Urban fact, the city starts to become so

Urban life is often portrayed as bustling and vivid; the city is painted as a place full of new opportunities. People from all over will travel miles away from the suburbs to join these metropolis dreamlands in search of new jobs or a big break. However, with metropolises growing more powerful and more intriguing, the realities of urban life began to reveal themselves. In Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, Walter Ruttmann uses a documentary style to represent the way humans interact with each other in an urban setting. He contrasts and juxtaposes certain aspects in order to alienate issues or tendencies that occur within Berlin. Humans are simply a part of the whole within the city, rather than standing out as they originally intend to. In fact, the city starts to become so commercialised that the need for humans becomes more and more marginalised. Contrasting humans with the mechanical depicts an aspect of the city that is inescapable: growth. A city’s rise in power creates the opportunity for its citizens to rise with it, creating class divides. Women’s roles within society are highlighted by the way they are represented and sometimes objectified within the film. Chaos is created by greed and social inequality. By depicting urban life as it is, viewers get a glimpse into the contrasting aspects of the city such as the natural and unnatural, class, and gender. In Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, Walter Ruttmann contrasts humans and aspects of the city in order to describe urban life. The film shows Berlin in 1927, depicting the lives of schoolchildren, the working class, the wealthy and even machinery. From the beginning of  the factory scene in the film, there is a stark contrast between human interaction and machinery. The entire scene is almost completely devoid of humans, bringing forth the idea that humans are only a part of the machine within a city. They do not stand out like they strive to (or as the city promises); they are there simply to keep the machines running. Erica Stein comments on the lack of humanity within this sequence in her article, highlighting the fact that ‘the production of the city as a subject simultaneously reduces the citizenry to part of the rhythmic machine the city comes to resemble.’ The loss of human involvement that is produced by this contrast shows the increase in marketing and commerce within Berlin. Ruttmann also contrasts the bourgeoisie with the working class. They are divided, and even the attire they dress in confirms this divide. Rich women walk the streets, dressed in their lavish and attention-commanding attire. The wealthy ride out on horses, enjoying themselves in a beautiful, serene setting. The working class cleans the horse stables, shovels hay, and mops floors. A woman begging on the streets is immediately juxtaposed with an expensive necklace being removed from its display. In another sequence, Ruttmann focuses on people as they eat their food. The wealthy eat lavishly extravagant meals, the middle class eats at cafes or from street vendors, and the homeless are found on the streets without food. All of these classes are shown eating and interacting. The most impactful is a shot of a wealthy man eating immediately followed up by a lion devouring its meal. This juxtaposition leads the viewer to reflect on the nature of the wealthy: at the top of the food chain. Women and how the city interacts with them is focused on frequently throughout Berlin. They are often subject to the male gaze. Ruttmann focuses on one woman who paces the streets. As this continues, eventually she catches the eyes of a man, who follows after her. This hint at prostitution within the streets of Berlin is a direct contrast to the wealthy women of the city and the social status they possess. Women are objectified; most of the time they are focused on in a suggestive way and fetishised. They are painted as a spectacle of desire when performing in the cabaret, yet this is one of the few sequences where humans are seen enjoying themselves. In Katharina Von Ankum’s article in Colloquia Germanica, she suggests that women are not portrayed as equal to men, in fact ‘women as workers or pedestrians are notably absent from the scene with the exception of two sets of female legs dangling into the picture, legs that belong to otherwise invisible woman riding the subway.’ Women seem to be portrayed as an outlet for male gaze, highlighting a warped view of the female role within society. Ruttmann also contrasts the natural and the unnatural. Throughout the film, there are shots of automobiles, locomotives, trams, and other machines. However, these new vehicles are contrasted with a horse that has fallen over while pulling a carriage. This may symbolise the collapse of the old and the inevitable mechanical growth within the new Berlin. Automated machines within factories and conveyor belts are juxtaposed with citizens going about their daily business. This brings forth a sense of routine and pattern in their lives, revealing a repetitive nature associated with urban living. Everyone is busy moving to the next place. As aforementioned, the film rarely focuses on people enjoying themselves. A city is normally painted as a lively and enjoyable place; Ruttmann is revealing the natural occurence of flaws within a society. The city is constantly contrasted with images of chaos. Ruttmann interrupts a repeated newspaper headline that reads ‘Money’ with a clip of a rollercoaster, which is followed by a spiral spinning illusion, disorientated the viewer. This highlights the chaos and hectic nature of the city as a whole which can be brought on by greed and overcommercialisation. A woman is repeatedly shown standing on a bridge with a crazed look in her eyes. Eventually, there is a splash in the river and everyone gathers on the bridge to look. Pointing at the water, they try to figure out what has happened. Immediately after we are transported to a sort of fashion show. This imagery offers an opportunity of reflection; urban society is becoming so veneered and so tainted that what seems to be a disturbed woman jumping from a bridge can seamlessly be interrupted by frivolity. Ruttmann uses contrasting images of wealth, gender, and industrialisation to display the way people live within the urban setting of Berlin. By showing the way these opposites interact with each other, we get significant insight into the times. Women are more objectified in the film and are only focused on as objects of enjoyment. The wealthy indulge in horseback riding and decadent meals, while the lower class barely has enough to eat. Berlin is becoming more and more industrialised with its cars, trains, and buses. The city is constantly moving and almost always presents a feeling of chaos. Perhaps Ruttmann is trying to encourage the audience to reflect on their social situations by viewing them on screen. The imagery presents the issues within society in its purest form. The city is driven by desire, greed, chaos, inequality, and mechanical advancement; society is growing but is it truly progressing? By presenting this supposed social critique brought forth by contrasting, Ruttmann is opening the audience to a raw and unpolished form of their city; one that displays the way people from all walks of life live within a growing metropolis.BibliographyRuttmann, Walter, Berlin: Die Sinfonie Der Großstadt (Germany: Fox Europa, 1927)Stein, Erica, “Abstract Space, Microcosmic Narrative, and the Disavowal of Modernity in Berlin: Symphony of a Great City,” Journal of Film and Video, 65 (2013), 3-16Von Ankum, Katharina, “The Cinematic Engendering Of Urban Experience: Walter Ruttmann’s “Berlin, Die Symphonie Einer Großstadt””, Colloquia Germanica, 29.3 (1996), 209-221