Walter Ruttmann 1887-1941
Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (1927)
Berlin, die Sinfonie der Großstadt 1927, 65'
Original orchestral score by Edmund Meisel

First conceived by Carl Mayer (thus the lack of title cards, aside from AKT. I thru V cards) , who envisioned an image assembly that would register in the viewer's conciousness like music, capturing the rhythms of the daily life of the metropolis. The concept then passed into the hands of Karl Freund (and his ace operator Robert Babaerske), who deployed a team of cameramen to capture, sometimes through camouflaged setups (hidden cameras on little handtrucks, stationary setups with a box over them, etc), the contrasting urban scenes on display over the course of a 24 hour period. This footage was then handed over to Walter Ruttmann, who applied a lovely editing sensibility, drawing out the poignancy, the beauty, the roughness, and the inevitibility of the city life and architecture of Berlin.

What shines through no matter how many times I view the film--and despite the conflicting viewpoints of the film's makers (apparently Mayer signed off of the film after seeing where his scenario was heading... as Roger Manvell says, "Mayer, still in Berlin, and preoccupied now with new concepts of realism, began to work on a documentary study of life in Berlin. This was to become Walter Ruttmann's city-symphony film Berlin , which Mayer disowned because his basic idea—the rhythm of human life in a great city—was sacrificed in order to feature the purely plastic visual rhythms of movement observed by the camera and developed through the fluidity of skilled editing,")-- is the great love for the metropolis posessed by all involved. The little out-of-the-way shops, the deserted tubes of the underground sewer, the showgirls applying makeup, the stale beer dives packed with drunken semi-corpses singing joyfully to the greasy rafters, the streetwalkers, the high-end jewelry shops just up the block from 75 year old women panhandling for change, the floor shows, hockey games, neon lights, wide eyed souls wandering the streets trying to remember what Home was once upon a time... all of it is captured with great affection and edited with a great sense of urban interplay... rich and poor, the hustling and the languid, the hungry and the satiated, man and animal.

I once swore that whatever resided in the, then yet-unheard (prior to the release of this disc) Edmund Meisel score could not ever top in my affections the score composed by Timothy Brock (and played by the Olympia Chamber Orch) and recorded for the Image Entertainment DVD. Then this Edition Filmmuseum dvd, with the film restored and with the original 1927 score attached to the film, came out... and I was utterly floored. The Meisel score is a Total Revelation-- it's not just one score, but dozens of scores: the man probably watched this film more carefully than any other composer watched any other, writing a score at absolute ground level (while nevertheless maintaining a total overhead view of unity and theme), in total correspondence with each moment of onscreen imagery. Every shot has its own individual score-- a shot will play out, and the mood created by the scene unfolding therein will be perfectly punctuated by Meisels score... then -- blink-- an edit, and we click into a shot of a new street, a new scene... as Meisel's score changes accordingly. In a certain sense this is the most carefully observed original score I've yet heard from the silent era. Brilliant-- and despite this scene-by-scene close observation, never once does Meisel's score lose its sense of cohesive thematic unity or compositional sense of topical through-line, never reading as disconnected mosaic. Brilliant!