This video of Berlin made in 1927 – halfway between World War I and World War II – by German filmmaker Walter Ruttman, takes viewers through a day in the life of the metropolis, from morning to noon to night. Every slice of German society from high to low is documented, clip by clip, with a sound track rising or falling in tempo with the upbeat or downbeat scenes rolling by. The colorization retains the feel of the historic black and white. A sense of foreboding overcasts much of the film, whether the scenes are happy or sad. I’ve never seen a more subtle evocation of an entire culture and society, and this portrait of the Weimar Republic heralds the coming storm without pity.
As the day opens, shots of a train, trackage and overhead electricity lines push into the rising sunlight as a locomotive speeds toward Berlin. The train passes through suburbs, by factories under construction, and into the city as workers head off toward their plants. A heavy emphasis on industrial automation forms a repeated motif. Trains, trains, trains! Trolleys, traffic, traffic cops in control at busy intersections. Workers with lunch pails enter factory gates. Later, wealthy diners lunch at outdoor cafés. Old man sells little girls’ frocks. Cat rummages in garbage. Elderly Jew sports a Hitler moustache (and a goatee). The sorry plight of work horses. Man harangues crowd at outdoor rally. Fisticuffs in street seen from window above. Young woman looks over edge of bridge into maelstrom. Lunch consumed by rich and poor. Early signs of Nazi party. Young mothers watch as children splash in wading pond. Little girl pulls tail of lion cub at zoo. Dinner consumed by rich and poor. Lovers pair off, embrace on park bench. Nighttime activities. Dancing, drinking, the cinema, Charlie Chaplin’s feet. Show girls in dressing rooms. Acrobats, chorus lines. Man squeezes his girl’s arm as he hands her into taxi. Going home as night descends on city.
At 107 minutes in length, Symphony of a Great City is far longer than most city videos I have posted on this blog, but it is probably the best. Enjoy.