Berlin Symphony: Fantasia or Fantasy

Walther Ruttman’s Berlin, Symphony
Image from: GHDI.

A cinematic fantasia? A salute to modernity? A hyper-kinetic montage of Berlin life, circa 1927? What is revealed and what is hidden in a seemingly naturalistic rendering of a modern city?

A train appears out of nowhere and I am immediately filled with a sense of dread. It is an eerie feeling—an emotion at the opposite end of the spectrum that I imagine the filmmaker hoped to stimulate in his audience. I could not separate the images on the screen from a flurry of others that simultaneously rushed my mind’s eye. Images recalled from countless feature films, documentaries and photographs. This made it impossible for me to share in Ruttman’s delight in acceleration—toward what are we accelerating? Nor could I sit back and equate the speed and power of a locomotive simply with new perceptions and sensations of modern life. I could not read the train’s (and with it the audience’s) passage from rural to suburban to urban center as a metaphor for the civilizing power of industrialization. No. German trains of that particular era, hurling through space, can only have Auschwitz as their ultimate destination. Continue reading “Berlin Symphony: Fantasia or Fantasy”

Berlin Symphony: Fantasia or Fantasy