulate view’s curiosity. But afterwards, the mood shifts to a silent and lonely image of the city --- the cat running on an empty street, and river flowing under the bridge, and followed by women and man walking and relaxing under sunlight in a garden (about 7 second). This presents the beauty of Berlin, a city of poetic.

The later 15 second will be used to present the blundering adult life with the noise and bustle of life in the city compared with the innocent and pure playfulness of children and animal. Not only does this comparison brings a sharp contradictory, but also foreshadows a dramatic ending. After a romantic break of lovers and nature, several images of the overlapping of neon lights are shown, accompanied by moving legs of dancers (3 seconds). These intense duplicated moment is as daze as the working life of modern city man, they are repeating same task every day. Therefore images of a spinning type machine are shown (1 second).

After this a sarcastic look of several dolls moving their heads pops up, indicates a change in mood, followed by images of children’s slower movement and simpler life (3 seconds). Then the trial will move towards the end “wonder”. Start by a woman hang over a bridge, and then several images of crowded and chaotic street view, and a zoom in view of her frightened eyes is showed. And the end image is a train head moving toward the screen.  The face and body gesture of the woman, which evokes a sense of danger, is tightened with the image of populated street and the moving train. This is also echoes back with the beginning of the trial, which is interesting effect: what is the connection of the women with the train?



19. Question: The run time of Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera are both in the 65-70 minute range. This allows for a wide range of image sequences to be included to portray a detailed picture of the city. Describe the content and presentation of a 30 second “trailer” for Man With a Movie Camera? i.e. What are the essences that you would deem MUST be included?

Jian (Jay) Zhao: Answer:

With no storyline, dialogue or subtitles, creating a trailer for such an unique film could be quite a challenge. No intention was ever made on creating a hierarchy of time as each scene was shot separately. As a result, any 30 second clip of in the film could potentially be used as its trailer.

A sense of time and space is really never fully understood, but the experiential qualities of the actions depicted by the workers in the film are extremely evident. Rather than focusing on recording reality, Vertov wanted to create a film that was different and unique from other psychological dramas. Emphases is placed on key moments and the transitions from scene to scene is neglected, trimming all the things are not necessary in a standard film. Rather than following the dull and predictable events of an individual in the Soviet Union, the film attempts to reproduce the ‘zeitgeist’ of its collective. Vertov also tries to show very specific and unknown moments that we often tend to miss. The experience of watching and editing is even documented. The film in a way becomes a documentary within itself.

Intimate connection to the physical camera can be found throughout the film as a symbol for mans relationship with the machine. In a particular scene, the camera itself becomes the focus point as it performs on stage in front of a crowd.
With that said, essential components of the trailer should definitely include Vertov’s depiction of the collective zeitgeist, the celebration of mans kinship with one another and to the city. The uniqueness of the filming style will be evident regardless of clips chosen due to the fact that it is maintained throughout the entire film. Editorial documenting is another key component, as is the depiction of an physical audience. Man’s intimacy with the machine also should included, and can be easily represented by showing the man behind the camera at work. The choice of audio should be upbeat and playful, to help set the specific tone described in the film.



20. Question: How do the types of sequences in Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera reflect cultural preoccupations of the 1920s? If you were to reshoot these films today, in the same cinematic manner, what might be the focus of the footage?

Carlo Pasini: Answer:

I think the beauty of the films Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and Man with a Movie Camera  is their contribution to Architecture in film as that they demonstrate the sort of basic instrument that movies are the conduit for, which is to provided above all the presentation of the architecture, or infrastructure, that supports the title surrounding the plot: the natural and synthetic conditions that allow for the purpose and actions of the characters to occur. This is done more literally in these movies than others because the main characters are singled out, and the supporting cast are the wash of towns’ people. Secondly, the objective for these films is to give a real documentation of the metropolises, be it as promotional material or not.

When I watch Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, I see the character which commits suicide in the movie as the main character. When I watch Man with a Movie Camera, I see the main character as the camera-man in the process of documenting the city and its people. Both main characters play passive observers creating a commentary on their societies by their contextual roles, not on or off-screen actions.

In Man with a Movie Camera, the camera-man is making a rather explicit comment that we understand through his outgoing body language, “this is worth documenting! This is all very fascinating, all of this is a new improvement” .... the coal mines, the metallurgy factory, the family car, the spa-like sulphur-beaches with its relaxed social-cultural leisure,  etc. “Some poor people still sleep on wagons to make due, but one day, the metropolis will have a bed and wash-bowl for them too, that's the metropolis' duty!” The man with the camera engages this message with the very rallied involvement of the people around him, even the taunting of the train conductor along with the other high-up daring places he goes, he is indirectly portending to the message that to be successful, one must stand out in the attention of others, ruthlessly   committed to it, and even put at risk one's health, because it is for the betterment of society in doing so.

In Berlin, the suicide-victim is saying, much the opposite in my mind, “ this is all madness,” the tempo, the required synchronicity of machines and labour, the traffic, the window dressing which tries to interrupt the attention of focusing on task or getting to an engagement on time and lure demand for its services or products. In the film, everyone goes to the cafes, shines their shoes, makes due on time for work, goes out to dinner, dances and nobody stops to question it or feel to release themselves from it. But there is a greater sadness, I believe; the real message, caught in visual affect by the directors, is that : there is no time to mourn, we must stare in horror, take it in, and contemplate it later in our new empty modern dwellings. The purpose of the suicide, I believe, is to impact; it is to create such an event that tries to shake the people around in hopes of them snapping out of this spectacle, and give it up as they did to allow for people to breath. Or perhaps, it is a statement that some of us may not contend with this new expectation and rhythm to the metropolis - people commit suicide when they've lost all their sensibility. 

If I had to reshoot these films today, in the same cinematic manner, I would reshoot the footage of  Freund's film in my versionToronto: Post-Rock of G8 City, focusing on the preoccupations surrounding Western Metropolis of Canadians and I would reshoot the footage of Kaufmann's film in my version Man with a Movie Camera visits Cambridge surrounding the preoccupations for sustainable living by the rural towns people of Canada.The first one would centre on the city before, during and after the protests that transpired during the G20 summit in 2010. The second one would centre on the dismantling of the old prerogatives, the new improved sustainable society and the sort of local gathering/dwelling and weekly market social exchange that a town can offer like Cambridge can.

In first film, the cultural preoccupation of both the emotional impact the world-stage protests have on people, and what the protester believe people should question are reflected. Toronto, like all westernized metropolises, runs on a cycle of consumerism that both fulfills its people's livelihood and their  reflective sense of culture and social acceptance. While in the international protesters' minds, “no one genuinely embraces this but the inertia of it carries it forward and thus, it needs to be stopped and dismantled.” In the second film, the seismic cultural preoccupations in the wake of global catastrophe such environmental shifts, natural impacts, and economic recession (domino collapse) threatening civilization to rethink how to address a standard of living in a new way is reflected. Specifically, the notion of standard of living, subversion of land-usage, sustainable infrastructures and co-operative living.

Toronto: Post-Rock of a G8 City
would start with scenes of Toronto prior to the G20 Summit showing the modest, but lively in its own context, downtown streets of Toronto as Canadians, new immigrants, and tourists walk about. Scenes of day to day business follow the scenes of Torontonians waking up and leaving their modest sized, mid-town, victorian house or north of the city suburbans to take the subway downtown. People exit the subway at Front, King, and Queen Metro, walking through the city's sky-paths,  under-paths or ride the trams to the Commercial/Concord District and the Banking/TSX District. Then, abruptly, scenes of the protest are shown: vandalism, head to head stand-offs between special enforcement police and people protesting, and others just starring at the rioters. People living in the downtown area just stare from their windows, others just crept-up on high points to get a good view. The rioters are voicing discontent about the “greedy marry-go-round” promoted by politicians and the general exploitation of third world countries – the exploitation that allows the industrial sector of metropolis to gain either primary resources, cheap secondary products, or purge surplus and obsolete commercial items to low sanitary/health-law enforcing states for workers to scavenge metals from – as their picket signs explain their cause for concern. The the third half of the footage of the film shows the city-workers dismantling the broad fences used for crowd-control during the event, as they are no longer need, and the metropolis has gone back to business as usual; its people after the protests are unchanged.

In contrast, a conducive sequence of footage is drawn out in Man with a Movie Camera visits Cambridge. It starts off with footage of a person enjoying all the amenities of life that a current day western person enjoys but under the new sustainable infrastructure that enables this pleasure to occur without scalar-indifferent waste or pollution. The emphasis is to promote the humility of the simple, organized and self-sufficient towns like Cambridge now spreading in Canada and reinforce the potential of its viability to the audience. Set slightly in the future, we see the camera man fist capturing footage of the Tri-City monument being dismantled that was erected by the now subverted Home Depot lot at the end of Hespeler Road – the monument the company hoped would solidify its presence in the towns development and its sales margins above its competitors for years to come-  just as Home Depots in the Uniter-States have experienced since the recession in 2008. The footage then proceeds with the camera-man filming town's people helping one another retrofit their houses of the community with Green-infrastructures: solar panels for electricity to supply lighting, solar-water heaters, water retention tanks to utilize rain run off, BioMethane Recovery systems for winter heating and inverted heat pumps for energy efficient air conditioning. Different clips capture the town's planning and now farmlands, for sustainable living with all its people working in co-operation. There are also scenes of old and young people and kids mingling and discussing about local food at the Saturday morning Market

The first film, Toronto: Post-Rock of a G8 city, would be synchronized to an extended made for motion-picture version of the track: We're No Here by international Post-Rock band Mogwai. The second film, Man with a Camera Visits Cambridge, would enjoy the live performance of their song: Cause=Time by canadian Baroque-Rock musical collective Broken Social Scene, at all its showings.



21. Question: Speak to the difference in the presentation of the city of the films that are restricted to the use of music vs. those that have a choice of music, sound effects and voice. Would Berlin or Man with a Movie Camera have been more or less successful had they had benefit of modern sound technology?

Nicholas Savage: Answer:

The benefit of Man with a Movie Camera and Berlin being films that focus on modern (at the time) landscapes is that they do not require a spoken narrative as they compose a visual narrative. If anything these films as shown at their time most likely benefited from the backdrop of a live orchestra, whos energy and quality of sound by the very nature of live performace gives more than modern dubbed composed films. As well as having a clearer narrative because of this in their own countries these films require no translations, the visual is a common language as is music. Spoken narratives even in understood languages require a kind of internal translation that visual narratives do not, when you watch these films it is as if you drink them in. They convey a precursur of the same narrative in films like Barka, Koyaanisqatsi and Godfrey Reggio’s other films at a time when modern society was still marveled at with out the duality it now conveys these more modern films also choose to have a visual narrative placed along side a composers work I can only assume these film makers are continuing an art forgotten by film makers that now had the ability to add sound to their images whos images then need not to hold the entire weight of the film and as such begin to hold less. Long story short these films would have been less successful with the benefit of sound.


22. Question: Compare the techniques that are used to illustrate the passage of time in the three films. How do these techniques impact your viewing of the city in the film?

Nicole Bruun-Meyer: Answer:

All released within a year of each other in the early 20th century, these three films use the imagery of the machine and factory life to strongly show the passage of time throughout the day.  However, while the images may be similar, the methods used by Ruttmann and Vertov in their films, contrasts in complexity to that of Lang’s in Metropolis.  While Lang can rely on his plot to signify a change in time, Vertov and Ruttmann must illustrate their movement throughout the day, in much more subtle ways.

As Metropolis begins, the images of wheels and pumps shrouded in steam quickly set the stage for the upcoming scene.  As the shifts change, Lang has played with the rhythm in the pace of the incoming and outgoing men, suggesting a critical moment in the day.  Those finishing their long shift and heading home are marching at half speed compared to this starting their shift.  Lang is much more obvious in his portrayal of time, as with the scene of Freder working the machine with the giant clock hands.  Like the men marching out of the factory, we see his body language change, suggesting hours have passed.  He also cries out to his father, pleading for nine hours to be up.  But in the end, it is the shot of the clock on the wall, and the steam whistle that signals the shift has finally come to an end and the day is over.  

Also using images of machinery, automation and progress, Ruttmann and Vertov have a much stronger sense of editing and rhythm in their films, which suggest the passage of time without the need for more obvious tricks.  While their films are more based in the timeline of a day in their respective cities, it is their use of clever editing and juxtaposition, which keep the story moving along.  Vertov called it his ‘theory of intervals’, where he believed the film has to be built upon,


“'intervals,' that is, upon a movement between the pieces, the frames; upon the proportions of these pieces between themselves, upon the transitions from one visual impulse to the one following it.’ He indicates that not less important than the movement between images is "the spectacular value of each distinct image in its relations to all the others engaged in the 'montage battle'." (Lawton, p. 45)


Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera can be divided into two parts, the first showing rituals and activities of the day, while the second moves the viewer into the nighttime.  Representing the pace of a day, each starts off slowly, with long shots and quieter music and eventually reaches a crescendo, through the use of shorter clips, some no longer than a split second.  We begin with actual images of people sleeping and as they slowly awaken, the films intensity increases as the day moves on. 

Similar to Metropolis, Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City begins with images of steam and pumps, this time focused on the engine of a train heading into Berlin.  As it slows into the station, we shift to quiet views over the city, as its residents sleep.  Like Vertov’s film, Berlin’s pace and illustration of time is achieved through the rhythm of editing, as critical, high production points in the day are characterised by quick scenes, repetition and overlays.  Examples of this are the images of secretaries at work on their typewriters, printing presses churning out newspapers and operators connecting calls.  The tempo and frenetic nature of these scenes is intensified as they are juxtaposed with images of fighting dogs and screaming monkeys. 

Since the primary technique used by the latter two directors to show the passage of time is the tempo and rhythm created by the editing, the overall impression of the cities is one of frenzy.  In Metropolis, the sense of a passage of time is usually associated with the workers who live beneath the city.  The fact that these scenes utilise the imagery of repetitive production the most, furthers the notion of the city as a machine.  Berlin and Man with the Movie Camera use these sorts of mechanical images to create the repetitive, fast-paced shots, promoting their notion of the chaos of urban life and the density of the city.  Both Ruttmann and Vertov used the medium of film to show us a ‘day in the life’ of their cities, allowing us to take a critical look at our lives in the ‘modern’ age. 


Donald, James. ‘The City, The Cinema: Modern Spaces’, Visual Culture, ed. Chris Jenks.  Routledge, 1995, p. 77-95.

Hillard, Derek.  ‘Walter Ruttmann’s Janus-faced View of Modernity: The Ambivalence of Description in Berlin: Symphony of a Great City’, Monatschefte, Vol. 96, No. 1, Spring 2004, p. 78-92.

Lawton, Anna. ‘Rhythmic Montage in the Films of Dziga Vertov: A Poetic Use of the Language of Cinema’, Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 13, Oct. 1978, p. 44-50.

Vidler, Anthony. ‘The Explosion of Space: Architecture and the Filmic Industry’, Assemblage, No. 21, Aug. 1993, p. 44-59.


23. Question: Discuss Berlin and Man with a Movie Camera as potentially positive advertisements and even propoganda about their respective cities. Is this a timeless feature of these films? ie. are they still able to be interpreted as propoganda?

Andrea Nagy: Answer:

In analysing Berlin and Man With the Movie Camera in terms of the portrayals of their respective cities, I would argue that Ruttmann depicts Berlin in a positive light quite overtly and deliberately, while Vertov’s, more or less, positive depiction of Odessa is not a conscious aim, but rather a by-product of his fascination with avant-garde film-making.

In chronicling the passage of a day in the city, each act in Berlin brings with it a gradual build-up in dynamism. Ultimately, whether Ruttmann chooses to focus on the early morning stillness of the city streets or the bustling energy that fills the mid-afternoon and evening air, the relative peacefulness and cohesion of the city remains a constant. The aesthetic aim of the film is to reveal all that is beautiful in and about Berlin and that is undeniably evident in its final product. As far as having propagandist elements, it certainly seems to be the case based on the recurring emphasis it places on the ideals of orderliness, fairness, and civic unity. This is evidenced in the numerous scenes we see showing pristine streets, homes, and businesses, and hard-working, conscientious citizens that represent the various classes of the city. Ruttmann tends not to discriminate in his depiction of Berlin in the sense that he consciously juxtaposes better and worse characteristics of the city, particularly in showcasing both the wealthy and underclass lifestyles. As Allan James Thomas suggests, this portrayal can still be viewed positively in the sense that what “it shows us is not the contrast between the conditions of rich and poor, but their basic similarity.” By way of this contrast, he writes, Ruttmann attempts to illustrate how similar each man is to the next in his individual needs and desires, and that we are all equal players in the grander scheme of things. This depiction of Berlin as a largely unified whole suggests that Ruttmann may have sympathised with the socialist agenda of his government at the time. Further to that point, It is interesting to note that several years after the making of Berlin, he went on to work closely with Leni Riefenstahl on the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.

In Man With the Movie Camera, Vertov portrays the life of the city in a relatively realistic, non-idealized way. He does not seem to hesitate in showing certain less glamorous aspects of the society, such as homelessness and poverty, but also tends to depict the working-class man in an appreciative light. Some argue that this preferential depiction of the working-class is merely a guise he employed in order to have the consent of the Soviet Union’s government to show this film nationwide. Even he did in fact agree with certain aspects of the communist ideology of the day, it seems that this would not have been the prime motivation in the making of the film. For instance, his repeated use of previously unseen cinematographic effect indicates a strong fixation with the craft of filmmaking itself and in this way the city and its inhabitants become merely the backdrop to a cinematographic experiment, not necessarily the primary focus. His fascination with the machine and the mechanical reveals itself in many of the scenes that juxtapose workers against industrial machinery. The undertone here seems to be an attempt on Vertov’s part to encourage the audience to appreciate the importance and necessity of technology in every day life, as well as the efforts of those who work hard to maintain and operate the equipment itself. This positive characterization may very well align itself with certain propagandist tactics of the time, but it may also again relate to his progressive thinking in terms of the process of making itself.

Whether or not one sees undercurrents of propaganda in either film will depend on the associations he or she makes with respect to the presented imagery and past times or events in our history. While one person may insist that the positive depictions of the city in each film are clearly pre-meditated in order to engender a sense of national pride, another might not make any such connection and simply accept that these are balanced representations of the Berlin and Odessa of the late 20’s. One might feel naturally inclined to identify these films as propaganda pieces, since it is very easy in retrospect to associate them with the events to come shortly after their making. Ultimately, I believe the question of the correct present-day interpretation depends very much on what was known to be fact at the time, rather than what comes as mere speculation after-the-fact.



Man With the Movie Camera



24. Question: Describe a 30 second trailer for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis? i.e. what are the essences of the film that you would deem MUST be included to represent a combination of plot and the architectural/urban environment of the film?

Ningxin (Sophia) Zhu: Answer:

Metropolis, a 1927 film directed by Fritz Lang, depicts an utopian impression of a futuristic city based on a rather dystopic reality.  Many themes are explored and noted in the film—of social crisis between workers and owners, of transformations through the use of science and technology, and of mediation and union of all people.  The following scenes are picked as they are quintessential essences in representing the combination of plot and architectural/urban environment, as well as the themes of the film in a 30-second trailer of Metropolis.

The City of the Sons v.s. The City of Workers

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The film Metropolispresents two distinct urban environments, each a symbolic model of the lifestyle that exists there.  The day and night scenes depicting the City of the Sons with the Tower of Babel in the background show polished modern towers glitter between smoothly-flowing transit routes.  The buildings are gracefully tall, with diverse forms, and suggest a richness of detail and materials.  The complexity of the layered infrastructures and the different building forms shows an impression of a futuristic city imagined by Fritz Lang.  In addition, social hierarchy is represented throughout the urban environment: the taller and more decorative the building, the more power and money expressed.  Thus the office of the city’s sole owner Joh Fredersen, the Tower of Babel, is the city’s tallest building with the most iconic form.

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Shifting to the scenes in the City of Workers, a completely opposite world is revealed.  This city above ground stands in marked contrast to the workers’ city underground, a physical indication of the social stratification essential to the plot.  Based on medieval cosmology—sacred above and profane below—this hierarchy is a common technique used to construct social dystopias.  In the City of Workers all the graceless buildings look alike—as the uniformed workers themselves do—lined up under fluorescent lights, smaller and shorter than the towers above.  The brutalist buildings here seem to have no detail at all, no decoration, built of pure necessity.  The mechanic way of life of the working class is illustrated in physical form by the hard banality of their urban environment, just as the affluence and comforts of the upper classes are clearly represented in the gracious urban spaces above.

The contrast between the two scenes clearly illustrates the futuristic urban dystopia and makes the use of the urban context and architecture to explore the social crisis between the workers and the owner.  The truth is revealed—the seemingly utopian upper city is sustained by the unseen slaves underground.  It is the machines that transform the city into a marvel of modernity; but at the same time, transform the Metropolis’ workers into robotic slaves.


The Robotic Transformation of Maria

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The next scene will be the transformation of the saintly Maria into a diabolical and destructive femme robot.  The scene is symbolic in ways that it shows a parallelism to the conditions of the Metropolis—a dystopic nature with an utopian façade.  Because the real Maria is the motherly figure who promotes harmony and love between the riches and the poor, when the robot created by the mad scientist takes on the face of Maria, a mechanical slave is born.  The inner quality of pureness and beauty is lost to the chaotic machine.

The transformation of Maria also echoes another compelling theme: men’s recurring fantasies about using science and technology to create the ideal human in the image of God.  Parallel to the building of Metropolis, Joh Fredersen, the creator, attempts to create the ideal world.  However, behind the glorious façade, the city is sustained by the never-ending labour of the workers and the dependence on the machines.  The over reliance on the science and technology will eventually destroy the utopian city when it is out of control, which foreshadows the upcoming events of the ultimate destruction of both worlds.

The Evil Destroyer v.s. The Saviour

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Two more contracting scenes are essential to the film.  One is the human tower built with the erotic dancing by Maria in Yoshiwara nightclub as the peak and the homicidal fits of sexual jealousy of the riches as the base.  The other is the saintly Maria being the saviour to the worker’s children in the underworld, where the human architecture is also noticeable as Maria being the centre, and the children calling for help as the base.  These scenes show religious overtones in the young Maria who acts as a saviour guiding the workers to love one another offset by the evil robot Maria who lures the workers to revolt by destroying the Heart Machine, the life blood of the underground city.  These symbolic pictures again depict the parallelism in Metropolis—the ideal façade imposed over the cruel reality.

The Ultimate Destruction

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The collapse of the worker’s city along with the consequences of the malfunction of the city above are another set of imageries that are deemed to be included in the 30-second trail to represent the combination of the plot and the architecture.

The scenes reveal the reliance of the city above on the life and work of the city below.  They are never a separate entity, but rather have to co-exist in sustaining the lives of both parties.  To the enslaved labourers, nothing is more important than looking after the machines; feverishly staring at gauges and twisting dials until they drop.  The problem is that without their masters, the underground serfs would achieve nothing.  Each is vital to the other yet, at the outset of Metropolis, they are estranged.  It is only through the union of head, heart and hands (the owner, the mediator and the worker) that the fabric of society can be made whole—a message the film attempts to convey—the mediation and union of all classes.


Minden, Michael, and Holger Bachmann.  Fritz Lang’s Metropolis Cinematic Visions of Technology and Fear.  Rochester: Camden House, 2002.

Jacobsen, Wolfgang.  Metropolis.  Stuttgart: Menges, 2000.




updated 27-Dec-2010 8:14 PM

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