BERLIN, THE SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY

Germany, 1927 (MIFF 1953, Berlin)

Director: Walter Ruttmann

INTRODUCED by Mr. Colin Dean, Director, Film Division, Department of the Interior, Australia.

Berlin is a cross-section of a Berlin working day in late spring. Its opening sequences picture the city at dawn. Then the city awakens and stirs; workers set out for the factories, wheels turn, telephone receivers are lifted off. The morning hours are filled with glimpses of window-dressings and typical street incidents. Noon &ndash: lunch-time. Work is resumed and a bright afternoon sun shines. As the day fades, the machine wheels stop and the business of relaxation begins. The last sequence amounts to a pleasure drive through nocturnal Berlin.

This most important film, a quota production of Fox-Europa in 1927, was devised by Carl Mayer. At this time he was tiring of the restriction and artificiality of the studios. Mayer conceived the idea of a City Symphony. He saw "a melody of pictures" and began to write the treatment of Berlin.

The cameraman, Karl Freund, enthusiastically espoused Mayer's project and set out to shoot Berlin scenes with the voracious appetite of a man starved for reality. He knew that he would have to rely on candid camera work and invented several contrivances to hide the camera whilst shooting.

Walter Ruttmann, who up to then had excelled in abstract films, edited the immense amount of material assembled by -Freund and several other photographers. His sense of optical music made Ruttmann seem the right man to produce "a melody of pictures". He worked in close collaboration with the young composer Edmund Meisel, known for his interesting score for Battleship Potemkin. Meisel's score has not been recorded with the 16-mm. print now being screened.

The film as Ruttmann made it was far from Mayer's conception. This accounts for Mayer's early withdrawal from the production of Berlin. Mayer criticized its "surface approach", Keferring presumably to Ruttmann's method of editing, which relies on the formal qualities of objects rather than on their meaning. For example, machine parts in motion are shot and cut in such a manner that they turn into dynamic displays of an almost abstract character. These may symbolize what has been called the "tempo" of Berlin, but they are no longer related to machines and their functions. Ruttmann is not interested in divulging news items, but in composing "optical music".


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