Long before the advent of films the human imagination invested both natural and built spaces with with human emotions. Painting and literature often used landscapes and city scapes to resonate with hope; with tranquility; or with despair and trauma. With the industrial revolution and the age of mechanical reproduction came film. Not only was the birth of film coincidental with the birth of the modern city- it was born in the city, was made by the city and was of the city in every way. Together with newspapers and the radio film served as a means of interpreting the city to the thousands who flocked in there daily, to become part of the urban working class. But while newspapers and the radio were more connected to the practical daily needs of city dwellers, film satisfied their craving for distraction ; for mass entertainment; for communally experienced consumer gratification.
The birth of film as an art form coincided with the theorizing of the modern industrial city as having the potential to produce a highly sophisticated urban environment; a uniquely new industrial architecture. Insofar as it was a city centred art form; insofar as its primary role was to depict human beings in their daily interactions with the city; films began to use built forms as the mise en scene that projected not only the reality of the city as a lived space but also the surreality of the city as an imagined space. What were the ingredients of this urban imaginary? how did films make sense of the individual in the metropoplis not only in terms of identity, community, civic association but also in terms of "a dramaturgy of desire, fascination and terror"?
I would like the discussion to be based on extracts from two very different films that I will be screening. Both films were made in Berlin and belong to the decade 1927 - 1937.