Architecture in Films
The Urban Uncanny
Long before the advent of films the human imagination invested both natural and built spaces with human feelings and emotions. In both literature and painting artists imbued landscapes and city scapes with emotions of hope and tranquility or despair and trauma.
With the industrial revolution and the age of mechanical reproduction came the new townships of the machine age as well as the new machine arts of photography and film.
Not only was the birth of film coincidental with the birth of the modern city – it was created in the city , 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 there daily, to become part of the new urban white collar or working class. But while newspapers and the radio were connected to the practical daily needs of city dwellers, film satisfied their newly awakened need for distraction, for mass entertainment….
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. It was an environment which was the product of a new machine age architecture and new scientific systems of town planning. This was necessary. Between 1800 and 1910 the population in Berlin grew from 182,000 to 3,400,000. As new methods of industrial production came into being. factories dominating the city scape. Tenement housing mushroomed from city center to suburbia to house the growing population; The separation of people from their work spaces; the new work patterns based on exact time schedules, meant that roads and railways needed to crisscross the city providing unprecedented speed of travel. The newspapers, radio, telephone , telegraph made for instant communication. Scientific surveillance systems made new techniques of social regulation possible. All in all there was a complete overturning of regular patterns of living; and an undermining of enduring structures of perception .Established forms of perception were disordered and reconfigured.
Unending new sources of stimulation led to the saturation of sensory stimuli and distraction a continual crisis of attention became the accepted norm of modernity.
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; to depict the metropolis as fulfilling or betraying the hopes and fears of city dwellers; film makers used built forms, and the mise en scene of the city to project not only the reality of the city but also the imaginary of the city. From Eisenstein onwards the city in Cinema does not operate as a mere backdrop. Film rather, presents urban space as itself representational, as simultaneously sensory and symbolic.
How did film makers to meet the challenge of depicting the urban imaginary? The technique rested partly on the “double texturing” of the film. James Donald talks of the juxtaposition of panorama and myth. Of “the mis match between the transparent
abstraction of the concept city and its juxtaposition against the densely textured urban imaginary.”
Film theorists of the time believed that it was in the slippage between the familiar and the strange, that what they called “the urban uncanny” came into being. James Donald believes that “because of the fact that the strange was rooted in the familiar, individuals in the metropolis had to be made sense of not only in terms of identity, community, civic association; but also in terms of a dramaturgy of desire, fascination and terror.”