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Cinema and the City

Abstract and Keywords

This article focuses on the role of cinema in imagining the city and its influence on urban lifestyles, city space, and future visions. It considers the regional differences and temporal discrepancies that can be found both in the process of urbanization and the spread of cinematic technology. It argues that, since the early twentieth century, cinema — whether in Europe, Hollywood, or more recently Bollywood and Nollywood (Nigeria) — has been vital in promoting enhanced urban awareness and identity, and defining the image of cities both as glittering theatres of modernity and also as shock cities. Along with new types of media including television and the Internet, film has helped forge the dazzling influence of the city across a globalizing world.

Keywords: films, cities, urban lifestyle, city space, urbanization, cinematic technology

During the 19th and 20th centuries, cities, urban landscapes, their outward appearances, and their lifestyles have been conspicuously interpreted and reinterpreted in both literary and audiovisual culture. It seems that the circulation of urban imagery has increased together with the gradual acceleration of urbanization. Cultural representations of the city have not only been reflections of social change but have also been expressions of cultural dialogue that has transformed urban imagination and become an essential part of urban experience.

The aim of this chapter is to consider the role of cinema in imagining the city, but at the same time to track down those different ways cinema contributed and participated in the formation of urban lifestyles, city space, and future visions. The chapter keeps in mind those regional differences and temporal discrepancies that can be found both in the process of urbanization and the spread of cinematic technology. The chapter focuses on cinema, but it aims at covering a broader set of representations and genres by contextualizing the cinematic examples with other forms of art and entertainment.

It is essential to point out the Western origins of film technology. At the end of the 19th century, there were numerous engineers in North America and Europe who worked to develop cinematographic equipment, drawing on the rich audiovisual culture of the century. The idea to project optically preserved, moving images in a darkened exhibition room proved to be a success: as early as the mid-1890s cinema became known in every continent, and soon film technology was effectively used to describe urban life and to highlight urban ways of living. Despite its ‘Westernness’, cinema became a global mode of representation right from the start. Already at the end of the 19th century, moving images from Paris and St Petersburg, from Tehran and Shanghai were shown by the travelling companies.

(p. 738) From Coketown to Helsinki

The rise of the industrial city in the late 18th and early 19th centuries happened in parallel with the rise of the novel. In the English literature of the time, numerous descriptions of the cities can be found. The best known fictional industrial centre is perhaps Charles Dickens’ Coketown in the novel Hard Times (1854), the city with endless rows of houses, cobble-stone streets, and canals.1 The image of the industrial city lived through the 19th century, and has continued in the Dickensian film tradition. The first cinematic adaptation of Coketown was released in 1915.

The breakthrough of cinematic technology happened together with the second wave of modernization at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. From the 1890s onwards, the emerging cinema culture became the central site of urban experience and imagination. Many linkages between cinema and the city can be found: the first movie theatres were born in the cities; programmes emphasized urban settings; and the film trade soon made it possible to view modern city life in different corners of the world.

By the end of the 19th century, there were many independent innovators working in the industry, but the French Lumière brothers established the first successful motion picture enterprise and brought the miracle of moving images to different parts of Europe and even other continents. On these travels, the cameramen employed by the brothers filmed new movies, further adding to the appeal of cinematic journeys around the world. In Helsinki, the first films were seen in June 1896, only half a year after the first performances in Paris. On the eve of the Finnish premiere, the newspaper Uusi Suometar wrote:

The presenter of the Cinématographe Lumière had invited journalists to the hall of the Seurahuone yesterday evening to see the miraculous machine. It is not without reason that he calls this apparatus a nineteenth-century miracle in his announcement; it is, indeed, amazing. It conjures onto a tautly stretched white canvas living photographs that move and act quite naturally. The first picture we saw last night showed the arrival of a railway train to the station of a large city. Why, the life and bustle in it! From afar, the arrival of the train could be perceived and it approached so naturally that we almost feared being run over.…There were also street scenes of several large cities, in which people, horses, omnibuses, carriages, bicycles, dogs and urchins swarmed en masse.2

The journalist for the Uusi Suometar refers to the film The Train Arrives at the Station, saying that the members of the press ‘almost feared being run over’. A similar story is in fact told of the brothers’ premiere in Paris. It was claimed that the audience climbed onto their chairs, fearing the train that seemed to be puffing from the screen into the stands. The story has been repeated in connection with experiences of other early films also, but no assurance of its truthfulness is available. Even Robert W. Paul refers to the assumed event in his film The Countryman and the Cinematograph (1901), in which a simple rural man is unable to distinguish between ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’.3 The myth of fear (p. 739) seems to have arisen simply to portray the innocence of cinema audiences, especially non-urban spectators, at the end of the 19th century.4 On the other hand, the representation of this innocence was soon employed as an argument for establishing film censorship.

The report by the Finnish journalist is interesting in many other respects as well. The author has clearly given a great deal of attention to the ‘street scenes of several large cities’ which were portrayed so vividly by the moving pictures. In 1896 Finland was still a rural country. Most of the population lived in the countryside and the number of city dwellers remained small until the 1950s. In Central Europe the situation was different: urbanization proceeded rapidly during the last decades of the century. If moving pictures offered the Central European public the opportunity of seeing ‘snow-covered lands and their sporting events’, as Georges Méliès wrote in 1907,5 in a country such as Finland film seemed to be a product of the new and modern urban culture. It brought the possibility of experiencing the bustle of the metropolis that was not available in the urban centres of the more distant regions. In front of the silver screen, even Finnish viewers could become urban flâneurs letting their gaze wander amid the bustle of arcades and markets.

Cinema and Vernacular Modernism

In Europe, the success of moving images was obviously connected with modernity. The trembling images of the screen represented not necessarily something that had been realized in the prevailing culture but something that was expected to come sooner or later. For the Finnish audience, the Lumière reels offered a gaze into an urbanized way of life, into a world that was mostly non-existent in the rural country. Furthermore, images of the city were obviously feasible raw material for early films because all cinematographers wanted to demonstrate the technological abilities of the ‘wonder of the nineteenth century’ to capture and show movement. Thus, lively urban images were much more suitable for film-making than natural settings that had less movement. This ‘urbanism’ is illustrated by, for example, the first Iranian films that also portrayed city scenes, images from Tehran. On the other hand, film technology was born in parallel with the nation-states, and soon films were used to imagine nationhood and to construct national landscapes. Still, many films before World War I were set in urban surroundings, even in countries like Finland where most of the audience lived outside urban centres.

Cinema and the CityClick to view larger

plate 39.1 Still from Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grossstadt (1927) portrays city life, especially traffic, cars and trains. (Image: Deutsche Vereins-Film.)

In the 1920s and 1930s, film-makers often depicted the modern life of the cities. Although such films as Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, 1927: see Plate 39.1) and Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) have become epitomes of the era, in the 1930s urban imagination became strongly addressed by film studios all over the world, in Hollywood and Helsinki, in Cairo and Shanghai. International audiences could follow American skyscraper-builders at work and the passers-by in shopping malls in New York, but simultaneously they experienced urban (p. 740) lifestyle in their own cultural setting. Urban imagery was circulated perhaps more than ever before. At the same time, particular cities like Berlin and Paris became almost mythologized by the silver screen. René Clair's Sous les toits de Paris (Under the Roofs of Paris, 1930) reveals the way studio productions constructed city space: the result is a combination of outdoor footage and indoor takes with, often highly poetical, studio sets. In fact, the imaginary cinematic city of Paris was more a studio fantasy than something that would have existed in the tangible world outside studios and movie houses.

In contrast to the strongly idealistic image of the city in Sous les toits de Paris, there were also critical contemporary representations of urban life. There are plenty of such examples in the Chinese cinema of the 1930s, although the film industry in Shanghai was to a large extent constructed on the basis of Hollywood influence. One of the most lugubrious portrayals of the city can be found in Sun Yu's early leftist feature Tianming (Daybreak, 1932). It portrays a girl Lingling (Li Lili) who moves from a rural village to Shanghai, loaded with fantasies of a better life. The reality proves to be harder than the representation. Lingling finds a job in a factory, but she is soon raped by the son of her employer. Lingling ends up as a prostitute but, on the other hand, she succeeds in getting into the higher circles of society and starts to help her worker friends.6 Many Chinese films of the era depicted clashes between the countryside and the city, as well as tensions between traditional and modern lifestyles.7 Miriam Bratu Hansen has pointed out that the worldwide hegemony of American cinema in the 1920s and 1930s was due less to the quality of films than the fact that they provided a horizon of expectations of modernization and modernity for audiences around the globe.8 This ‘vernacular modernism’ had an impact on Chinese cinema too, but this did not happen as a one-way cultural influence. Thus, cinema offered a platform for imagining domestic or regional problems through images offered by this ‘vernacular modernism’. Often films set women at the (p. 741) heart of their stories and discussed the problem of gender in rapidly changing social life. Here, Zheng Zhengqiu's Zi mei hua (Twin Sisters, 1934) is of particular interest: twin sisters are separated at birth, and while one has been raised in poverty, the other has lived in luxury.

Interestingly, there were also direct connections between Shanghai and Hollywood. Sun Yu, for example, had studied film writing, directing, and cinematography in New York in the 1920s.9 The Chinese production of the time included also American remakes, or at least films that clearly had got an impetus from Hollywood. Yuan Muzhi's Malu tianshi (Street Angel, 1937) showed young people who try to escape the corruption of one of the most miserable districts in Shanghai and was probably inspired by Frank Borzage's silent films Seventh Heaven (1927) and Street Angel (1928). It has however been pointed out that Muzhi's interpretation melds Hollywood influences together with Soviet techniques of film-making.10

The echoes of ‘vernacular modernism’ are discernible elsewhere at the same time and, obviously, the coming of sound in the late 1920s and early 1930s strengthened regional centres of film production. During the 1930s, Egypt emerged as the leading producer of Arabic-language cinema. In 1936, the Cairo-based Studio Misr organized its production according to the Hollywood model and had a central role in Egyptian cinema throughout the 1940s and 1950s.11 Niazi Mustafa, trained in Munich and at the UFA studios in Berlin, became one of the leading directors of Studio Misr with his first feature film Salama fi khair (Everything Is Fine, 1937). Featuring Naguib al-Rihani, the top comedian of the day, Salama fi khair poked fun at the urban elite.

Classical Hollywood and the City

Already during the silent era, Hollywood had become one of the leading film factories in the world. Hollywood was a proponent of a modern lifestyle, but there were also other features that should be discussed. In the early 1930s, the American mob films started to portray the violent nature of urban centres. Warner Bros. in particular became famous as a producer of hard-boiled gangster movies, such as Little Caesar (1931), Public Enemy (1931), and Scarface (1932), depicting organized crime in big industrial cities. Soon, the Motion Picture Production Code, known as the Hays Code, was set up to censor Hollywood cinema, and the overtly violent images of the city were tamed. Although film censorship in Hollywood was exercised by the film industry and distributors, not by state officials as became the case in many other countries, it was a limiting and defining force in the way film-makers were allowed to describe the vices—and the violence—of the city.

New York City captured a particular place in the Hollywood cinema of the studio era (see also Ch. 38). It offered a scene for both crime and romance, for adventure films and musicals. The Empire State Building, completed in 1931, became a distinctive element in the skyline and almost a symbol of New York City, and was used as a cinematic setting (p. 742) right from the start. King Kong (1933) clashes the exotic and strange against the modern technology of the city. When Kong tries to escape, he is shot down from the top of the skyscraper by airplane pilots. New York was also a showcase for dance: Busby Berkeley designed one of his most memorable choreographies for Lloyd Bacon's film 42nd Street (1933).12 The big city is here presented as a place of opportunity where a chorus girl can become a star. If gangster movies of the early 1930s explored inverted and distorted images of the American Dream, the musicals often pictured the opposite and offered positive images of self-making which were well received by the public during the years of the Great Depression.13

Besides big cities, small towns have always had a central position in Hollywood cinema. In the 1920s and 1930s, such towns were portrayed as symbols of ‘home’, with often nostalgic feelings for the past.14 The Italian immigrant Frank Capra highlighted small-town life in his populist comedies. Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) foregrounds a small-town country boy Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) who suddenly gets a huge inheritance. A lawyer's office invites him to the city and, finally, Mr Deeds ends up in the jungle of egoistic self-seekers. The journalist Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) hooks up with the country boy and publishes a series of exaggerated newspaper articles on the undertakings of Mr Deeds. The film reaches its climax in the courtroom where Deeds has to defend himself against professional lawyers. The final scene becomes a celebration of common sense as Deeds overrides all accusations. Clearly, Frank Capra is an heir of Horatio Alger, but to him the American Dream is not economic welfare, something that would lift the protagonist ‘from rags to riches’, but a conscious aim at re-establishing those values that modernization, especially modern city life, had pushed into the background.

In Capra's case, the juxtaposition of the small town and the city refers also to political undertones in the sense that local government was often depicted as self-interested and indifferent to the common good. This becomes clear in Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939; see Plate 39.2). Mr Smith, played by James Stewart, becomes a senator and confronts the cynical world of politics which is ruled by selfish aims, embodied in the figure of Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold). In Capra's vision, it is impossible in the end to manipulate the people, and although Washington is near to becoming a symbol of corruption, it will finally be valued as the site of Lincoln's heritage.

Cinema and the CityClick to view larger

plate 39.2 Mr Smith (James Stewart) refers to American values in Frank Capra's Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939). (Image: Mr Smith Goes to Washington © 1939, renewed 1967 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.)

If the tension between small towns and large cities seems to characterize Hollywood cinema in the 1930s and 1940s, suburbanization comes strongly to the fore after World War II, and suburbs would often be associated with the fulfilment of the American Dream. The paradise is however not without its shadows. Already in the wartime cinema, an idea of threat was connected with small-town mentality. Small communities were often treated as metaphors of nationhood and, eventually, unexpected external threats appear to shake their customary way of life. In the 1940s, this threat was Nazism, in the 1950s Communism.15 The paranoid fears of American small towns provided raw material for science fiction films in particular. In Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) the fictional town of Santa Mira, California, is conquered from within by the Pod People who turn ordinary people into emotionless non-humans. (p. 743)

Social Problems in City Space

Europe was the central stage of World War II. After the turmoil of the war and the years of destruction, many historical cities lay in ruins, especially in Germany. After the war, Berlin was frequently used as a location for film-making. The city itself had experienced tremendous physical changes. The first East German fiction film, Wolfgang Staudte's Die Mörder sind unter uns (Murderers among Us, 1945), captures the physical and mental desolation of the city. The ruins of Berlin are not only referring to the lost war and the dramatic material loss but become a symptom of the fragmented German psyche.

Ruins have always tempted artists, and it is unsurprising that there were soon film groups from different countries using Berlin as a setting of destruction. Roberto Rossellini made his Germania anno zero (Germany, Year Zero) in 1948. The same year, Billy Wilder came from Hollywood to Berlin to realize his A Foreign Affair, with Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur, and John Lund, and Jacques Tourneur his Berlin Express, with Robert Ryan and Merle Oberon.16 Occupation zones and (often) invisible borderlines served as a backdrop for several film-makers during the late 1940s and 1950s. Carol Reed, (p. 744) for example, used Berlin as a scene in The Man Between (1953). Film-makers, it can be argued, contributed essentially to establishing Berlin as the symbol of the Cold War.

After World War II, city space was characterized through social problems. Italian neorealism focused on urban surroundings, commenting first on wartime struggles, as did Roberto Rossellini in his Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City, 1945), later describing the social problems of Italian suburbs. Vittorio de Sica's Miracolo à Milano (Miracle in Milan, 1951) tells the story of Totò (Francesco Golisano) who has spent his childhood in an orphanage and starts his adult life in a shanty town outside Milan. Big business intervenes, however, to demand the land of the have-nots for itself and, in the final fantasy scene, the poor man does not have any other choice but to escape to heaven. During the 1950s and 1960s, areas surrounding big Italian cities were often shown on screen, and it seems that the rising blocks of flats especially created a mental background for many Italian films of the era. Michaelangelo Antonioni used this setting for his stories about alienation, especially in films like Il grido (The Outcry, 1953), La notte (The Night, 1961) and Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964). The new housing policy was a sign of modernization. This was not only the case in Italian cinema. A similar emphasis can be found, for example, in Georgian cinema. Otar Ioseliani's first feature film Aprili (April, 1961) shows a young couple who move into a modern block of flats. The film is almost a silent drama, starting from the cohesion of the old town community, which is soon replaced by a modern way of life where everybody is isolated in his own apartment.

Accelerating urbanization is often connected with generational problems. When there were more and more people in the city, loneliness turned into a problem. Yasujiro Ozu's Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story, 1953) is a touching story about parents who lose the connection to their children. Mother and father travel to Tokyo to see their children, only to notice that there is no place for older people in the new social order and the new urban way of life.

Moral anxieties were often reflected on the silver screen after the war. In Finnish films of the late 1940s, there were fears of moral degeneration and the spread of venereal disease. Teuvo Tulio became famous for his melodramas that depicted alcoholism, prostitution, and other moral problems. This period of distress was short, and is probably understandable in a society that was trying to find its way in a time of peace. Soon, in the 1950s, new moral concerns were raised by the youth problem. In the United States, the baby boom had already started during the war, but in Europe it came a little later. Laslo Benedek was a pioneer in discussing these concerns in his Port of New York (1949) which also deals with drug abuse. The depiction of alienated young people, especially men, was recurrent and continued through the decades. Karel Reisz's film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) can be interpreted in the light of this tradition: based on Alan Sillitoe's novel, it portrays an angry young man Arthur (Albert Finney) who is reluctant to identify himself with anything. He works as a machinist at a Nottingham factory, but refuses to take part in any social activities and is almost like a would-be-anarchist, willing to blow everything away.

The image of the city was often characterized by dark overtones. In the film noir tradition of late 1940s and 1950s Hollywood, it was usual to show the city at night, as a (p. 745) scene of crime and passion. Jules Dassin described organized crime in his The Naked City (1948), which also tried to capture the breathing rhythm of a big city that never sleeps. Shot in the post-war semi-documentary style Dassin's film is one of the most remembered depictions of New York City.

There are films about criminal cities in every continent. In India, Guru Dutt produced a highly successful series of movies, set in Bombay, in the 1950s. C.I.D. (1956), directed by Raj Khosla, is an interesting hybrid of film noir and Hindi cinema. It is a murder mystery following Inspector Shekhar (Dev Anand) who traces the killer of a newspaper man, Sher Singh (Mehmood). It seems that the gloomy atmosphere of C.I.D. is not a direct reflection of Hollywood but an imaginative amalgamation of styles that had been developed in popular Hindi cinema after World War II. There is an element of vernacular modernism in this film too: it shows Bombay as a modern city with only a few references to traditional Indian culture. The nocturnal, mysterious scenes of the city are however interrupted by bright musical numbers, composed by O. P. Nayyar.17

Of course, the depiction of the city in the cinema of the 1950s and 1960s did not develop in isolation. At the same time, there was a wave of other entertainments. Television broadcasting had already started in the United States and Europe in the 1930s, but the real spread of television technology happened in the 1950s and 1960s. Television companies and their main studios were based in major cities like New York, London, and Sydney. In TV shows, popular film genres got an afterlife. Film-noir-inspired crime series were produced throughout the ’60s, but also the image of small town and frontier America blossomed in the form of cowboy Westerns. Soap operas like the British ‘Coronation Street’ or the Australian ‘Neighbours’ often described a semi-sanitized version of the social problems of urban and suburban life. The expanding television networks were seen as something that unavoidably changed the way of life, creating connections that questioned the division into urban centres and rural peripheries. The Canadian media scholar Marshall McLuhan formulated his famous idea of the global village in 1962. According to McLuhan, the world was becoming a village where people knew other men's business and where information crossed traditional borders. Clearly, television has had a global impact. Television technology has exercised a distinctive influence on major cities, like London and New York, in their internal networking. Simultaneously the growing global media networks have interlinked big cities with each other.

Not only information crosses borders but also people. Cities were places to hide in. In his Paris nous appartient (Paris Belongs to Us, 1961) Jacques Rivette shows the capital of France as a gathering place for refugees. The principal character of the film Anne Goupil (Betty Schneider) meets a German theatre director and an American expatriate who has escaped McCarthyism, but Paris seems to be a refuge for Spanish political activists too. The French New Wave often described Parisian life, situating its stories in boulevards and cafés.

Cinema and the CityClick to view larger

plate 39.3 New York City in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. The city is a lonely place, an asphalt jungle. (Taxi Driver © 1976, renewed 2004, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.)

The next decades saw the rise of films that particularly concentrated on the city, and made individual cities almost like characters in their own right. Robert Altman's Nashville (1975) is a vivid description of the music business in Nashville, Tennessee, but at the same time a caricature of the American way of life. Many of the city films of the (p. 746) 1970s and 1980s portrayed urban centres not only as living in present time but also as lieux de mémoire, or theatres of memory, that embraced remembrances of the past. These films include, for example, Federico Fellini's Roma (1972), Youssef Chahine's Iskanderija…lih? (Alexandria…Why?, 1979), Vladimir Menshov's Moskva slezam ne verity (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, 1980) and Wim Wenders’ Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire, 1987).

The multi-ethnic city became more and more distinctive in cinema decade by decade. It seems that urban social problems received greater attention during the 1970s, in such films as Taxi Driver (1976: see Plate 39.3). One of the most controversial films of the late 20th century was Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989) which described ethnic riots three years before the outburst of violent conflicts in Los Angeles. The film foregrounds Mookie (Spike Lee), a young man who lives in the black and Puerto Rican area in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The film shows also an Italian-American Salvatore ‘Sal’ Frangione (Danny Aiello) who holds racial contempt for the blacks. The film ends in a riot, incited by Mookie who throws a garbage can through the window of Sal's pizzeria. Spike Lee was criticized for his engagement with the history of urban racial violence, not only in Do the Right Thing but again in Malcolm X (1992), but he also got praise for his attempt to rewrite black urban identity and to understand the life of a ghetto.18

(p. 747) Cities Past and Future

The representation of the city in cinema, and in other forms of art and entertainment too, is so overwhelming that it is difficult to characterize it in brief. This is especially so in the case of post-war European and North American cinema, where the city has been seen as the focal point of social problems and urban surroundings are employed as a setting in almost every film. During recent decades it seems evident that this ‘cinematic urbanization’ has also occurred more and more strongly in African, Latin American, and Asian film production. It would however be misleading to interpret the representation of the city only in terms of contemporary anxieties, or to claim that films can be seen merely as continuous processes of negotiation of present-day concerns. It is obvious that fiction in general is a cultural practice through which communities imagine their past and their future. Thus, it is important to remember how films represent the history and the future of urban life. Cinematic narration has been used to recreate ancient Rome, medieval London, and 18th-century Paris. When Anthony Mann directed his The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) with its spectacular triumph scene, the huge set, depicting the surroundings of Forum Romanum, was painstakingly erected on the highlands of Spain. This effort was grounded in the conviction that the pleasure of historical experience stems out of the spectator's ability to navigate a bygone world. The long shot allowed the camera to move through Forum Romanum, thus giving the audience the sense of moving around in ancient Rome. After the introduction of digital technology in film-making in the 1990s there have been new kinds of ways of creating an illusion of the lost city.

Sometimes these lost cities are not in the remote past but in the memory of the people, and the cinematic apparatus is employed to resurrect the past. In 1948, Max Ophüls adapted Stefan Zweig's short story into a melodrama Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) which is situated in fin de siècle Austria, and the whole film is almost like a flashback from old Vienna. Ophüls had the resources of a Hollywood studio at his disposal, and the scenes from the Prater and other memorable places have been carefully recreated for the film. These images remind the spectator of Ophüls’ earlier film Liebelei (1933) that was situated in Vienna although most of the film was shot in Berlin. In fact Letter from an Unknown Woman does not refer to any ‘real’ Vienna but to those images that had represented Vienna for decades.

An interesting example of urban memory is Wu Yigong's Chengnan jiushi (My Memories of Old Beijing, 1983). The film was based on Lin Haiyin's novel of the same name that, in fact, literally refers to ‘stories of the southern part of the city’. Beijing had for ages been divided into three parts, the north-western part where aristocrats and members of the imperial family lived, the north-eastern part, inhabited by merchants and landlords, and the southern part where the middle class and the lower class used to reside. The novel and the film try to capture reminiscences of the southern part in the 1920s from the perspective of a young girl Yingzi who had moved from Taiwan to Beijing (p. 748) with her parents.19 Although the film describes the pre-Communist era, it expresses melancholic feelings towards the lost city that has remained only in memory. In its fragile, nostalgic atmosphere Chengnan jiushi is almost like a reverse image of Tsui Hark's Shanghai zhi yen (Shanghai Blues, 1984), premiered a year later in Hong Kong. In this hilarious historical fantasy the old Shanghai is a place of romance and adventure. There is perhaps a portion of nostalgia, too, but no melancholy.

If cinematic interpretations of the city have articulated thoughts and emotions about the past, they have also profoundly participated in imagining the future, in creating utopian and dystopian visions of the city. In Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) the future is dominated by skyscrapers. The elite lives under the blue sky, while lower classes have to satisfy themselves with street canyons, eclipsed by tall buildings. Metropolis has undoubtedly been the most influential single film from the perspective of urban imagination. At the time of its premiere, the set designer Otto Hunte argued that he wanted to create something that differed from the architecture of his day. It is known, however, that Fritz Lang visited the United States in 1924 together with the architect Erich Mendelsohn and obviously got ideas from the skylines of the New World.20 Still, Metropolis crystallized a vision of the future city, in a way that had not been done before. Its images have since been circulated by numerous science fiction films, including Blade Runner. If Metropolis has been powerful in its impact, the same goes for Blade Runner, which mixed memories of gangster movies and film noir in its vision of the year 2019.21 There are also references to graphic novels, for example, the French comic magazine Métal Hurlant and especially the artist Moebius (Jean Giraud). The new millennium has provided more and more digital representations of the city (King Kong, 2005), and also interesting adaptations of comic books, like Spider Man (2002), Sky Captain (2004), and Sin City (2005).

Bollywood, Nollywood, and the Urban Consumption of Cinema

During over a hundred years of film-making, cinema itself has been an urban product. The industry has always had towns of its own, Hollywood in Los Angeles, Joinville near Paris, Babelsberg outside Berlin, Cinecittà in Rome, and particularly rich film flows have originated from Bombay/Mumbai, Cairo, Shanghai, Lahore, and Lagos.

With accelerating urbanization (see above, Ch. 30), India has become the leading manufacturer of films in the world, producing close to a thousand films annually. The industry has been dominated by Tollywood, the Telugu-language studios in the state of Andhra Pradesh, and Bollywood which is the centre of Hindi-language production in Mumbai. Urban consumers have been central to Indian film-making too: there are more cinema admissions in India than anywhere else in the world. Since the turn of the millennium, an emerging urban middle class, widespread access to cable television, and the (p. 749) more frequent dubbing of foreign movies into Hindi have created new expectations.22 During recent years, Hollywood influences have become increasingly visible in the urban imagery of Bollywood productions, and young audiences in particular are in favour of Hollywood production values rather than old Bollywood formulas. At the beginning of the millenium, Bollywood seemed to be in trouble, in part because of mafia connections, but blockbusters like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) have revitalized the industry.

On a global scale, the upswing of African audiovisual production has been a striking feature, thanks to the rise of Nigerian cinema in the 1990s and 2000s. In contrast to Hollywood and Bollywood production ideals, Nigerian cinema has emerged from a completely different background since it relies almost exclusively on video technology, originally on Betacam, today on digital video. In 2009, UNESCO estimated the so-called Nollywood to be the second largest film industry in the world in terms of number of films produced per year. It was ahead of the United States but behind the Indian film industries.

The history of Nollywood goes back to the 1980s when the low-budget Ghanaian film Zinabu became a success in Nigeria in 1987. With video technology to hand, Kenneth Nnebue started the production of Yoruba-language popular films in the early 1990s.23 Together with Chika Onukwufor, Nnebue also made an English-spoken morality tale—or sexploitation film—Glamour Girls which crossed language barriers. Because of the many languages of Nigeria, there has always been strong English-language production which has enabled Nollywood to extend its markets all over Africa.24

Nigeria has the highest population of all African countries, and its largest conurbation is Lagos, the second most populous city in the continent (see above, Ch. 33). Lagos is also the centre of the film industry, and rising urbanization has become apparent in its output since the 1990s. Instead of studios, Nollywood films are usually shot on location all over Nigeria in hotels, homes, and offices, mostly in the cities of Lagos, Enugu, and Abuja. Instead of film reels, the products are distributed in video CD format. Because films are shot outside studios and consumed in the densely populated cities, they portray a particularly interesting picture of urban life in Africa. Furthermore, Nigerian videos are extremely popular: they are watched by millions of people and include different genres from witchcraft melodramas to Christian morality tales, from horror films to urban action packages.25 Thus, these films have probably had a greater impact on the imagination of rural and urban communities than any other cultural product in contemporary Africa.


Since the end of the 19th century, cinema has had a powerful influence on the representation of the city. It is however important not only to see film culture as something that has spun webs of significance around the city—which it definitely has done in ways (p. 750) that are almost immeasurable. Cinema has in itself been an urban activity, a major attraction in cities like London, Paris, New York, and Berlin at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. Film production was among the first industries to become worldwide in its distribution networks, and it has obviously contributed to the emerging process of globalization which again has intensified the spread of urban imagery. This global network has always been biased in the sense that although distribution has reached almost all corners of the world since the first days of cinema, the flow of commodities has varied regionally: some films have got a worldwide circulation while the impact of others has been limited to the local hinterland. In small countries, movies have often been consciously made for domestic markets. The introduction of sound film in the late 1920s and early 1930s influenced the structure of film commerce when the role of spoken language became crucial. Cinematic production has developed its own dedicated centres or ‘film towns’, from Joinville to Cinecittà, from Shanghai to Mumbai, which have served as models for creative cities, eager to employ new talents.

In the 1920s and 1930s, cinema was a proponent of urban mass culture especially in the West. It was closely linked with the rising consumer culture, and films were exploited as vehicles for advertising. At the same time, films expressed hegemonic views of city life and even perhaps sharpened the dichotomy between urban and rural life.

Since World War II the role of cinema has also been significant outside Europe and North America, and its impact has gradually merged into a wider range of media, first television and video, then digital media and the Internet. Cinema has been a constructor of urban experience but at the same time it has created a rich cultural heritage in its own right, and served as a platform for discussing social problems and imagining future directions of city development.


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            (p. 752) Rajadhyaksha, Ashish, Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009).Find this resource:

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                          (1.) Hannu Salmi, Nineteenth-Century Europe: A Cultural History (Cambridge: Polity, 2008), 21.

                          (2.) Uusi Suometar, 28 June 1896.

                          (3.) See e.g. Erkki Huhtamo, ‘From Kaleidoscomaniac to Cybernerd: Notes toward an Archaeology of the Media’, Leonardo, 30: 3 (1997), 224.

                          (4.) See also Tom Gunning, ‘An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)credulous Spectator’, in P. Simpson, A. Utterson, and K. J. Shepherdson, eds., Film Theory: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 3 (London: Routledge, 2004), 79.

                          (5.) Georges Méliès, ‘Cinematographic Views’ (1907), in Richard Abel, French Film Theory and Criticism: A History/Anthology, 1907–1939 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 36–7.

                          (6.) Yingjin Zhang and Zhiwei Xiao, eds., Encyclopedia of Chinese Cinema (London: Routledge, 1998), 139.

                          (7.) Miriam Bratu Hansen, ‘Fallen Women, Rising Stars, New Horizons: Shanghai Silent Film as Vernacular Modernism’, Film Quarterly, 54: 1 (Autumn 2000), 15. See also Yingjin Zhang, The City in Modern Chinese Literature and Film: Configurations of Space, Time, and Gender (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996).

                          (8.) Hansen, ‘Fallen Women, Rising Stars, New Horizons: Shanghai Silent Film as Vernacular Modernism’, 10.

                          (9.) Zhang and Xiao, Encyclopedia of Chinese Cinema, 325.

                          (10.) Ibid. 321–2.

                          (11.) Farid El-Mazzaoui, ‘Film in Egypt’, Hollywood Quarterly, 4: 3 (Spring 1950), 246.

                          (12.) Joseph Dorinson and George Lankevich, ‘New York City’, in P. C. Rollins, ed., The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 439.

                          (13.) Hannu Salmi, ‘Success and the Self-Made Man’, in Rollins, ed., The Columbia Companion to American History on Film, 598.

                          (14.) John C. Tibbets, ‘The Small Town’, in Rollins, The Columbia Companion to American History on Film, 457–8.

                          (15.) Kimmo Ahonen, ‘Treason in the Family: Leo MacCarey's Film My Son John (1952) as an Anticommunist Melodrama’, in H. Jensen, ed., Rebellion and Resistance (Pisa: Plus-Pisa University Press, 2009), 121–36.

                          (16.) On Berlin Express, see Stephen Barber, Projected Cities (London: Reaktion Books, 2003), 64–9.

                          (17.) On C.I.D., see Jyotika Virdi, The Cinematic ImagiNation: Indian Popular Films as Social History (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 100–3.

                          (18.) Philip Hanson, ‘The Politics of Inner City Identity in “Do the Right Thing” ’, South Central Review, 20: 2/4 (Summer–Winter, 2003), 47–66.

                          (19.) Zhang and Xiao, Encyclopedia of Chinese Cinema, 246.

                          (20.) Silja Laine, ‘Pilvenpiirtäjäkysymys’. Urbaani mielikuvitus ja 1920-luvun Helsingin ääriviivat (Turku: K&H, 2011), 221–2.

                          (21.) See e.g. Norman K. Klein, ‘Building Blade Runner’, Social Text, 28 (1991), 147–52.

                          (22.) Iain Ball, ‘The Fall of Bollywood’, Movie Maker, 23 March 2003. Cf. Timothy J. Scrase, ‘Television, the Middle Classes and the Transformation of Cultural Identities in West Bengal, India’, Gazette: The International Journal for Communication Studies, 64: 4 (2002), 323–4.

                          (23.) John C. McCall, ‘Nollywood Confidential: The Unlikely Rise of Nigerian Video Film’, Transition, 95 (2004), 99.

                          (24.) Pierre Barrot, ed., Nollywood: The Video Phenomenon in Nigeria (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 9.

                          (25.) McCall, ‘Nollywood Confidential’, 100–1.