Berlin: Symphony of a Great City

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The title says it all: this is a visual symphony in five movements celebrating the Berlin of 1927: the people, the place, the everyday details of life on the streets. Director Walter Ruttman, an experimental filmmaker, approached cinema in similar ways to his Russian contemporary Dziga Vertoz, mixing documentary, abstract, and expressionist modes for a nonnarrative style that captured the life of his countrymen. But where Vertov mixed his observations with examples of the communist dream in action, Ruttman re-creates documentary as, in his own words, "a melody of pictures." Within the loose structure of a day in the life of the city (with a prologue that travels from the country into the city on a barreling train), the film takes us from dawn to dusk, observing the silent city as it awakens with a bustle of activity, then the action builds and calms until the city settles back into sleep. But the city is as much the architecture, the streets, and the machinery of industry as it is people, and Ruttman weaves all these elements together to create a portrait in montage, the poetic document of a great European city captured in action. Held together by rhythm, movement, and theme, Ruttman creates a documentary that is both involving and beautiful to behold. The original score by Timothy Brock is lyrical and dramatically involving, complementing the mood and movement marvelously. Also included is the avant-garde short Opus 1, an abstract study in animated shapes and movement.

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