Saturday, March 21, 2009

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Walter Ruttman) ***1/2

Director: Walter Ruttman

Background: Ruttman was known for making experimental films, including a series of animated shorts in the Opus series, but none had garnered any major attention.

Story: A documentary showcasing various aspects of city life in Berlin.
Thoughts: Fascinating time capsule view of Berlin in 1928. Ruttman does a terrific job capturing the energy of a big city. I realize I've dismissed some films that haven't had a strong narrative, but Ruttman wisely divides this film into five acts that capture one complete cycle of a day in the city. So eventhough the film doesn't have a story, it has a strong narrative drive that makes it compelling to watch. Ruttman's deft talent for editing really creates the feel that you're maneuvering through this fast paced city. Can be considered a nice companion piece to Sunrise, which also depicted the liveliness of the big city, but with the audience in the place of the main characters. This is a fascinating film that takes you on a great adventure and is very original for the time period.

Postscript: This became a very influential film over the years, but Ruttman didn't find much Hollywood success and continued making films in Berlin for the next decade. 6 years after this film was made, Hitler rose to power and Berlin hosted the Olympic Games 3 years after that.

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