Sunday, March 25, 2012

Manhatta - 1921

Country: United States
Also known as: Mannahatta (USA - alternative spelling)
New York the Magnificent (USA - alternative title)
Runtime: 11 min
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Plot Keywords: Harbor | Tugboat | Bridge | Skyscraper | Ferry  | Ocean Liner | New York Skyline | New York City
Genres: Documentary | Short
Morning reveals New York harbor, the wharves, the Brooklyn Bridge. A ferry boat docks, disgorging its huddled mass. People move briskly along Wall St. or stroll more languorously through a cemetery. Ranks of skyscrapers extrude columns of smoke and steam. In plain view. Or framed, as through a balustrade. A crane promotes the city's upward progress, as an ironworker balances on a high beam. A locomotive in a railway yard prepares to depart, while an arriving ocean liner jostles with attentive tugboats. Fading sunlight is reflected in the waters of the harbor... The imagery is interspersed with quotations from Walt Whitman, who is left unnamed.
Here's the beginning of the city symphony film, which would include 'Berlin: Symphony of a City' (1927) and 'The Man with a Movie Camera' (1929). Although 'Manhatta' doesn't contain the rapid rhythmic montage of some of the later city symphonies, it does have a sort of slower, poetic rhythm to it. It's discernible from a travelogue in that it has something to say about its city, other than it's a nice place to visit. The steady progression of images interloped with poetic intertitles taken from Walt Whitman produce the rhythm.
From the still photographer Paul Strand and the painter and still photographer Charles Sheeler, their view of Manhattan is, of course, modern. The shots are of skyscrapers and the inter-workings of the city. One is Strand's 1915 still photograph "Wall Street" come to motion. The composition, camera placement and observation of light and shadow are striking throughout the short film, and they are reflective of the work by the filmmakers in other media. Sheeler and Strand had already transplanted modern, abstract and formal ideas from painting into still photography and with 'Manhatta' they similarly redirected film. 
The poet whose works are quoted during the film is Walt Whitman.
Featured in The Secret Life of Sergei Eisenstein (1987)

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