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Cinema, transnationalism and the city

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Angela Piccini

on 6 October 2016

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Transcript of Cinema, transnationalism and the city

Cinema, transnationalism and the city in the 1920s
Lev Kulesov: cinema is 'the organisation of subsequent images'

Consider this when reflecting on and writing about film
Actuality and the city
The city as medium
Technical and aesthetic concerns led to consideration of initial photographic imprint of motion as endowed with latent possibility of becoming something more than a mere footprint of motion.
Robert J Coady, December 1916

cinema is constituted of visual motion: 'have not these organisers [National Association of Motion Picture Producers] been censoring [the cinema] right along? Have they not been limiting its activity to 'the story', the 'photoplay' and the 'photodrama', limiting its scope in the field of visual motion?'
Georg Simmel's 'The Metropolis and Mental Life' (1903):

Here, in buildings and in educational institutions, in the wonders and comforts of space-conquering technique, in the formations of social life and in the concrete institutions of the State is to be found such a tremendous richness of crystalising, depersonalised cultural accomplishments that the personality can, so to speak, scarcely maintain itself in the fact of it.
Charles Baudelaire's 'The painter of modern life' (1863)

For the perfect idler, for the passionate observer it becomes an immense source of enjoyment to establish his dwelling in the throng, in the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very centre of the world, and yet to be unseen of the world, such are some of the minor pleasures of those independent, intense and impartial spirits, who do not lend themselves easily to linguistic definitions. The observer is a prince enjoying his incognito wherever he goes.
And he watches the flow of life move by, majestic and dazzling. He admires the eternal beauty and the astonishing harmony of life in the capital cities, a harmony so providentially maintained in the tumult of human liberty. He gazes at the landscape of the great city, landscapes of stone, now swathed in the mist, now struck in full face by the sun. He enjoys handsome equipages, proud horses, the spit and polish of the grooms, the skilful handling by the page boys, the smooth rhythmical gait of the women, the beauty of the children, full of the joy of life and proud as peacocks of their pretty clothes; in short, life universal.

Filippo Marinetti 'The Futurist Manifesto' (1909)

We will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons: the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds.
Dziga Vertov, Kino Eye, 1922
Because people cannot control their movements, we will until further notice not include them as subjects in our films;
Our way takes us through the poetic machine, from the corpulent gentleman to the perfect electric man;
We reveal the soul of the machine, causing the worker to love his workplace, the peasant his tractor, the engineer his engine;
We bring joy to mechanical labour.
We make peace between man and machine.
We train the new man.
Modernist elements of fragmentation, defamiliarization, collage, abstraction, relativity, anti-illusionism, rejection of transparency of realist representation
Issues in the 1920s
Mass entertainment, growth of cinemas and Hollywood’s expansion
‘Institutionalisation’ – cinema as a ‘medium born twice’? Gaudreault and Marion’s thesis
Responses to post-WW1 modernity: cinema and its intermedial contexts
Mass consumption and consumerism
First steps...Gaudreault & Marion
A medium does not really impose itself as an autonomous medium, worthy of the name, until it has defined its own way of re-presenting, expressing and communicating the world...It is part of a process wherein an institution assumes control of the medium, establishes its internal consensus, and regulates it. At the same time, this institution is created by, for and around the medium.

A medium is always born twice
Debating cinema and institutionalisation
Cinema to 1910: A new way of presenting already well-established entertainment ‘genres’/cultural series: magic & fairy shows, farce, plays and other kinds of stage performance.

Cinema after 1910: ‘Set out on a path and enabled the resources it had developed to acquire an institutional legitimacy that acknowledged their specificity’.
BUT...What happens to intermediality in the 1920s?
Last decade of silent film
Popular cinema and the avant-garde
The 'City' film
Issues of preservation and restoration
Cinema’s constitution, rather than being fixed, was dynamically in flux, and while a sense of cinema as a medium was more apparent in this decade than in the early 1900s, its existence was nevertheless one that was engaged and in dialogue with similarly emergent and established media formations and technological developments.
Networks of relations
, Charles Sheeler & Paul Strand, 1921
Internationalism: How Hollywood and Europe intersected
Ambivalence towards the city and modernity; questions of gender
Economic imperatives for transnational cinemas
Blurring between art and popular cinema
Seminal influences – legacy of expressionism
Despite an increasing interest in cinematic specificity in the 1920s (evidenced in the critical discourse found in fan magazines, trade press, marketing infrastructure, and critical reception), cinema was nevertheless engaged in a non-static, palimpsestic network of relations with other media, experimental forms, personnel, technologies, and economic spheres.
Cinema, the city and modernity
Europeans in Hollywood
European Cinema
(von Stroheim, 1925)
The Salvation Hunters
(von Sternberg, 1925)
(F.W. Murnau, 1927)
The Crowd
(King Vidor, 1928)
(Fejos, 1928)
(Lang, 1927)
The Lodger
(Hitchcock, 1926)
Berlin, Symphony of a City
(Ruttmann, 1927)
Die Büchse der Pandora
(G.W. Pabst, 1929)
(Dupont, 1929)
Man with a Movie Camera
(Vertov, 1929)
Anna-May Wong (Shosho), Jameson Thomas (Valentine), Gilda Gray (Mabel)
Director: E.A. Dupont; Cinematography: Werner Brandes; Art Direction: Alfred Junge

A film noir before term in use
Tale of ambition, desire and jealousy
Dupont recent arrival from Germany, made
Moulin Rouge
Surprisingly direct approach to issues of race
Lead actresses Chinese-American and Polish-American; leading men British and Chinese; cinematographer and designer German
Female body & modernity: slim, androgynous, of the East.
A film noir before the term was in use, Piccadilly (d. E.A. Dupont, 1929) is one of the true greats of British silent films, on a par with the best work of Anthony Asquith or Alfred Hitchcock in the period.
In essence a simple tale of ambition, desire and jealousy, what marks Piccadilly out is the astonishing confidence of its direction. Dupont was a recent arrival from Germany, who had made just one previous film in Britain, the elegant Moulin Rouge (1928), and Piccadilly is notable for qualities not typically associated with British silent films: opulence, passion and a surprisingly direct approach to issues of race - one remarkable scene has a white woman expelled from a bar for dancing with a black man, mirroring the social taboo of the film's central relationship. Dupont was subsequently associated with the shortlived vogue for multi-language films, and Piccadilly has a similarly international bent - its lead actresses are Chinese-American and Polish-American; its leading men are British and Chinese; its cinematographer and designer are, like its director, German.
For all its style and grace, the film's strongest suit is Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong. Wong appeared in four other British films, and is best known today as support to Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (US, d. Josef von Sternberg, 1932), but she was arguably never better used than here. With her slight, boyish figure, Wong is a modernist icon in the mode of Louise Brooks, whose hairstyle she emulates. Naturally, Piccadilly's publicity made much of Wong's exotic beauty: one contemporary poster - for the film's Austrian release - carries an illustration of the star dancing topless. It would have been unthinkable to portray a white actress in this way and, needless to say, no such image appears in the film.

The city and technology
The city and technology
The city and technology
Cinema, the city, modernity, colonialism
The Man who has a Camera
(Liu Na'ou, 1933)
Shen Nu
(Wu Yonggang, 1934)

Orientalism, Edward Said
The city and technology
Time & Space
The destruction and re-invention of temporal and spatial coherence go hand in hand in the metropolis
'time adopted variable, unsychronised tempi, and space became too mobile', Peter Conrad, Modern Times/Modern Places (New York: Knopf, 1999), 60
mechanisms of cinema are modern manifestations of our tendency to consider immobile cuts of static moments, in regular, homogenous repetition, as the passing of time in space
'while film perpetuates a continuous motion or present, its smoothness relies upon repetition and displacement', Susan McCabe, Cinematic Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009), 61
'Regardless of whether one reads an ideological end in the metropolis’s relativisation of time according to its own patterns of accumulation and fragmentation, one must begin by examining how such a space-time is generated within rather than without. This is the disconcertingly fast, yet totalisingly “ever-present” space-time sensed by so many who have written on urban modernity. This is also precisely what is articulated through Berlin‘s use of montage. With its emphasis on both complementary and collisionary rhythms, it showcases the cinematic maturity these “radically expanded spatio-temporal coordinates of metropolitan life” (22) have reached since their early beginnings in Manhatta.' http://sensesofcinema.com/2013/feature-articles/urban-modernity-and-fluctuating-time-catching-the-tempo-of-the-1920s-city-symphony-films/#b18
Sunrise (Murnau, 1927)
The city and technology
The Peace between Man and Machine
Just in being a moving picture, rather than a privileged instant as in the immobile cut of a photo, the shot is a mobile cut of durée. Hence, in the “translation in space” of crowds rushing about their day, and the counter-movement of their bodies’ constant, albeit much slower, “transformation in space” towards their eventual end in one of those graves, this shot can be read as using cinematic and urban space to represent the indivisible plurality of temporal relations.

new is the ever-impending “outmoded status of the city’s spectacular display of surplus, thus exposing the contradiction at the heart of capitalist production”.

C J Mickalites. 2011. Manhattan Transfer, Spectacular Time, and the Outmoded.
Arizona Quarterly
67 (4)
railway schedules were one of the exemplary anecdotes used by Einstein in his 1905 paper on relativity, giving society its first lesson in the relativity of our temporal and spatial arrangements. An exercise in simultaneity, the arrival of a train coincides with the arrival of the clock hand at the arbitrarily agreed moment. It lays time’s constructedness bare, and 'yet we cope instinctively with its complex network of spatial and temporal co-ordinates'

Peter Conrad, Modern Times, Modern Places
The city and technology
Bodies, Amusements & Perils
'Here, in pure externality, the audience encounters itself; its own reality is revealed in the fragmented sequence of splendid sense impressions', Kracauer 1926
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