Synopsis by Hal Erickson
This classic German documentary is a valentine to the "new" Berlin of the late 1920s, enjoying a renaissance after the dregs of the Depression. Director Walter Ruttman's five-reel symphony begins at dawn and ends at midnight, showing Berliners at hard work by day and enjoying the city's boisterous nightlife. Essentially a feature-length montage--one shot of pedestrians is followed by a brief clip of a cow herd--the film was heavily influenced by the earlier works of Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov, and was itself very influential in fostering the "city symphony" or "opus" genre (excellent examples of which included Holland's 1929 Rain and Sweden's 1947 Stockholm: Rhythm of a City). There is also a large degree of poignancy in recording the everyday affairs of a city so far from and yet so near to the Nazi nightmare. Though many current prints of Berlin: Symphony of a Great City carry a musical track, this silent documentary creates its own music by virtue of its rhythmic editing.
city-life, Germany, pre-war