Writing in 1926, Virginia Woolf expressed a certain suspicion that, if anywhere, “the past could be unrolled, distances annihilated […] in the chaos of the streets”, (1) as represented via the new medium of film. Woolf’s essay conceives of cinema as an integral part of modernity, and moreover, a medium capable of presenting space and time in a novel manner true to lived experience. Her hunch was insightful then, and still echoes today in the frequent co-dependence of the metropolis and the cinema in representing the experience and manifestation of modernity and modern life.

The city as depicted in early cinema is both an externally experienced spectacle and an internal rhythm, creating a dual sense of anonymity and intimacy. We have encountered it not long before: the nineteenth-century flâneur figure is, as described by Baudelaire in remarkably cinematic terms, “a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life […] he is an ‘I’ with an insatiable appetite for the ‘non-I'”. (2) Baudelaire is here describing the flâneur through a language anticipatory of “the camera’s equivocal ability to visualise the potential alienation of the modern city, but also its interdependency”. (3) Indeed, the “I/non-I”, that push-pull simultaneity of subjective and objective experience in urban modernity, undergoes a transformation to suit its needs of expression at the turn of the next century: “I” becomes none other than “eye”, or indeed, the kino-eye. Under the gaze of this new “I/eye”, one genre which explored the dynamic relationship between film and urban modernity was the City Symphony film of the 1920s: two important examples of which were Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand’s early short Manhatta (1921), and later the fully-fledged Berlin, Symphony of a City (1927) by Walter Ruttmann. A formal examination of these two films soon unfolds a pervasive sense of the simultaneous pulse of temporal fragmentation and re-accumulation peculiar to urban modernity. The cinematic attempt to “catch this tempo” (4) becomes a negotiation of the metropolis’s increasingly unstable temporal and spatial ground.

Representations of the city on film cannot be addressed without first noting their dependence on highly spacio-temporal conceptions of modernity: the work of Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze are thus central to understanding how “time adopted variable, unsychronised tempi, and space became too mobile” (5) in modern life. Bergson’s prioritisation of time over space in Time and Free Will critiques the treatment of non-spatial phenomena through spatialised language, which he argues homogenises and quantifies time. As real time, or durée, is the temporality of the internal world of consciousness, the externality of movement on screen falls under “an externality lethal to intuition”. (6) The moving image becomes an ultimate manifestation of our misunderstanding of movement itself. Bergson suggests that the movement of matter is actually “that of entropy, a dissipative tendency toward homogeneity, stasis, and undifferentiation, while that of life is an inverse tendency toward heterogeneity, metamorphosis, and creative differentiation”. (7) The mechanisms of cinema – the movement or translation of positions in space – seem in a Bergsonian reading not movement at all. Rather, they are modern manifestations of our tendency to consider immobile cuts of static moments, in regular, homogenous repetition, as the passing of time in space. Whereas durée, the “interpenetrative multiplicity or dynamic movement of passing yet continuous time”, (8) is qualitative. An actual movement is a temporal contraction or relaxation: a change in relations. Bergson’s conceptualisation at first seems dualistic in that durée at its most relaxed generates inert matter, and at its most intense, a consciousness of the fundamentally indeterminate vibrational whole. However, as durée perpetually unfolds itself in an “indivisible process [of] interpenetrating moments bringing forth something qualitatively new”, (9) Gilles Deleuze sees in Bergsonian space-time a generative dualism, or even a pluralism. Movement, for Deleuze, is not a series of static moments in a homogenous space-container, but a mobile moment: a cut of Bergsonian durée suggesting the closed set is vibrating with the whole. In other words, movement becomes a slice ofdurée rather than just the same inert matter shifting from point A to point B in space. It becomes a transformation of relations that, in happening within its closed set, in turn, shifts the whole in which all sets are contained. Drawing from but building on Bergson to theorise the relationship between this particular conception of time and movement inCinéma 1: The Movement Image, Deleuze argues real-time and movement do manifest through cinematic means. Crucially, it is the simultaneous use of the closed set of spatial elements in a frame, the temporal fragments assembled through montage, and the accumulated changes of relation that these together enable, which creates a representation of modernity true to lived experience.

Georg Simmel identifies within the experience of modern subjectivity a “lack of something definite at the centre”: (10) this lack could well be a fittingly Bergsonian end to the modern experience of time no longer corresponding to linear, quantitative methods of organising it. Simmel also identifies modernity with “the interpretation of the world in terms of the reactions of our inner life”, (11) which sounds not unlike a sense of durée. Whether urban modernity with its constant spatio-temporal flux, then, could finally be the external manifestation of this internal durée, is a tempting possibility but perhaps too reductive of Bergson’s conceptualisation of matter. However, if we consider the fractured, disjointed rhythms that so many have identified as inherent to modern life, through Deleuze’s reading of Bergson, we have a means of understanding the particular flux of the urban experience of time and space. In turn, we can examine how film communicates this experience without simply reinforcing stasis for movement, or time for durée réelle. With these potentially relational paths between the fragmented whole of the time-space of modernity and that of the film open, returning to the City Symphony films to examine their representation of the metropolis can provide a working example of what is uniquely modern about the space-time of the city, and how their relationship constructs this flux of modern time within cinematic spaces.

While tracing parallels between Gertrude Stein’s writing and experimental film in Cinematic Modernism, Susan McCabe identifies that, “while film perpetuates a continuous motion or present, its smoothness relies upon repetition and displacement”. (12) In doing so, the medium articulates what Stein pinpoints as the vital crisis of a “continuous present” which marks modernity. The modern metropolis, an environment of unprecedented speed and visual stimuli, is also one of alienation and fragmentation. The destruction and re-invention of temporal and spatial coherence go hand in hand in the metropolis. This modern dynamic becomes apparent in spatio-temporal terms when examined through filmic representation. As a visual rather than a textual experience, “both cinema and metropolis gave rise to a new ‘language’ fundamentally at odds with the traditional, contemplative gaze”, (13) but this language is a site of conflict and co-habitation where city life is at one and the same time a mass accumulation and a mass dissociation into that “continuous present”. With the Benjaminian understanding that this affinity between modern life and city affects the perception of concrete experience, it is through reading (or rather, watching out for) the unique temporality to the city on film that unfolds this dynamic paradox. Manhatta and Berlin, in their representations of 1920s New York and Berlin respectively, record this pulse of disintegration and fragmentation running alongside a mechanised, rhythmic totality, thereby generating a “modern” temporality where simultaneity and flux are the determining rhythms of city life.

Painter Charles Sheeler and photographer Paul Strand’s Manhatta is a seven-minute cross-section of New York City’s rhythms, shapes, pace and contrasts. It is a cinematic exploration of the contemporary metropolitan landscape, though it has not quite yet set aside textuality, scattering snippets from Walt Whitman’s poems through its intertitles. Although Manhatta lacks a storyline and was conceived too early in the decade for some of the montage techniques used by later city symphony films like Alberto Cavalcanti’sRien que les heures (1926) or Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera (1929), it is a complex work that contains an early attempt at articulating this new, paradoxical urban modernity. Juan A. Suárez appraises it as “a documentary, a critical statement about modernity, an aestheticist exploration of patterns, shapes, movements and rhythms”, (14) also noting that it eschews “completeness”. His configuration of Manhatta as a kind of pre-narrative space, merely waiting to offer up one of its many possible threads for story-making, is an apt if general observation: the cityscape is teeming with imminent fragmentation and dissonance, even as it is represented as a whole. By its very choice of content – the modern metropolis –Manhatta, otherwise a film with neither Dadaist influences in juxtapositionnor with a deliberately disorienting montage rhythm, nonetheless yields a representation that “wobbles” on shifting temporal and spatial ground.

Manhatta opens with an extreme wide-shot, the first glimpse of many a hopeful immigrant: the impressive Manhattan skyline literally rising out of the waves, built upon yet beyond the reach of the natural tempi of the sea. Its ships “thread” these seas, the intertitles tell us, just as its train tracks thread the land – a constant emphasis on the total and totalising presence of the metropolis. Its centrality and status is guaranteed by its national and global connectedness; a pervasive sense of this being the space within which the present, in its most dynamic and instantaneous sense, is constantly unfolding, is established. This is achieved through numerous formal choices in the composition of the shot, where the frame (or the Deleuzian immobile cut) chooses to show a portion of the world, thus necessarily determining the field of entities within a closed set as well as suggesting a continuation beyond the image. In Manhatta, extremely high angles of framing are prevalent. The camera strains to encompass a total vision of the cityscape. In reaching for a total-frame, it tries to contain the “beyond”, which in its constant, suggested presence damns that which is framed to being ever a fragment, a block of space-time held up for observation. Yet as Roland Bogue in paraphrasing Deleuze points out, there is in addition to this spatial conception of the out-of-field an “absolute ‘out-of-field’ of durée […] every framed set of elements may be included within a larger frame, the succession of frames extending in principle until an ultimate frame”. (15) The height of Manhatta‘s angle of framing is ultimately fragmented by its own limits; the detachment induces a sense of temporal and spatial inertia. Trying to encompass the whole, shots from such heights are returned to repeatedly throughout the film, varying in their direction and content but offering similar panoramas of Manhattan’s rooftops and skyscrapers. Although Alexander Graf in Avant-Garde Film labels them contemplative shots (perhaps “take”, the duration of a shot, is what he means, as by “contemplative” he seems to suggest Manhattalingers long on its panoramas), there is nonetheless an anxiety in them that suggest that simultaneous disintegration and re-accumulation of elements characteristic of urban modernity. It is as though too much, in too unstable a spatio-temporal state, is trying to be taken in and re-represented as the totality of presentness, even as such flux is inevitably generated by the enforced juxtapositions of urban life.

As Manhatta takes us closer down to its inhabited spaces, the synchronicity of its accumulative and dispersive qualities manifest in the form and content of its shots. One such moment is a bird’s-eye view of a centrally located graveyard in a strong midday sun. Due to the diagonal, equally divided composition of the frame, the dark pinpricks that are humans are momentarily indistinguishable from the dark tombstones piercing the bright surface of the ground.

Fig. 1: Trinity Church in New York (Manhatta, 1921)

Fig. 1: Trinity Church in New York (Manhatta, 1921)

The tension in the shot created by that optical similarity, drastically separate in that one “mass” is in perpetual movement while the other is in literal, ultimate stasis, renders the side-by-side expression of life and death commonplace to the city (See Fig. 1). A manifestation of both “the tumult of the metropolis, the mania for traveling, the wild pursuit of competition” (16) and the cessation of durée at the end of consciousness, this image encapsulates presence and absence, the now and the inevitable after. A strictly Bergsonian reading of this shot could exclusively focus on that as on the one hand, we see unchanging bodies shifting position in space, and on the other, “inert” matter, we are actually not seeing a frame of juxtaposition or paradox. In Creative Evolution, Bergson asserts that life is a movement, and materiality is the inverse movement (17) – thus there is no space outside durée, and the space depicted in this shot would be no exception. It contains merely both a movement toward total relaxation (détendu) and, as everything does, also a movement towards total contraction (étendu). However, as Deleuze theorises, there can also exist mobile cuts of durée, where a “translation in space” (movement, which, for Bergson, is quantitative and therefore actually illusory) also depicts a “transformation in space”: a qualitative change. Just in being a moving picture, rather than a privileged instant as in the immobile cut of a photo, the shot is a mobile cut of durée. Hence, in the “translation in space” of crowds rushing about their day, and the counter-movement of their bodies’ constant, albeit much slower, “transformation in space” towards their eventual end in one of those graves, this shot can be read as using cinematic and urban space to represent the indivisible plurality of temporal relations. The totality so grappled for in the panoramic shots, in simply trying to take in as much of the city skyline into the limits of the frame as possible, rings false in comparison. A shot like Fig. 1 seems closer to capturing the disorienting spatial and temporal structures of modern experience specifically because it opts for a “localised timelessness” (18) (the fundamentally indeterminate openness of durée) rather than a seamless shot of inert structures, where only one temporal movement (relaxation, hence matter) can be found, in the form of skyscrapers.

Manhatta continues to unfold moments like these where movement and counter-movement co-inhabits the urban space, placing the city into a temporality that fluctuates in a “localised timelessness” between disintegration and accumulation. There is an obsessive return, for instance, to billows of steam and smoke amongst concrete structures. The camera lingers on the contrast between their organic, ethereal pulsation and the inert, geometric bulk from which they issue in what is almost disbelief and fascination. Then, a seemingly minor moment changes much for a reading looking for moments of disjointedness in the whole. An extremely slow, luxurious upward pan along the entire height of a skyscraper, possibly a hotel, draws to a halt the heightened visual tempo of the construction workers depicted at around 4 minutes. It takes a full 20 seconds – not an insignificant amount of time for a seven-minute film – for the kino-eye to glut itself on this urban colossus. Indeed, it is difficult not to read further into its phallic, threatening supremacy over the urban sprawl and the sense of a deliberate, near-sexual delay in our visual gratification at finally seeing the end of the structure. However, a different aspect to this shot is calling attention to the uniquely urban flux in temporality that we are trying to locate.

Fig. 2: The skyscraper (Manhatta, 1921)

Fig. 2: The skyscraper (Manhatta, 1921)

This may perhaps be a technical difficulty that Sheeler and Strand had no choice but to leave in the final cut, but even if so, it is still a striking example of the dissonance-ridden, flexible quality of city time-space. The long pan up this skyscraper (See Fig. 2) is actually three separate shots, with a slight spatial jolt that results from discontinuity in montage. The singularity, visual dominance and elongation of the structure is ridden with fissures; three subtle cuts undermine our expectation of an unbroken linearity in keeping with the structure’s façade. This unfolds two crucial and useful readings: firstly, the camera cannot but represent the city in fragmentation, for only then is a true sense of how urban temporality is experienced apparent. Furthermore, this representation of synchronic disintegration and totalisation, thus far achieved through composition and content within the frame, is in need of a dynamism that is supra-shot. It is in montage that film must find its vocabulary to articulate this peculiarly urban spatio-temporal flux. “Just as in the case of music,” Graf writes, “the instrumentalisation of cutting rhythm […] is a feature of the dynamics of all true city symphonies”. (19) Unintended or no, Manhatta’s subtly “pulsing” skyscraper, straining the camera along the façade of its barely-holding, spatio-temporal linearity, leaves us with a sense that this is a genre with much to say, and it is about to say it in a new way that is more complex, paradoxical, and cinematic. Unsurprising, then, that after marking importance of the cut in filmic representations of the city, Graf emphasises none “are quite as disciplined in following this” as Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin, Symphony of a City.

Ruttmann stated time and again that what he wanted to cinematically pin down the experience of urban modernity as a “tempo” in Berlin. At the time of its release in 1927, that tempo was inextricable from the Weimar Republic’s modernising process, which was enjoying a golden age. Regular loans through the Dawes Plan saw an Americanisation of the German economy, while the labour process grew increasingly mechanised. The emerging white-collar consumer spurred on a new culture of mass production and “surface” aesthetic. Increasing numbers of artists grew interested in the latest stylistic innovation characterised as Neue Sachlichkeit (The New Objectivity). Some of the film’s contemporary critics like Siegfried Kracauer and Ernst Bloch grouped Ruttmann’s Berlin under this “reactionary” New Objectivity, finding it a socially unengaged cross-section of an “emptiness so nickle-plated that it gleams and captivates”. (20) Yet even this critical reading has its prompt in some degree within the montage aesthetics of Berlin. Finding in its “captivating” qualities a self-rationalising consumerism, Kracauer is also anxious because in Berlin he finds a space that only has time for the present – the eternal recurrence of the new. For Kracauer, that new is the ever-impending “outmoded status of the city’s spectacular display of surplus, thus exposing the contradiction at the heart of capitalist production”. (21) Interestingly, the foundational impression Kracauer is drawing from to build his socio-economic reading is distinctly spatio-temporal and experiential. Regardless of whether one reads an ideological end in the metropolis’s relativisation of time according to its own patterns of accumulation and fragmentation, one must begin by examining how such a space-time is generated within rather than without. This is the disconcertingly fast, yet totalisingly “ever-present” space-time sensed by so many who have written on urban modernity. This is also precisely what is articulated through Berlin‘s use of montage. With its emphasis on both complementary and collisionary rhythms, it showcases the cinematic maturity these “radically expanded spatio-temporal coordinates of metropolitan life” (22) have reached since their early beginnings in Manhatta.

Berlin chooses the filmic language of associative and rhythmic montage to establish a certain dynamic; Graf finds this dynamic synesthetic, because it “brings the element of time to the fore, which is manipulated in order to convey an audio impression by visual means”. (23) He makes a compelling argument for the tempi of Ruttmann’s cutting being like that of music, shifting between allegro (fast, lively) and adagio (slow, at ease) in order to visually express the pace of city life at its various intervals. However, while rhythmic montage is certainly Ruttman’s chosen method of representing the disorienting flux of city-time, Graf’s music comparison suggests the synchronicity of these divergent temporalities in city life are governed by intervals. Temporalities fluctuate throughout film, but within the limits of their intervals, they remain on some sort of consistent plateau, “meaning that modern urban fragmentation could be both apprehended and constructed in film at a spatial and temporal level”. (24) This implies the representation of the city is collated through film, its spatio-temporal fragmentation balanced against its accumulative rhythms to create a multitudinous but still coherent whole. It organises then showcases, but does not translate the experience, with all the risky dissonance it would bring to its very own representation. Turning to the film itself first, though, we find both its metropolitan subject and its montage techniques lead to the latter.

In Modern Times, Modern Places, Peter Conrad points out that railway schedules were one of the exemplary anecdotes used by Einstein in his 1905 paper on relativity, giving society its first lesson in the relativity of our temporal and spatial arrangements. An exercise in simultaneity, the arrival of a train coincides with the arrival of the clock hand at the arbitrarily agreed moment. It lays time’s constructedness bare, and yet “we cope instinctively with its complex network of spatial and temporal co-ordinates”. (25) Our first experience in Berlin, Symphony of a City of a re-calibration these spatio-temporal co-ordinates to the tempi of flux in their urban manifestation, unsurprisingly, comes through the opening sequence of a train arriving into Anhalter Bahnhof. In quick succession, Ruttmann’s montage builds and sustains a tempo in keeping with the speed of the train. These include both forward and backward tracking shots, so the entrance of the train into the frame means its simultaneous exit from another frame in space; subjective shots of the telephone poles rushing past; quick cuts to the pumping pistons of the train; and the rush of train tracks down the length of the frame. This rhythmically cut sequence immerses us immediately into a modernity that generates its own temporality: a frantic simultaneity that can accord with its accelerated sensory stimuli.

In order to examine the rhythmic, and later associative montage Berlin uses, a turn to the definitions pioneered by Soviet film director and theorist Sergei Eisenstein is helpful. In Film Form, Eisenstein proposes that film proceeds from a juxtaposition of shots that are depictive – single in meaning by themselves – which are then put in conflict or collision through montage, thereby producing a higher synthesis of meaning: dialectical “leaps” from quantitative accumulation to new, qualitative attributes. James Donald points out that for Eisenstein, “the aesthetic of montage not only responded to, but self-consciously used, the experience of fragmentation that characterised the modernité of the city.” (26) Deleuze, too, finds this dialectical tendency (which is in the qualitative leap to a new temporality from the quantitative accumulation of rhythmic fragments) in Eisenstein’s montage theory. Sabine Hake has read Berlin‘s opening sequence, the train’s arrival, as metric montage, calling it an “overture” (27): a musical-temporal organisation like Graf proposes. Yet Eisenstein deems metric montage a “march-time solution”, (28) inadequate for the more complex rhythmic needs demonstrated by this sequence. Unlike metric, rhythmic montage takes into consideration the nature of the content within the frame when determining its cut: “formal tension by acceleration is obtained here […] the movement within the frame impels the montage movement from frame to frame.” (29) Just as the filmic representation of the train is relativising time by making the cut bothon and against the tempo of its content, so is the audience now accustomed to this simultaneity of paradoxical temporalities that shall only increase upon arrival into the city.

Once Berlin‘s workers arrive at the factories, the city’s heavy industries come to life, and once more we find montage quickens in response to the rhythmic demands of its content. Medium close-ups and close-ups, shot types which in film are typically reserved for scenes of human dialogue and audience-character intimacy, are exactly how machine parts are now framed. As montage, through which we can’t help but assimilate this sequence, matches itself to the speed of machines, our sense of time, in itself arbitrary, must give way to a temporality dictated by their wheels. Ruttmann’s montage brings us to that rhythmic pitch, and we adapt, of course – indeed, in the next instance of rhythmic montage, we humans are the ones generating it. When the clock strikes eight, the film focuses on the beginnings of the business day. As telephones, typewriters, account books and filing cabinets are readied, the large modern bureaucracies are set in motion. Two secretaries begin tapping away, and with that intra-framic prompt, an inter-framic visual rhythm similar to the factory sequence begins. This time, it is driven by the hyper-efficiency of modern communication. As the sheer simultaneity of this communication is matched by rhythmic montage, the kino-eye and our own is finally overwhelmed by a spiral.

Fig. 3: The recurring spiral (Berlin, Symphony of a City, 1927)

Fig. 3: The recurring spiral (Berlin, Symphony of a City, 1927)

This suggests enforcing the representation of such momentum within the confines of the same moment undoes the linear temporality of shot-after-shot. An abstraction of the conflict-in-movement within the frame (a spiral) becomes the only cinematic tool capable of rhythmically visualising that experience. The spiral’s two strands, black and white, never join, but the simultaneity of their intra-framic movement optically “collides” at the centre of the frame into one, grey amalgamation of paradox in co-habitation (see Fig. 3)Arguably, this is more associative than rhythmic montage, visually blending the circularity of the typewriter’s keys into the circular motion of the spiral – and that is indeed another formal method Berlin employs to bring contrasts, as urban modernity does, into temporal and spatial proximity. Sabine Hake is wary of critics who have labeled Ruttmann’s method of linking individual shots solely either montage or collage. She points out that Ruttmann takes of both to sustain a principle of repetition and variation (e.g., the cuts between the child/gentleman/lion eating lunch), thus creating sequences that “confirm total exchangeability and eternal recurrence as the foundation of experience in modern mass culture […] his approach might be described as a kind of associative montage.” (30) Hake’s concern regarding Berlin is its socio-politically neutral Neue Sachlichkeit aesthetic, which accounts for her disapproving tone here, but her linking of urban time (repetition and variation, precisely) to Ruttmann’s associative montage is significant to how this film reconciles the simultaneity of the metropolis’s “eternal reoccurrences” with its forward impetus of stimuli.

There are two levels to Ruttmann’s associative montage in Berlin: a compositional level, where frames with similar graphic properties, space or content are juxtaposed for their formal qualities, and a more intellectually rather than visually-driven associative montage, which “makes a statement on the multifaceted nature of city life due to the synchronicity of divergent events pictured.” (31) Much of the sequences in Berlin featuring the former level of associative montage have been fine fodder for those who find Ruttmann guilty of indulging in aesthetic formalism at the expense of political critique. This kind of montage can be found in the evening newspaper sequence. It rolls up the entire frame at a pace too frantic to read, except for a few select words that expand off the page: “crisis”, “murder”, “stock exchange”, “marriage” and “money”, the last of which is repeated six times, until we cut to train tracks that graphically match the same vertical movement of the previous shot. This can indeed be read as no more than Ruttmann’s choice to cut along formal markers. However, the train tracks then turn out to be that of a roller-coaster, the frame’s angle adjusts to a nauseating tilt, and the sequence culminates in yet another spiral. These associations have now taken the meaning of the cut to the next level – there is undoubtedly an intellectual as well as a graphically-dictated association here. Berlin may not be willing to relinquish its formal commitments entirely for the political commitment such a sequence could have easily set up – an unutilised proximity Hake is clearly frustrated with. Yet the associative montage here is indeed committing to that “synchronicity of divergent events.” It also goes further by implying that the constancy of this flux is a wave easily “ridden” by urban modernity – for it not only assimilates it, but turns it into a mildly entertaining commonplace experienced for the price of a fairground ticket. Cutting on both the pattern in the graphics and the direction of motion, Berlin‘s associative montage, like its rhythmic counterpart, conveys where the linkage lies in the fragmentation of city life: no longer to be found in a shared temporal line, true, but not in a demoralising experience of utter transience, either. Rather, due to the synchronicity of these accumulative and dispersive qualities, a new city-temporality is generated. Dubbing its overarching thread transience (as Hake does repeatedly in “Urban Spectacle”) is an act of leveling, whereas the filmic representation of urban modernity, as we have seen in Manhatta and Berlin, is certainly not the accumulation of time-fragments into a totalised whole. Rather, it is an act of temporal layering: one of dispersive and one of connective movement, occurring in synchronicity.

Before thinking on why this ever-fluctuating and self re-generating city-time is layered rather than leveled down, however, pausing on Bryony Randall’s conception of “daily time” can establish that these synchronous temporalities are inherent to the experience of urban modernity. Randall’s exploration of Modernist literature’s use of repetition for meaning-making within the paradigm of daily time is grounded in the basis that a variety of different temporalities are functioning within that “dailiness”. We can map the “temporality of sameness-and-difference [in daily time], where these two kinds of repetition call each other up […] and open out different kinds of temporality” (32) onto this simultaneous “constant presentness” that is in a dynamic relationship with temporal fragmentation/accumulation in the modern city. Importantly, her discussion also acknowledges that spatiality is “crucial to understanding the elaboration of alternative temporalities.” (33) Despite this acknowledgement, she rightly critiques Wyndham Lewis’s emphasis on space over time in Time and Western Man, which does not allow for the nuance of Bergson idea of “presentness” that she uses in relation to dailiness. In Matter and Memory, Bergson asserts, “you define the present in an arbitrary manner as that which is, whereas the present is simply what is being made. Nothing is less than the present moment.” (34) He is here pinpointing the very flux necessary to even conceive of a true “constant presentness.” Rather than pitting Bergson’s and a Lewis’s views against one another, and in doing so severing the temporal from the spatial, we need to look at the visual manifestations of this fluctuating present that has duration: the paradoxical simultaneities of urban modernity is one, and cinematic spatio-temporality is another. The manner of this manifestation in the former, we have seen in the image and montage qualities of Manhatta and Berlin. The latter must be read through how Deleuze builds on Bergson to incorporate rather than exclude cinematic space from this “becoming”.

Gertrude Stein praised cinema for its dual ability to focus and fragment attention: “its ability to capture the temporal displacement of existing”. (35) This fractured “time-sense” of modernity’s accelerated pace in the city is almost naturally able to map onto the inherently destabilising force of the cinematic image. What André Bazin’s and Kracauer’s writings have often focused on, and what Fredric Jameson acknowledges in Signatures of the Visible, is how film survives the process of visual consumption that menaces the still photograph constantly. The reason, Jameson points out, is rooted in the movement of film dissolving its images back into a passage of time: “they cannot be translated back into photography, but constitutively presuppose the inevitability of time, change and loss as the price they must pay to become events rather than things.” (36) For Jameson, the formal processes of film (of which both image and montage is foundational) liberate the contents of the image from being encumbered with articulating the existential realities of time; its movement-image inherently articulates them anyway. The movements of the camera are unattached to the movement of matter or bodies within its frame. The movement of the cut between shots, again, remain multiple and autonomous from the bodies. Film layers these Deleuzian movement-images, which is pure perception or movement without Bergsonian durée, with the cinematic time-image, where the continuously dividing and differentiating whole of durée is expressing itself in certain “closed sets” of such movement-images. In L’Image-Temps, Deleuze visualises the layering of these two kinds of temporality as an axis, which gives us some orientation as to the direction of these two kinds of movement. The vertical is durée, where no “forward or backward” movement as we instinctively know it is possible, for the whole is there in both its totality and plurality simultaneously. It can be expressed, in Bogue’s helpful clarification, “through the vertical processes of framings, cuts, shots, and montage.” (37) The horizontal is our perception of quantifiable movement: the translation of bodies within long, medium or close-up shots (Bergsonian movement without durée, Deleuzian movement-images). To revisualise these two layered temporalities as an axis, that together make urban modernity that temporally “unsound” mix of both flux and constant inertia, finally expresses the nature of this newly-generated city-time. What is an axis if not a mapping of space? A plane, as a result of two perpendicular layers of movement? This “different kind of temporality” is different in the city because it is dictated by space.

It is spatial orientation and organisation that determines whether the urban experience of modernity at any given moment will assimilate or alienate, reveal or obscure, because time has become unstable and prone to fluctuate with the rhythms of the city. The kind of spatiality in question can be understood here in terms set out by Wolfgang Natter in “The City as Cinematic Space”; if the development of urban space in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought about “a reordering in apperception of temporal-spatial relations”, (38) then cinema, a form likewise tied to a compression of space-time relations, inherently organises this expression along the same relations. As this examination of Manhatta and Berlin attempts, seeing the temporal dissonances and re-accumulations in these films are also exercises in reading their cinematic spaces. The temporal layering we have seen generated by the combination of sped-up stimuli and constant “presentness” is expressed through intra-framic and inter-framic movement. This, in turn, is spacialised through cinematic methods expressive of movement both with and without durée. This plane (importantly recalling Deleuze’s axis) bears “modulations of all sorts, sensorial, rhythmic, tonal […] it is the ‘stuff’ of which films are made.” (39) It is not any less temporal an experiential phenomenon simply due to the fact that the already temporally-signalectic cinematic space is able to carry this fluctuating “becoming”. From here it is a small leap to put forward that filmic space articulates the deconstructed totality of urban modernity through a layering of temporalities, and in doing so comes, perhaps as closely as possible anywhere outside individual consciousness, to actualising durée itself if it were to be experienced externally. This is durée when it is in an “open set”: when it seeps out from the multitudinous yet simultaneous nature of consciousness itself, out into the world via a representation as close to reaching such a “constant” flux as possible.

In filmic attempts like the City Symphonies to express the temporal movements of urban modernity, we have a presenting towards the cinematic spatialisation of durée. This is different to what Bergson dismisses as our tendency to spatialise (and thus externalise) time through language, for filmic expression is, to recall Jameson, “events rather than things”. Is this not the very pulsating “becoming”, the sensory immediacy combined with disintegration, that so many critics have pick up on in examining urban modernity? Or for that matter, and unsurprisingly now, much like the “unreliable” yet holistic nature of durée, when manifest anywhere requiring more spatial orientation than inner consciousness? Even though a space – the urban space – this “anywhere” may be, is it still not a “continuous present [so able] to capture the temporal displacement of existing”? (40) The idea of the symphony almost comes full circle; composed of points and counterpoints, symphonies “denote principles of balance and formal discipline to achieve dynamic coherence in composition.” (41) This “dynamic” – the temporal and spatial fragmentation-in-accumulation of the city – is certainly there, but its coherence does not lie in these fragments actually fitting together through different but complementary rhythms. For far from eventually being leveled or abstracted, this is where the temporal layerings of movement are generating a new kind of space; a space we need, in order to know the sheer subjectivity of urban temporal experience is real. Once it is cinematically articulated along its inherent disjunctions and synchronicities, these accumulated filmic spaces can then perhaps compose (and dissolve) urban modernity in a “tempo” most akin to its nature.


  1. Virginia Woolf, “The Cinema” in Selected Essays, ed. David Bradshaw (Oxford: OUP, 2009), 176.
  2. Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, ed. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon, 1999), 15.
  3. Keith Williams, “Symphonies of the Big City: Modernism, Cinema and Urban Modernity” in The Great London Vortex, ed. Paul Edwards (Bath: Sulis Press, 2003), 37.
  4. Walter Ruttmann, Eine Dokumentation, ed. Jeanpaul Goergen (Berlin: Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek, 1989), 74.
  5. Peter Conrad, Modern Times/Modern Places (New York: Knopf, 1999), 60.
  6.  David Trotter, Cinema and Modernism (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), 137.
  7. Roland Bogue, Deleuze on Cinema (London: Routledge, 2003), 17.
  8. Ibid., 12.
  9. Ibid., 14.
  10. Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money, quoted in David Frisby, Fragments of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 1985), 72.
  11. Ibid., 46.
  12. Susan McCabe, Cinematic Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009), 61.
  13. Carsten Strathausen, Poetry and Vision Around 1900 (Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 2003), 24.
  14. Juan A. Suárez, “The Modernism of Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s Manhatta,” Journal of American Studies 36.1 (2003): 88.
  15. Bogue, 44.
  16. Simmel, 22.
  17. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (Milton Keynes: Lightning Source, 2009), 261.
  18. Carey James Mickalites. “Manhattan Transfer, Spectacular Time, and the Outmoded,” Arizona Quarterly 67.4 (2011): 60.
  19. Alexander Graf, Avant-Garde Film, eds. Alexander Graf and Dietrich Scheunemann (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007), 82.
  20. Ernst Bloch, The Heritage of Our Times, quoted in Screening the City, eds. Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice (London: Verso, 2003), 47.
  21. Mickalites, 61.
  22. Sabine Hake, Topographies of Class (Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 2008), 242.
  23. Graf, 81.
  24. Graf, 86.
  25. Conrad, 61.
  26. James Donald, Imagining the Modern City (London: Athlone, 1999), 76.
  27. Sabine Hake, “Urban Spectacle in Walter Ruttmann’s ‘Berlin: Symphony of the Big City’,” in Dancing on the Volcano, eds. Thomas W. Kniesche and Stephen Brockmann (Columbia: Camden House, 1994), 131.
  28. Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form, trans. Jay Leyda (San Diego: Harcourt, 1977), 72.
  29. Eisenstein, 74.
  30. Hake, “Urban Spectacle”, 130.
  31. Graf, 83.
  32. Bryony Randall, Modernism, Daily Time and Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011), 22.
  33. Ibid., 23.
  34. Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer (London: George Allen, 1911), 193.
  35. McCabe, 57.
  36. Fredric Jameson, Signatures of the Visible (London: Routledge, 2007), 264.
  37. Bogue, 37.
  38. Wolfgang Natter, “The City as Cinematic Space,” in Place, Power, Situation and Spectacle, eds. Stuart C. Aitken and Leo E. Zonn (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), 208.
  39. Bogue, 39.
  40. McCabe, 57.
  41. Graf, 80.