Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Walter Ruttman, 1927, Germany)

Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis or Berlin: Symphony of a Great City is an example of the "city symphony" film genre which proliferated in the 1920s. Such films explored a city in the travelogue style, while at the same time showcasing many new cinematic techniques - most notably Soviet-style montage. The film was directed by Walter Ruttman, a pioneer in this genre as well as in animation, and was written by Ruttman and Karl Freund and Carl Mayer. Carl Mayer was noted for his collaborations with filmmaker F.W. Murnau, while Karl Freund would go on to have a prolific career in Hollywood - working on DraculaThe Mummy, and the famous sitcom I Love Lucy.

The film places a heavy emphasis on the activities of working people and is a great time capsule. Berlin received heavy damage during World War II of course, and the film manages to capture the city before it received such damage. The film is known for drawing comparisons to Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera, and there are many parallels. It is hard to discern what Ruttman's overall motive is with the film. Certainly, the film is showcasing the overall mechanization of society at the time (not all that dissimilar from Fritz Lang's expressionist Metropolis). Is the film a booster to Berlin, showing that the German capital is still a center of culture and prestige in the world? This may be the case. The film also may exhibit a socialist message, as we can see that the film focuses on some of the social problems occurring in society, as well as the excess wealth and consumption. Overall, Ruttman's film stands as an interesting slice of life and one that would soon disappear. The film is worth viewing for people interested in history and also in the evolution of filmmaking techniques. 


7/10

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