At once an invaluable photographic record of life in Weimer Berlin and a timeless demonstration of the cinema's ability to enthrall on a purely visceral level, Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (Berlin, die Symphonie der Grosstadt) offers a kaleidoscopic view of a single day in the life of a bustling metropolis.
Carl Mayer (The Last Laugh), influenced by the naturalistic Kammerspiel movement, envisioned "a melody of pictures" sprung from daily reality instead of the stylized artificiality of the studio-bound expressionist film. Following Mayer's rough outline, photographer Karl Freund deployed a team of cameramen to explore the avenues, alleyways and factories of Berlin and secure hidden-camera glimpses of the people and machinery that provide the city with its constant motion. The many hours of footage were then edited into a series of five acts, like movements of a symphony, by Walther Ruttmann as a continuation of his experiments with abstract motion (see Opus I).
Berlin defined the formula of the "city symphony" film and according to John Grierson - the filmmaker/critic who coined the term "documentary" - "No film has been more influential, more imitated."
Opus I - A rare example of the German avant-garde cinema known as absoluter Film, Walther Ruttmann's hand-colored Opus I is an exploration of the geometry of movement within the frame and the sensory effect these abstract shapes evoke as they swell, streak and swim across the screen. Viewed alongside Berlin, Opus I seems a thumbnail sketch for the sweeping slice-of-life documentary, revealing the degree to which Ruttmann's 1923 film was more a spectacle of raw motion than a documentary portrait of Berlin's daily routines. Opus I is accompanied by Max Butting's 1922 score, adapted and conducted by Timothy Brock.
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