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More in this section Undergraduate



Tutor: Barry Langford

Teaching: 20 hours Lectures, 20 hours Seminars plus individual tutorials

Value: 1 unit

Availability: Autumn and Spring

Module one: The city in silent cinema

Term 1

Week 1. Introduction

Collateral (Michael Mann, US 2004)


(a) Carl E. Schorske, “The Idea of the City in European Thought: Voltaire to Spengler”. In Oscar Handlin and John Burchard, eds., The Historian and the City (Cambridge, Ma: Harvard UP, 1963);

(b) Colin McArthur, “Chinese Boxes and Russian Dolls: Tracking the Elusive Cinematic City”, in David R. Clarke, ed. The Cinematic City (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 19-45.

Module I: The City in Silent Cinema

Weeks 2 through 5 of the first term of the course focus on the relationship between silent film and the urban environment which both supplied so much of its imagery from the first short actuality films of the late 19th century, and whose own teeming neighbourhoods drove the expansion of cinema from a technological “attraction” into the dominant artform of the new century. We will look at how the rapidly changing urban environment offered an immediate and enduring object for the camera’s gaze, and the ways in which the often grim daily reality of early cinema’s principal audience, the relatively new urban masses, was reflected in (but also shaped  by) in the films projected for their entertainment. We will situate film as an urban medium  as a distinct, yet far from isolated, strain within a wide-ranging body of artistic, literary,  philosophical and political responses to the modern (and Modernist) metropolis. As urban mass society and the new medium of film provoked, frequently allied, new strains of critical theory around modernity, massification, and the changing nature of art, we will engage with the work of such key theorists as Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, and the Frankfurt School. The urban milieu gave rise to new concepts of identity and the self, and to such distinctively urban “types” as the flâneur, whose prominence in both modernist city writing and commentary, and – especially – in recent critical theory about the modern city, render him a central figure. At the same time, we will consider the implications of the kind of gendered perspectives through which the modern city has frequently been rendered.

Week 2. Early Cinema and the Urban Imaginary

The Life of a City: Early Films of New York 1898-1906, viewable at:


Die Strasse (Karl Grune, Germ 1923)


(a) Miriam Hansen, “Chameleon and Catalyst: The Cinema as an Alternative Public Sphere,” Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (Cambridge, Ma: Harvard UP, 1991), pp. 90-125;

(b) Anton Kaes, “Sites of Desire: The Weimar Street Film”, in Dietrich Neumann, ed. Film Architecture: Set Designs from Metropolis to Blade Runner (Munich & New York: Prestel-Verlag, 1996), pp. 26-32;

(c) Tom Gunning, “From the Kaleidoscope to the X-Ray: Urban Spectatorship, Poe, Benjamin, and Traffic in Souls (1913)”. Wide Angle 19 (1997), 4: pp. 25-61.

Week 3. Modernist Urban Visions: City Symphonies

Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (Walter Rüttman, Germ 1927)

Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, USSR 1927)

Manhatta (Paul Sheer, US 1921) *

Skyscraper Symphony (Robert Florey, US 1929) *

A Bronx Morning (Jay Leyda, US 1931) *

* (short films, screened in class)


(a) Juan A. Suárez, “City Space, Technology, Popular Culture: The Modernism of Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s Manhatta”, Journal of American Studies 36 (2002), 1: pp. 85-106;

(b) James Donald, Imagining the Modern City (London: Athlone, 1999), pp. 63-93.

(c) Walter Ruttman, Ruttman Weekend Remix (Millennium, 2000); George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue [1924]; Steve Reich, City Life (Warner Bros., 1994)…and bring your own!

Week 4. The Lonely Crowd: Mass Culture, Metropolitan Life, and the Movies

City Lights (Charles Chaplin, US 1931)


The Crowd (King Vidor, US 1928)


Lynne Kirby, Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema (Durham, NC/Exeter: Duke UP/U of Exeter P, 1997), pp. 133-170.

Week 5. Gender, Technology, and Urban Modernity

Sunrise (F. W. Murnau, US 1927)

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, Germ 1926)


(a) Roswitha Mueller, “The City and Its Other”, Discourse 24 (Spring 2002), 2: pp. 30-49;


(b) Siegfried Kracauer, “Calico-World: The UFA City in Neubabelsberg”, in The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans., ed. Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard UP, 1995), pp. 280-289.

(c) David L. Pike, “‘Kaliko-Welt: The Großstädte of Lang’s Metropolis and Brecht’s Dreigroschenoper”, MLN 119 (2004), pp. 474-505.

Module two: Building the film city

In Weeks 6 (NB: no reading week) through 11, moving into the sound era and ranging widely across Hollywood and European film, we will look at some (and only some) of the diverse ways in which film has “built” its cities – whether literally, in the shape of the huge standing city sets of the Hollywood studio era, whose seemingly ultra-realistic yet highly stylised architecture provided a distinctive urban milieu for the melodramas and musicals of classical Hollywood, or  in the mobile, free-ranging camerawork and elliptical editing, traversing urban space  in an entirely fresh way, of the French nouvelle vague. Our sense of the film city is also shaped by its characteristic generic forms, and here we will consider three principal urban genres: the musical, in which as Richard Dyer notes city streets are repeatedly transfigured into “utopian” spaces of delirious self-expression and personal fulfillment; film noir, whose city by contrast is a sleazy, threatening labyrinth of lurking threat and violent desire; and the urban science fiction film, which typically extends noir imagery of urban decay into a nightmarish future where totalitarian architecture enforces coercive domination in an oppressive landscape of unfreedom and control. Dystopic urban SF can be seen as in part a response to the unrealised utopian dreams of prewar city planning, which in postwar reality all too often seemed to put technocratic aims before lived human realities, and the term concludes with two very different visions of what a totally “planned” urban environment might look and feel like.

Week 6. In the Studio: Hollywood’s New York

Dead End (William Wyler, US 1938)

Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, US 1952)


James Sanders,Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), pp. 219-241.

Week 7. In the Streets: Paris 1960

Les Quatre Cents Coups [The 400 Blows] (Francois Truffaut, Fr 1960)

Cléo de Cinq à Sept [Cleo From Nine to Five] (Agnès Varda, Fr 1960)


Janice Mouton, “From Feminine Masquerade to Flâneuse: Agnès Varda’s Cléo in the City”. Cinema Journal 40 (2001), 2: pp. 3-16.

Week 8. Urban Genres (I): Space and Utopia – The Musical

On the Town (Stanley Donen, US 1949)

West Side Story (Robert Wise, US 1961)


Scott Bukatman, “The Syncopated City: New York in Musical Film (1929-1961)”, Spectator 18, 1 (Fall/Winter 1997): pp. 8-23.

Week 9. Urban Genres (II): Decay and Alienation – Film Noir

The Naked City (Jules Dassin, US 1948)

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, US 1976)


Edward Dimendberg, Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard UP, 2004), pp. 21-85.

Week 10. Urban Genres (III): Dystopian Spaces – The Urban Science-Fiction Film

Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, Fr 1965)

Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, US 1973)


Vivian Sobchack, “Cities on the Edge of Time: The Urban Science Fiction Film,” in Annette Kuhn, ed., Alien Zone II (London: Verso, 1999), pp. 123-143.

Week 11. Utopian Spaces: Planning the(ir) Future

Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, GB 1936)

Playtime (Jacques Tati, Fr 1967)


(a) Edwin Heathcote, “Modernism as Enemy: Film and the Portrayal of Modern Architecture”, Architectural Design

70 (2000), 1: pp. 20-25;

(b) Laurent Marie, “Jacques Tati’s Play Time as New Babylon”, in Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice, eds., Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), pp. 257-269;

(c) Ockman, Joan. “Architecture in a Mode of Distraction: Eight Takes on Jacques Tati’s Playtime.” In Mark Lamster, ed. Architecture and Film (Princton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000), pp. 171-196.

Module III: Urban desires, urban fears, urban phobias 1945-1980

Term 2

The vastness and inexhaustibility of the modern, and postmodern, its numberless places and people, render it a screen onto which are projected not only the hopes and fears, but pre-eminently the desires (and in turn the phobic “dark side” of those same desires) of its inhabitants. Film has played a key role in shaping this urban imaginary, and in the first five weeks of this term we will explore this terrain, making ongoing reference back to ideas and concepts introduced in Term 1, and in particular issues around gender and sexuality framed by our earlier discussion of the flâneur (and flâneuse). Our discussion of desire in/and/for the city begins by considering whether the city is simply the locale for romantic (un-)fulfilment, or itself the object of (frustrated?) adoration, and moves onto look at how the city’s promise of sexual liberation and satisfaction (for whom? And at whose cost?) quickly mutates into a phobic space where “normality” is threatened on all sides by violent and voracious “deviance”. The figure of the streetwalker or prostitute, encountered before in the course, and the complex place of woman in the city, is once again central. Desire is closely related to power: and accordingly in Week 4 we will see how urban  space itself becomes the contested site for the assertion of power and control as well as of resistance to it. The two European films discussed in Week 4 stand either of the historical caesura of World War II, which amongst much else devastatingly realised the apocalyptic fictions of urban disaster that have haunted the representation of the city through the ages. Week 5 brings together several such narratives of catastrophe, pre- and post-1945, documentary, realist and fantasy, and explores the imagination of disaster and the predictive, allegorical, and elegiac forms it takes.

Week 1. Romancing the City

Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, US 1961)

Manhattan (Woody Allen, US 1979)


Rob Lapsley, “Mainly in Cities and at Night: Some Notes on Cities and Film,” in Clarke, ed., Cinematic City, pp. 186-208.

Week 2. Erotic Promise/Erotic Threat

After Hours (Martin Scorsese, US 1985)

Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (Stephen Frears, GB 1987)


(a) Lawrence Knopp, “Sexuality and Urban Space: A Framework for Analysis”, in David Bell  and Gill Valentine, eds., Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 149-161.

(b) Geoff Nicholson,. Bleeding London (London: Gollancz, 1997), pp. 134-139.

Week 3. Deviance and Transgression

Klute (Alan J. Pakula, US 1971)

(Alan J. Pakula, US 1971)

Cruising (William Friedkin, US 1980)


Guy Davidson, “‘Contagious Relations’: Simulation, Paranoia and the Postmodern Condition in William Friedkin’s Cruising and Felice Picano’s The Lure”, GLQ 11.1 (2005), pp. 23-64.

Week 4. Power, Space, Vision, and Control

M (Fritz Lang, Germ 1931)

THX 1138 (Geoirge Lucas, US 1970)


Tom Gunning, The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity (London: BFI, 2000), pp. 163-199.

Week 5. The Ruined City

Contemporary short films of the 1960 San Francisco Earthquake, from

Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco 1897-1916, viewable at:


Germania Anno Zero [Germany Year Zero] (Roberto Rossellini, It 1947)

The Omega Man (Boris Saga, US 1971)


(a) Mike Davis, “The Literary Destruction of Los Angeles,” Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998);

(b) Michel de Certeau, “Walking in the City”, in Graham Ward, ed., The Certeau Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 101-118;

(c) Barry Langford, “Seeing Only Corpses: Vision And/Of Urban Disaster in Apocalyptic Cinema”, in Christoph Lindner, ed., Urban Space and Cityscapes (London: Routledge, 2006 forthcoming) [MS, no pp.].

Module five: Unreel cities, past, present and future 

As we have seen, the film city is in some senses always a fantasy, and most certainly – like the real city – always a construction. Cinema, however, has the capacity at once to render the actual city ephemeral, immaterial and dreamlike; and also to render non-existent spaces and places with a convincing and tangible. In this final section of the course, we explore some of the intricacies of this relationship of phantasy and the real. The emphasis is less on the obviously fantastic visions of SF than on films that use the city as an inner space, of reflection, memory, and reverie. These visions may be redemptive or nightmarish, socially and historically implicated or deeply personal, or all of these. In such visions the often-obscured archaeology of the city, like that of the human mind, becomes visible and time itself takes on concrete forms. At the start of the 21st century, the prospect “virtual” city hovers tantalisingly imminent yet still just out of reach. By playing a computer game that  teases the game with the promise of Godlike powers to raise and raze urban environments – but which in practice tends as much to frustrate as to satisfy such aspirations – we can start to explore the implications of such a “virtual” urban world. The concept of “urban myth” opens up other long perspectives into the buried, forgotten, or repressed regions of the city and the urban subject..

* Weeks 10-11, as a separate, self-contained collaborative venture exploring the London mythology around the Whitechapel Murders of 1888 – for which a separate supplementary reading pack will be produced – will synthesise many of the themes, topics, issues and ideas with which we have engaged during the year of the course.

Week 6 [Reading Week:  no seminar]. Towards the Virtual City

Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, US 1995)


Brian Carr, “Strange Days and the Subject of Mobility”, Camera Obscura 17 (2002), 2: pp. 191-217.

Week 7. City of Memory

Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, GB 1973)

Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, Germ 1987)


(a) M. Christine Boyer, The City of Collective Memory: Its Historical Imagery and Architectural Entertainments

(Cambridge, Ma.: MIT P, 1994), pp. 31-71;

(b) Kristi Wilson, “Time, Space and Vision in Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now”. Screen

40 (1999), pp. 277-294;

(c) Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey [1930], The Penguin Freud Library Vol. 12: Civilization, Society and Religion (London: Penguin, 1985), pp. 255-259.

Week 8. Lost (in the) City

Dans la Ville Blanche[In the White City](Alain Tanner, Fr 1984)


 (a) Stephen Barber, Projected Cities: Cinema and Urban Space (London: Reaktion Books, 2002), pp. 75-106;

(b) Barry Langford, “Strangers (to) Themselves: Cityscapes and Mindscapes in 1980s European Cinema”, European Studies 23 (2006): pp. 147-162.

Week 9. Urban Myths (I): The Subterranean City

Quatermass and the Pit (Roy Ward Baker, GB 1968)

The Warriors (Walter Hill, US 1979)


(a) David L. Pike, “Urban Nightmares and Future Visions: Life Beneath New York”. Wide Angle 20 (1998), 4: pp. 9-50;

(b) Charlotte Brunsdon, “‘A Fine and Private Place’: The Cinematic Spaces of the London Underground”, Screen 47.1 (Spring 2006): pp. 1-17.

Weeks 10-11. Urban Myths (II): Jack the Ripper

Waxworks (Paul Leni, Germ 1922); The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock, GB 1926); Jack the Ripper (Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman, GB 1959); Star Trek: “Wolf in the Fold” (NBC, tx. 1967); Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Roy Ward Baker, GB 1970); Murder by Decree (Bob Clark, US/Can 1979); Time After Time (Nicholas Meyer, US 1979); Jack the Ripper (Jack Gold, ITV 1988); From Hell (Albert & Allen Hughes, US 2001)


(a) Joachim Schlor, Nights in the Big City: Paris-Berlin-London 1840-1930 

(London: Reaktion, 1998), pp. 134-136

(b)Judith Walkowitz, “Jack the Ripper”, in City of Dreadful Delight (London: Virago, 1988), pp.191-229

(c) Barry Langford, “From Hell: Gender and the Forensics of Urban Space after the Whitechapel Murders” [unpublished conference paper]

(d) Robert F. Haggard, “Jack the Ripper as the Threat of Outcast London”, Essays in History 35 (1993) [etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/EH/EH35/haggard1.html]]


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