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 ; Steve Reich, City Life (Warner Bros., 1994)…and bring your own!
Week 4. The Lonely Crowd: Mass Culture, Metropolitan Life, and the Movies
(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.