Saturday, October 03, 2015

Weltstadt in Flegeljahren. Ein Bericht über Chicago / [A World City in Its Teens. A Report on Chicago]

Collection EYE Filmmuseum. Click to enlarge.
Altre sinfonie della città / Other City Symphonies, Prog. 1: Aspetti poco noti della metropoli / Unfamiliar Byways of the Metropolis

[Una metropoli in evoluzione: rapporto su Chicago] (Heinrich Hauser; dist: Naturfilm Hubert Schonger – DE 1931) D: Heinrich Hauser; 35 mm, 1687 m, 74' (20 fps) [maybe my mistake but I counted 67']; titles: DUT; print source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian and English, grand piano: Philip C. Carli, 3 Oct 2015

Eva Hielscher (GCM catalog and website): "In the spring and summer of 1931, German writer, traveller, photographer, and filmmaker Heinrich Hauser made a trip by car through the eastern United States, with Chicago as his main destination. These travels resulted in a book, Feldwege nach Chicago (Dirt Tracks to Chicago), and a silent “city film”, Weltstadt in Flegeljahren. Whereas the book covers his entire journey, Hauser’s film concentrates on Chicago, with its architectural impressions, skyline, skyscrapers, motorized traffic, local industries, labour, mechanized production, and leisure time at the Riverview amusement park and on the shores of Lake Michigan."

"The film begins on the Mississippi River, before entering the cityscape, taking both a spatial and temporal approach to Chicago in an almost ritual way. As the film proceeds, the landscape becomes more and more urbanized, with traditional forms of work and life replaced by modernized industries and contemporary urban life. Without literally following the cross-section concept typical of city symphonies, Hauser constructs a certain cross-section of and through Chicago using an additive montage style, and by observing, recording, and showing the numerous facets and details he encounters there."

"This comprises not only geographic-architectural aspects specific to Chicago, but also concerns different social and ethnic groups – in fact, the film presents a cross-section of Chicago’s city dwellers, including the contrast between rich and poor."

"Hauser is clearly fascinated by Chicago, which in his book he describes as “the most beautiful city in the world”. But despite this unquestionable fascination, Hauser’s city symphony also contains a critique and reservation concerning modern urban life, combined with a critical reflection on modernity, the American city, and the United States in general, extending far beyond the city of Chicago itself."

"Particularly in the film’s fourth section, Hauser shows the negative sides of the metropolis and the effects of mechanized production and rationalized labour: unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, and crime. His Chicago city symphony alternates between fascination and fear, curiosity and critique, enthusiasm and reservation."

"Weltstadt in Flegeljahren received very positive reviews at the time of its release in 1931, and was valued for its documentary quality, social responsibility, and sharp and honest showing of real-life images. Hauser was celebrated as an outsider of the film industry, an amateur who surpassed the professionals with this silent film."

"Nevertheless, Weltstadt in Flegeljahren was not accepted as an educational film; it was argued that it was confusing and chaotic – a statement that Rudolf Arnheim strongly criticized."

"Weltstadt in Flegeljahren was considered lost in Germany until the 1980s, when it entered the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv in Koblenz as part of the collection of the Hubert Schonger distribution company. This German distribution version was restored in 1993. The restored German version was shown in Chicago with voiceover English narration in 2003, with the title Chicago. A World City Stretches Its Wings. Hauser’s Chicago film has also survived in an original Dutch nitrate print, conserved at the Nederlands Filmmuseum (now the EYE Filmmuseum) since the 1940s; this was restored in the 1990s. Despite these restorations, Weltstadt in Flegeljahren remains largely unknown today."
– Eva Hielscher

AA: Shown together in the same programme with László Moholy-Nagy's Grossstadt-Zigeuner, Weltstadt in Flegeljahren is more essentially in the constructivist-modernist-futuristic mode than Moholy-Nagy's film which shows the antimodern, the eternal, the timeless, the wandering life of an ancient tribe.

There is an extended establishing sequence about approaching Chicago via its mighty waterways, the Chicago Portage by the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes watersheds. This may have been inspired by Walther Ruttmann's Berlin symphony which approached the great city via rails.

There is from the start an epic sense of location, nature, and work. The viewpoint is that of the huge steamboat. We see lumber camps, harvesting, and cattle breeding on our way to Chicago. There we see incredibly huge cargoes being moved on the water, magnificent construction sites, and the railway station. We switch for a while into Ruttmann territory as the city is explored via rails. There are giant clouds of steam, elevated rails, and heavy traffic. We enter "the Loop", "the heart of Chicago". There is a grandeur in the vision of urbanity. The traffic cop scene can also be compared with Ruttmann: this is quite different from the "policeman bringing order to the chaos" sense that Kracauer analyzed in Weimar cinema (in the recurrent motif of the policeman escorting a little child through the traffic jungle).

The images of a slow, endless traffic jam on a multi-lane motorway with hundreds of cars are among the earliest I have seen of the phenomenon. In the "labyrinth of glass and bricks" we observe work on the conveyor belt, efficiently managed, with typewritten messages sent in pneumatic speed tubes. We visit the factory where McCormick-Deering tractors are produced, "the monsters of modern times". Immense mining machines "destroy all fields and landscapes". We follow large scale construction sites as the "city mushrooms". We see huge turning carriages (kääntölavetti in Finnish). We observe the meat industry. Cattle is led towards the slaughterhouse. "40 minutes later" tin cans emerge from the conveyor belt. The effect is similar as in Georges Franju's Le Sang des bêtes, without the slaughter.

"Behind the skyscrapers": 40.000 homeless men on one street. Labour agencies. Salvation Army missions. "The wrecks of society". The marginalized, the old ones, the invalids, the sick. The slums with black kids playing in the mud. People living in the junkyard. The underworld: scary criminal figures. "The market of thieves". But also second-hand markets, rag markets, art photographs, animals for sale. Jews, Indians, fakirs, snake charmers.

There is recreation: large parks, sport (baseball), horse fields, political speakers with a policemen listening, funhouses, roller-coasters. And beaches: there are more people there than is comfortable, and the people are covered in sand; there are drab aspects in the leisure time. Children's pranks, sports, playing with a boxer's ball on the back of the head. Happy faces. This sequence could be compared with Menschen am Sonntag; there are differences and similarities.

The film is ethnically diverse and honest and gives a more balanced view of the American people than contemporary American films themselves. Many black people appear in this movie.

Heinrich Hauser has a good sense of mise-en-scène, composition, and editing rhythm. There are strong montage sequences.

The cinematography is inspired. This is a machine-driven movie, and the camera is often identifying with the machine: the steamboat, the train, and of course the roller-coaster.

It is possible to appreciate the original cinematography in this valuable reconstructed print the visual quality of which is often good.

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