HomeTracing the city: city symphonies in reverse and the cinematic apparatus

Tracing the city: city symphonies in reverse and the cinematic apparatus

Tracer les villes : symphonies urbaines à rebours dans les dispositifs filmiques

« La Furia Umana », numéro 40/2021

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Published on Friday, June 12, 2020 by Céline Guilleux

Summary

What are city symphonies reflecting in their contemporary cinematic versions?  How are filmic dispositifscapturing and documenting the city as an entity which is both subjective and intersubjective? As Richard Koeck suggests, in his essay Cine-spaces : Cinematic spaces in architecture and cities (2012), it is perhaps from the vantage point of the of the simulacrum that we must understand cinema's inscription within the post-modern city. Indeed, what if we began to think about the city as a visual system based on movements, lights and bodies – one we could explore in a cinematic, cinetic or kinesthesit way? By using film as a lens through which to see urban spaces and places, it would be less a question of showing the placement of architecture, but of seeing how much post-modern architecture, for instance, is a cinematic phenomenon, an urban décor in motion (Las Vegas, Dubai, Macao…).

Announcement

Guest editors

Dossier edited by Andrea Franco (Universidad de A Coruña), Benjamin Léon (Université de Lille/CEAC) et Nicolas Tixier (ENSA Grenoble/AAU_Cresson)

Argument

The city symphony became an important genre of avant-garde documentary filmmaking in the 20's. Unlike so-called actuality films, we might say they were less involved in transmitting real information than in revealing a kind of magic within everyday life. The majority of filmmakers at this moment in time saw their art as a way of building social awareness by focusing on urban activities and highlighting their poetic aspects.  If the names of Dziga Vertov and Walter Ruttmann remain the most iconic in this area, we should not forget the innovative works by Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, André Sauvage and Alberto Cavalcanti.  Utopian expression moved from one film to another, ultimately finding, in Vertov, a reflective metaphor for the cinematic apparatus itself as an instrument of collective education. 

Instead of returning to these films for an in-depth analysis, we will look at the city symphony through its contemporary forms, “in reverse,” as it were, to borrow the words which Thom Andersen uses in his masterpiece  Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)1. This found footage film stands as a singular intervention investigating the figurative power of cinema through the urban landscape. Its visual palimpsest finds an echo in the work of Rick Prelinger on San Francisco, such as his Lost Landscapes (2006-2015), which, in turn, enters into dialogue with the films of Guy Maddin, i.e. My Winnipeg (2007). Contrary to the city symphony of the 20s, which sought a narrative machinery more or less akin to urban reality, these films try to expose the limits of such an approach by nourishing the historic consciousness of an active spectator whose participation unfolds within two paradigms: on the one hand, a superficial dimension allowing them to grasp some part of social reality within the urban condition; on the other, a formalist dimension which challenges our perception by reworking certain specific elements of the city symphony: rhythm, movement, velocity...

For Siegfried Kracauer, cinema is the medium most able to grasp the large city and capture its subtle, sensory and fugitive phenomena, in order to establish a correspondence between the essence of the film medium and the city itself as a sensory flux. Film allows us to reach a understanding of built space and what happens within it.  The city is a space for the look and the step, for stillness and mobility.  Film and the city may be taken as companions in reflection, brought together by what they say to us and what they allow us to say about urban everydayness. At stake is a grasping of how, in different ways, the cinema and its apparatuses help us to think and see the city.  To what do films bear witness?  For what are they advocates? And, to go even further, perhaps, how has film culture modified our perception of cities and, indeed, their very design? Kracauer sees his work as a whole made of little facts, of indexes, a rehabilitation of material things, not within a sort of naïve realism, but through the critical lens of the look and the investigation. He refers to this as “anteroom thinking”, that of the outside room, in which “we usually concentrate not so much on the last things, as on the last before the last”. At the beginning of the 20th Century, cinema responded to that new urban sensibility, “the shock of the metropolis”.   But are we still within this sensibility, and what sensibilities might be taking shape in the early 21st Century?  To the extent that post-industrial society has given the representation of the machine and labour power a virtual existence, how might we understand a city symphony today? At the same time, is it really possible to draw the outlines of a contemporary city given the disruption of connections between spaces and the proliferation of new centers? Is cinema still the best media for representing the big city, and if so, in which conditions and by which means? Might it not be necessary to develop a critical perspective which would show the extent to which films and cities too often construct a perception, if not a practiced reality, anchored for the most part in the 20th Century? 

On the contrary, but not through a reversal, we want to gather up some of the different modalities of this confrontation.  What are city symphonies reflecting in their contemporary cinematic versions?  How are filmic dispositifscapturing and documenting the city as an entity which is both subjective and intersubjective? As Richard Koeck suggests, in his essay Cine-spaces : Cinematic spaces in architecture and cities (2012), it is perhaps from the vantage point of the of the simulacrum that we must understand cinema's inscription within the post-modern city. Indeed, what if we began to think about the city as a visual system based on movements, lights and bodies – one we could explore in a cinematic, cinetic or kinesthesit way? By using film as a lens through which to see urban spaces and places, it would be less a question of showing the placement of architecture, but of seeing how much post-modern architecture, for instance, is a cinematic phenomenon, an urban décor in motion (Las Vegas, Dubai, Macao…). Very often, we are dealing with spaces that recall a mediatic reality; we have the impression of looking at scenes on a screen and of existing physically in a parallel reality that is nevertheless very real. 

We might ask ourselves, then, about the relationship between urban ambiances and cinematic ambiances, looking not only for the connections between them, nor simply perceiving the ambiences of a place, but viewing the place through and as its ambiences.  Ambience would no longer be the object of perception but the very condition of any perception and potential action.

In reflecting upon the very notion of symphony, it might be interesting to set in play the opposing terms of this relative unity in order to open up a reflection on the dysphonic and heterophonic potentialities of every traversal of the urban.  Proposals in this sense will be particularly welcome. We also give a carte blanche to those artists interested in participating with visual or sound contributions.

General Axis:

Intentionality in the creation process, modalities of transmission and formalistic approaches

  • The city symphony in reverse: subjective and inter-subjective dimensions (spectator's position).
  • The city symphony and structural formalism (light, frame, direction lines, rhythm, editing...).

The unities, oppositions and variations of urban space

  • New forms of city symphonies: cacophonic unity, sound films on the city.
  • The director's gaze.
  • Sound compositions and multimedia contributions.

Urban space and critical gestures

  • The filmic apparatus, conception and comprehension of the urban space.
  • Audiovisual essays, found footage.
  • The crowd in the contemporary city in relation to new symphonies (utopic/heterotopic space).

Ambiances and atmospheres

  • Beyond representation, the crossing  of ambiances.
  • Beyond the primacy of the visual , the power of sound...

Urban screens, simulacrum and digital identity

  • The city as a visual system
  • Digital Cinema and Videoart as liquid forms for grasping new urban realities

Submission guidelines

Proposals in french, english, spanish and italian (maximum of 2000 characters or 400 words), must be sent

before July 31st, 2020,

together with a short bio, in a document named as follows: NAME_SURNAME_TITLE, to any of these editors:

  • andrea.franco@udc.es (spanish/english)
  • benjamin.leon@univ-lille.fr (french/english)
  • nicolas.tixier@grenoble.archi.fr (french/english)

Reply: September 1st, 2020

Deadline for final texts: December 15th, 2020

Publication: February/March 2021

Presentation Fura Umana

La Furia Umana : www.lafuriaumana.it      

La Furia Umana is an online multilingual quarterly of theory and history of cinema fire, daydreams, and drifts, founded in 2009. There was also a paper edition, (8 issues) with a different summary, printed by Duen De Bux (Spain).

Notes

1 Bringing together more than 200 film excerpts, Thom Andersen's cult movie is an ambitious fresco dealing with the representation of the american megalopolis. The cinema has not only filmed Los Angeles, it has created its own fictional past and present that now form part of its true reality.

Date(s)

  • Friday, July 31, 2020

Keywords

  • architecture, cinéma, ville, symphonie, dispositif, écran, geste

Contact(s)

  • Benjamin Léon
    courriel : benjamin [dot] leon [at] univ-lille [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Benjamin Léon
    courriel : benjamin [dot] leon [at] univ-lille [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Tracing the city: city symphonies in reverse and the cinematic apparatus », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, June 12, 2020, https://calenda.org/784413

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