No coincidence that the earliest filmmakers, at the outset of cinema, trained their lenses on kindred machines. Trains, factories, public works – the new type of vision excelled at capturing the movement of swelling modernity in a way that no other medium could. With the invention of editing techniques, glueing disparate shots together to make a synthetic whole, cinema became the medium of plastic space and plastic time, just as a thrust of modernity turned urban environments into something frenzied, mechanized. The modern city (O humming machine of a million human parts!) earned its own devotional genre: “City Symphonies,” silent films aspiring to orchestrate Berlin or New York or Paris’ bustling rhythms into a sort of visual music, while putting to test all the expressive tricks of the camera and montage.
The sped-up, chopped-up, synthetic city of cinema – which we all know from a million Hollywood “montage sequences” – gave an image to a fractured experience of time and space that is surely indissociable from how we now conceive of the city, a visual music integrated into our reality. The films in this program fan out over this history, looking at how filmmakers have manipulated their cameras to produce a “real” image of a fractured environment. These films also pay homage to the city as cinema’s enduring partner, whose palimpsest nature is still sought out as a testing-ground for new avant-garde techniques.