Saturday, October 03, 2015

Großstadt–Zigeuner / [Gypsies of the Metropolis]

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

[Zingari della metropoli] (László Moholy-Nagy – DE 1932) D: László Moholy-Nagy; 35 mm, 328 m, 12' (24 fps); no intertitles; print source: Deutsches Filminstitut (DIF), Frankfurt.
    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

Steven Jacobs (GCM catalog and website): "Berlin was a popular site for city symphonies. Apart from being the subject of Ruttmann’s landmark 1927 Berlin - Symphony of a Great City, it also featured in such films as Berlin von Unten (Alex Strasser, 1928), Menschen am Sonntag (Robert Siodmak and Edgar Ulmer, 1930), and Wochenmarkt am Wittenbergplatz (Wilfried Basse, 1929), among others."

"The famous Constructivist artist and photographer László Moholy-Nagy also directed a film camera at the German capital. After his screenplay Dynamik der Gross-Stadt (Dynamic of the Metropolis, 1922), which can be seen as a “city symphony on paper” or a kind of model for many of the cinematic city poems shot a few years later, Moholy-Nagy made Impressionen vom alten Marseiller Hafen (Vieux Port) (1929) in Marseille, as well as two films focusing on Berlin and its inhabitants. Berliner Stilleben (shot in 1926 or 1931, according to different sources) shows the city and its vibrant life in a socio-photographic realist spirit, without the lighting effects or inventive tricks for which Moholy-Nagy is known."

"Großstadt-Zigeuner (1932) is also marked by this humanist documentary mode, and focuses on gypsies living in the Berlin districts of Wedding and Marzahn. In contrast with the fascination for the hectic density of the city center in most other city symphonies, the characters of Großstadt-Zigeuner are situated in the nondescript peripheral zones where city and country interact. Only in a few of the film’s moments do we see city streets filled with pedestrians and traffic."

"In line with an age-old picturesque tradition that favours colourful outcasts and the urban poor, Moholy-Nagy depicts the gypsies, their carts, their ever-present horses, and the activities that have become an inherent part of their stereotypical representation: street vending, playing cards and dice, fights, dance, and music. However, in many instances these clichés are transcended by the filmmaker’s honest and committed interest in people. Moholy’s camera lingers on children (a recurring trope in humanist photography) and on the faces of individuals, many of them looking directly atthe camera. At several moments in the film, Moholy’s hand-held camera evokes the highly physical presence of the filmmaker among his subjects." – Steven Jacobs

AA: László Moholy-Nagy is known as a constructivist, a co-founder of the bauhaus, and in the cinema, the maker of an influential abstract film, ein lichtspiel schwarz-weiss-grau. In Finland we know him as a friend of Alvar Aalto; ein lichtspiel schwarz-weiss-grau was a part of the opening program of the first Finnish film society called Filmistudio Projektio, the guiding spirit of which was Aalto.

Großstadt-Zigeuner was made in the same year as ein lichtspiel schwarz-weiss-grau, and it could not be more different. I had seen it previously last year in Paris in the new permanent exhibition of Centre Pompidou, as a part of their intriguing non-stop film screening selection.

Großstadt-Zigeuner is a straight documentary film, a record of the life of Romani people in Berlin. The homes are mobile. There are big horse fairs. The Romani families take walks in the city. They tell fortunes by reading palms. They play cards and throw dice. They quarrel with each other. They play the guitar, there are solo dances, male couple dances and male-female couple dances. There is an accelerating tempo in the movie culminating in the final extasy of a music and dance montage.

Shown together in the same programme with Heinrich Hauser's Weltstadt in Flegeljahren which is more essentially in the constructivist-modernist-futuristic mode than this film by Moholy-Nagy which shows on the contrary the antimodern, the eternal, the timeless, the wandering life of an ancient tribe.

The cinematography is rich and inventive: the camera follows the action in dolly shots from the mobile horse-driven homes. There is a full range of tempi in the edit from the measured to the ecstatic. There are passages of handheld camerawork. There is a sense of constant motion, fitting to the nomadic nature of the subject.

The visual quality is ok with occasional deviations into low or high contrast, probably due to the source material.

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