City Symphony Films

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Symphonic Cities

Cabinet: City Symphony Films

"We should see violent changes of emotion produced by their collision. The most fantastic contrasts could be flashed before us with a speed which the writer can only toil after in vain; the dream architecture of arches and battlements, of cascades falling and fountains rising, which sometimes visits us in sleep or shapes itself in half-darkened rooms, could be realized before our waking eyes. No fantasy could be too far-fetched or insubstantial. The past could be unrolled, distances annihilated, and the gulfs which dislocate novels (...) could by the sameness of the background, by the repetition of some scene, be smoothed away.


(...) We get intimations only in the chaos of the streets, perhaps (...) And sometimes at the cinema in the midst of its immense dexterity and enormous technical proficiency, the curtain parts and we behold, far off, some unknown and unexpected beauty."



Virginia Woolf, 'The Cinema', in Nation and Athenaeum, 3 July 1926. p. 381-383.





In the the 1920s, film was still a young genre. A wide-spread focus amongst early avant-garde filmmakers was the city and its ever-evolving complexity and pace. In Europe as well as in the United States, this gave way to the creation of a genre now called 'city symphonies'. The movies brought the atmosphere of the city to the white screen in a poetic mode by assembling photographic images of everyday life in the city, often experimenting with the pace of image sequencing. In doing so, many films that were considered city symphonies moved away from an objectve representation in order to grasp an essence that can only be shown through artistic manipulation.





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