The history of the city symphony is dominated by artists who identified as progressives and radicals, or in some rare cases, such as that of Walter Ruttmann, artists whose politics appear to have undergone a rather startling transformation, from a position that was at least centrist or moderate, to one that was far to the right of center. Stramilano (1929), directed by Corrado D’Errico (1902-41) and produced by the company of the Za Bum music hall by Mario Mattoli and Luciano Ramo for instituto LUCE, was not only Italy’s first contribution to the city symphonies cycle, it was also the earliest example of such a film to emerge from a fascist nation. That said, the politics of Stramilano could only be described as subdued. Instead, D’Errico places the emphasis on capturing the modernity of Milan, on capturing those aspects of the city that have transformed it into “Stramilanoa modern super-city. Milan, of course, was the city whose streetcars produced the "mighty noise” that inspired F.T. Marinetti and his colleagues to write the “Manifesto of Futurism” and found the Futurist movement back in 1908. And given the fact that Stramilano is sometimes cited as an example of “second wave Futurism,” it is perhaps fitting that D’Errico devotes so much attention to streetcars leaving the terminus (in a manner reminiscent of Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, which was released the same year), to streetcars and automobiles competing for space on Milan’s busy streets, and to the city’s ample amounts of traffic.
Like so many other city symphonies, Stramilano has a loose dawn-to-dusk structure to it. The film begins with the city awakening, the first signs of life, street-cleaners doing their work, the market getting underway, factory floors at rest before the start of the workday, cattle in a stockyard, traffic picking up, and, finally, factories moving into full production mode. Roughly ten minutes later, the film ends with a montage sequence that juxtaposes the modern city with the traditional one, and includes scenes of electrical advertisements flashing their brands (FIAT, Magnesia S. Pellegrino, Brill, et cetera) hypnotically, the Duomo framed by busy nighttime streets in a ghostly double-exposure, electrical illumination inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, melancholy statuary on top of the Duomo, a splitscreen sequence of trains leaving Milano Centrale, and, finally, a stately, symmetrical shot of the Duomo at night.
As the above description suggests, while the film is clearly derivative, it is notable for a number of surprising avant-garde flourishes (multiple exposures, split screens, and an interest in making inanimate objects “dance,” among other things), as well as a few rather unexpected set pieces. These showcases include a visit to one of the rayon factories on the outskirts of Milan that helped make Italy a leader in the production of this “artificial silk” in the interwar years; a visit to a Milan fashion house, where a group of well-to-do women have the latest fashions (presumably rayon garments) modelled for them; a recital of modern and classical dance, as well as rhythmic gymnastics, featuring the incomparable Yia Ruskaya and her students; and a raucous performance by a hot jazz band in a nightclub.
Lista, Giovanni, Cinema et photographic futuristes (Milan: Skira, 2008), 125-31.
Paulicelli, Eugenia, Italian Style: Fashion and Film from Early Cinema to the Digital Age (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016).