sovay: (Rotwang)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2018-04-13 03:00 am
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Where the city's ceaseless crowd moves on, the live long day

[personal profile] spatch came home yesterday with a fever and a sore throat and while he heroically kept the sore throat away from me, the fever seems to have jumped the gap. Everyone agrees this was unnecessary.

Neither of us was up for a full-length movie tonight, so we watched Manhatta (1921), a ten-minute silent documentary tone poem directed by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, a pair of modernists better known respectively for their paintings and photography than for toting a 35 mm camera around New York City, recording one poetic, fictional day in the life of the city from commuters streaming off the ferry in the morning to the silhouettes of boats darkening the water at sunset, all painstakingly restored in the silver gelatin ghost-grain of vanished time. The opening titles credit this "study of the modern Babylon-on-the-Hudson" to the inspiration of Walt Whitman's "Mannahatta"; the excerpts quoted in the intertitles provide the short with its only real structure aside from the dawn-to-dusk frame, priming the viewer's attention for "High growths of iron, slender, strong, splendidly uprising toward clear skies" or "Shapes of the bridges, vast frameworks, girders, arches." We get the Staten Island Ferry, the Brooklyn Bridge, RMS Aquitania nudged by little tugboats into the docks of New York Harbor, busily steaming and surging away. We get construction sites, elevated trains, the shadows and marble faces of headstones in a cemetery. We get horse-drawn carriages and skyscrapers new as anything. We get a lot of people, never drawn out into individuals but never elided either, the corpuscles of the city, perhaps, or the thoughts of it. The camera's eye is simultaneously industrial and romantic, full of high angles and arrestingly cropped panoramas, sometimes seeming to hover above the smoky, washing-lined roofs and concrete balusters and sometimes shooting straight through them, as if the city has stuck its own thumb over the lens; if you like the photography of Steiglitz and Steichen, or Sheeler and Strand for that matter, you will recognize the high-contrast geometries of Manhatta. A little Cubism, a little Futurism, a little Attenborough. The total effect is dynamic and monumental, a suitably modern mix of recognition and defamiliarization—the city as epic abstract, the city as organism. You can see the roots of Metropolis (1927) in it; with that steep three-part pan up the back of the Park Row Building, also Safety Last! (1923). I can't look at it without thinking that my grandfather was born in that city, in that year. His parents who lived and worked in Williamsburg are unlikely to be any of those obliquely dotted heads and shoulders crossing the streets of Lower Manhattan, but I wonder if it was too much of an art film for them to have seen it. If you would like to, it is available in several variously degraded copies on YouTube; we watched the MoMA restoration off FilmStruck and it was beautiful, but the Flicker Alley Blu-Ray/DVD on which it is anthologized is a little costly for me to point to, if otherwise wonderful-looking. In short, I know Manhatta is a symphony of a city, not a impartial record, and it cannot tell me the whole truth of its time and place from its Precisionist pigeon's-eye view, but it doesn't purport to and it doesn't matter, because history catches in the cracks no matter how seamlessly you try to shoot just bridges and bays, smoke and steel rivets and ghost signs already weather-flaking from railyard brick. Early in the film, the camera fixes itself on the hurrying backs of the commuter crowd, anonymous hats and necks and sometimes a glimpse of someone's hair. And then suddenly three faces twist around out of the crowd and glance back at the camera. I would love for them to be the filmmakers, but I think they are happenstance; one appears to have gotten shut out of the stairwell in the salmon-rush and is dodging around for a second attempt. But they look into our eyes and they are not abstract at all and neither is the moment in which they live. This city brought to you by my modern backers at Patreon.

thisbluespirit: (Default)

[personal profile] thisbluespirit 2018-04-13 08:46 am (UTC)(link)
That does sound pretty amazing - doubly so when you have that kind of connection to it, as well.
thisbluespirit: (adam adamant lives!)

[personal profile] thisbluespirit 2018-04-13 08:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Ah, yes, you have mentioned that one enough to intrigue me enough to put it on my list already! (Getting off the list and into my hands just takes a while and is very dependent on price and timing/occasional miraculous charity shop finds, like many things.)

I always want to see the places where my family lived.

It is always good when you can, either by proxy or for real. :-)

I hope you are also maybe feeling a little better from the fever now, too? Take care. <3
thisbluespirit: (blake's 7)

[personal profile] thisbluespirit 2018-04-14 04:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Definitely intrigued, yes! :-)

I hope the doctor did help. *hugs back*

moon_custafer: (Default)

[personal profile] moon_custafer 2018-04-13 10:42 am (UTC)(link)
My favourite moment on Ballet Mechanique is when you can see the camera crew reflected in the silver globe (which I’m pretty sure was really the bottom of a soup ladle.)
Edited 2018-04-13 12:20 (UTC)
skygiants: Eve from Baccano! looking up at a starry sky (little soul big world)

[personal profile] skygiants 2018-04-13 12:12 pm (UTC)(link)
In addition to Metropolis, this sounds very much like a precursor of of Man with a Movie Camera!
choco_frosh: (Default)

[personal profile] choco_frosh 2018-04-13 01:35 pm (UTC)(link)
spatch came home yesterday with a fever and a sore throat and while he heroically kept the sore throat away from me, the fever seems to have jumped the gap.

Everyone agrees this was unnecessary.
moon_custafer: (Default)

[personal profile] moon_custafer 2018-04-13 09:41 pm (UTC)(link)
Like the all-traditional-Chinese-puppetry tv channel (which Don tells me is a Thing in Taiwan, or was), it might even benefit from a viewing under those conditions.
coraline: (Default)

[personal profile] coraline 2018-04-14 04:50 pm (UTC)(link)
That's how my instance of the flu started, and I sincerely hope it's not what you have because it sucks.
Feel better soon!
ladymondegreen: (City)

[personal profile] ladymondegreen 2018-04-15 10:29 pm (UTC)(link)
This renews my desire for city walking (which is honestly always just under the surface), and to figure out bridge walking with you when you have reasonable health and cope.