Billowing clouds of steam, masses of people scurrying through the streets, and buildings and bridges towering overhead are some of the iconic images that characterize a slew of early cinematic portraits of cities. Dubbed "city symphonies," these films pay tribute to the pace, beauty, size and scale of the then modern metropolis. More than that, however, they explore a non-linear visual language and often include avant-garde sonic experimentation, crafting some of the first art films in the history of filmmaking.REDCAT will present a handful of the most celebrated city symphonies tonight. The most exciting film in the collection has to be Manhatta, a 12-minute tribute to New York City by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler from 1920. Widely celebrated for its lyrical vision of the city, Manhatta deserves special attention in tonight's screening because it was recently completely restored by archivist Bruce Posner, working with Burbank's Lowry Digital; Posner has spent close to four years returning the film to its original glory.
The restoration began in 2005 as Posner was presenting a groundbreaking collection of early cinema in a collection titled Unseen Cinema. He was struck by the frequent requests for Manhatta and eventually realized that the film deserved special attention. In a recent interview with Chris Chang on the Film Comment site, Posner recalls seeing the film on a monitor at the National Gallery of Art in conjunction with Sheeler's photography, drawings and paintings.
"Unfortunately, the film, as it had been handed down to us, was a mess. It shook, was very soft, contrasty and dirty, just terrible in relation to the pristine still images on exhibit. Right then and there, I decided that not only was a full 2K digital restoration needed but that it would prove whether or not a vintage film such as Manhatta could benefit from the process."
The results seem to confirm that, yes, a vintage film can indeed benefit from the process. When asked if he believes the restoration returns the film to a form closer to what Strand and Sheeler intended, Posner answers affiratively. "I know that when I view the new Manhatta I see a very beautiful film. I think Strand and Sheeler would have approved."
The show also includes other extraordinary treats, including Fernand Léger and Murphy's classic Ballet Mécanique, Maya Deren's 1948 exquisite film Meditation on Violence and Francis Thompson's N.Y., N.Y. with its jazz score.
In person: Bruce Posner
Monday, Jan. 19, 8:30 p.m.
corner of W. 2nd St. and Hope St.