Reflections on the City: wk 3 literature/discussion

AP: Text’s read:De Certeau, Clarke and Sanders.
De Certeau’s text is concerned with the personal and subjective experience of the city, which lies in contrast to the the panoramic view and god-like perspective presented by the heightened architecture and ‘airport arrivals’ of the modern city. This offers man the city as a ‘whole’, but De Certeau argues that on the ground, another layer of the city appears – the metaphorical city – that is experienced by the ‘city walker’. De Certeau compares the experience of walking in the city at ground level with language, considering that the construction of an experience and a person’s connection with a cityscape can be likened to forming or learning a new language. ‘Pedestrian speech acts’ comprise the spatial act of walking through the city, where a turn in the path echoes a turn of phrase. De Certeau does not explain this in the most straightforward fashion, but the poetic nature of his explanations reflect his preoccupation with language and the poetry of walking.

For De Certeau, walking in the city is a subjective experience that draws upon dream, myth, legend and memory. It is a personal journey that is not necessarily governed by the rational, formal structure of the city. The walker can subvert practices, form new pathways and attribute new meanings to places and spaces. The symbolic naming of places for example is interesting and notes a phenomenon that changes over time and is subjective to each person. Famous landmarks and icons have pre-existing meanings that we bring with us from our collective memories, but these are then moulded via direct experience. Here this can be likened to the city identities that are projected by cinematic representations, as discussed in class. Cinema and the city have an interdependent developmental relationship (as explained in Clarke’s introduction), thus representations formed by cinema affect the city, and the city affects cinema’s representations. One would not exist in its current form without the other. Clarke tracks the more theoretical side of city and cultural theory, referencing figures such as Baudrillard and Benjamin, exploring how the modern city and cinema developed alongside each other, with certain parallels and crossovers. In cinema he identifies figures that appear as coping mechanisms for the modern city, with its formal grids, lack of community and general alienation. The city stroller, stranger and flaneur are explained, however these still demonstrate a lack – the city represents desires that are appealing, but can not be met.

This frustration is reflected in Sanders text, which explores the creation of the dystopian vision of New York city. He traces films that have been made through the 30’s crime movies, 40’s Film noir, and subsequent gangster, crime and action movies that cumulatively reiterate the negative image of the city as constructed from early film. He notes how that even in times of prosperity, New York city cannot shake its horror conventions, remaining the ultimate location for terror, crime, depravity and destruction. Even when this trait shifts to Los Angeles in the later periods, it is still New York city that heralds true danger (Independence Day is a good example – it is the iconic shots of the Empire State Building being blown up that tells the audience that all that is human and good is being destroyed. The Statue of Liberty also has this effect = one shot of this famous figure on the ground and you know you are in trouble). Although Sanders identifies that the 70’s and 80’s were the strongest period for constructing the true horror of the city, the past crime and noir constructions fed this, and the recent genre of disaster movies also reflect this – examples spring to mind such as The Day After Tomorrow and Cloverfield. The core thread of this text is to consider that the representation of the city may not be entirely accurate to the real environment of the city (Sanders notes that the homelessness, poverty and crime that was assumed to be a New York trait – was actually as acute in other American cities). Also once this dystopian vision was established, it was hard to shake and as people’s expectations of the city are shaped upon the media representations that they see – New York was branded a dangerous, fast paced, grimy, dirty metropolis. Even when the city experienced periods of prosperity, the city could not shake this perception – thus when movies focus on the aspirations of the middle classes, hopes and dreams are broken by the city. Couples that move into the city for money and success end up robbed, mugged, homeless and destitute. Most return to the safety of the suburbs. Some stay in the city, but their behaviour changes to match the crazed depravity – turning to violence or crime. You either become the city, or you leave, you cannot find your own (positive) pathway within the city gates.
Midnight Cowboy was used as a key example of showing the negative side of the prosperous city. Classy women and businessmen strut the streets of New York, busy and non communicative, barely looking from left to right. Epitomised by the location (outside Tiffany’s), John Voight stands in his cowboy attire, displaying the contrast between country and city – he the only man looking upon a man slumped on the ground, others too busy to care, stepping over their fellow man. The humanity of the city has been lost. Several other examples show differing ways in which the city has been shown to damage individuals or pose the perfect location for danger. Zombie movies and psychological dramas alike show the isolated, quarantine-able danger of Manhattan  or in films like Taxi Driver – the quiet, lonesome and damaged walker of the city – the ultimate alienated man.
To return to De Certeau, he also links the act of walking to childhood. In our discussions Pam-Roos made an interesting comparison with his passage on childhood and the pictures we were shown in class of children finding adventure and play in the bombed out buildings of the postwar street. This made me consider the experiences of the city through different eyes – depending on your past experience or visits to the city greatly governs your pathways throughout. Exploring with a local lends a different city experience than as a tourist. You are shown a version of the city, tailored to your visit and your acquaintance’s experience. Cinematic representations also show you a version of city, yet the purpose and intention is not as transparent and must be analysed considering the social, economical and political context of production.

Our discussion as a class also raised interesting questions in terms of learning the language of a city in terms of spatial exploration and ‘walking’ behaviour. Although I believe through the De Certeau text the analogy to language is strained, there were elements that had value. For example the idea that forming a path through the city is like ‘speaking’ though footfall, or even that your version of the city holds a particular narrative, or the learning of previous narratives, but ones that have no author or intended spectator.
Arriving in Amsterdam as a temporary resident you learn how to traverse its spaces. The geographical elements fall into place and through habit you condition your walking pattern to the ‘known’ areas – you condense the full span of the city to ‘your’ Amsterdam. You learn its rules. If from the UK you learn to look the other way when crossing the road (harder than it sounds). You learn not to walk in the cycle paths even though they are so appealing. In fact you learn how to experience the city in motion, from your bicycle seat rather than on foot. You learn which landmarks mean something to you, generated by the experiences you have constructed beneath them. You select the pathway you present to visitors. Is this a language? Perhaps. Is the city speaking to you? Telling you its stories by revealing its secrets and histories for you to pass on? Definitely.

This text made me think of several films by Woody Allen, something I might follow up for the class presentations. Particularly more recent films in the form of Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love, and Allen was also mentioned in one of the texts last week for his more utopian versions of New York City. In both the aforementioned films, the protagonists experiences are ‘stumbled upon’ through walking in the city, narratives revealed and constructed through the coincidental meandering of a city walker. Robyn also mentioned the interesting scenes of Inception as another field of enquiry, where the city is moulded and literally folded by designers. Could be a great example to explore elements of subjectivity and control, or the power of dreams and the imagination.



Space as a cultural phenomenon in Jacques Tati’s films


Unfortunately I couldn’t attend class last week and therefore I haven’t participated in any discussion about the text we had to read. To make up for that, I’m gonna give a brief overview here of the text I read, being

  1. ‘Architecture in the films of Jacques Tati’, by Francois Penz

Penz’ text focusses, like its title already suggests, on two aspects of Jacques Tati’s films: the role architecture plays in them and Tati’s critical position regarding the architecture in his films and especially the architectural changes that occurred in the period the films were made, namely post WW 2.

Tati seems to be quite suspicious when it comes to modern architecture and modern technology. To some extent he could be seen as a nostalgist that longs for the clarity of passed times. Tati and his films show the viewer that the post WW2 time is a period of uniformity, wherein one is always ‘sitting on the same chair’ (Penz, 66). His films are a contra reaction to this phenomenon. Airports seem to be hospitals, a cafe is or seems to be a pharmacy and so on. The confusing way in which space is used in Tati’s films stress his sentiments on the uniform manner in which space is used nowadays. 

The way in which sound is used, also expresses that same idea. Extra layers are added, sounds echo unnaturally and by doing this, Tati deconstructs conventional ways of using sound (and space for that matter), with the result that the viewer is forced to think about space and sound in modern day life. 

Besides sound and space, Tati also uses mirrors and glass to create a multi layered image of space and cities. The reflections function in a same way as the ambiguous use of space and sound. The result is an overall alienation of space as a cultural phenomenon and a contemplation regarding that same cultural phenomenon.

Vistory App: first thoughts

AP: Being technologically challenged (i.e. no android device…), I have only accessed this from the Vistory website, which in itself has much to offer but I can only comment on the static content rather than the app in action. The selling points of this site are clearly the access to historical materials plus the comparative function -to see the ‘now’ with the ‘then’. Google translate can handle the information on some of the pages however the voiceovers on the actual clips are difficult to analyse without subtitles. Commentary is an anchoring device, thus the meanings/representations constructed are difficult to consider without fluency in the Dutch language. I would also like a search function to aid my research purpose using this site. There may be one on the app, but on the site I have not seen one.  The snap locations map helps with this though, as it can point you in the right direction on the map if you are looking for a particular place. The app appears to have the function to highlight historical footage for you when you are on the move – something my iphone owner team mates will experiment with.
Considering the De Certeau text, the implications of this app’s function extend the capabilities of the pedestrian speech acts of the ‘city walker’, the “long poem of walking [which] manipulates spatial organisations no matter how panoptic they may be” (De Certeau p101). Not only can the walker now subvert the city order in terms of behaviour and walking pattern/location, they can create a dialogue with the city’s history whilst inhabiting a spatial position within the present.  What must be considered is the historical accuracy reliant on the Vistory app and its contents – still selected and created by people and governed by availability and access etc (also as a researcher rather than walker, it is important to consider Sorlin’s comments on the use/value of historical films/newsreels – true research here would compare newsreel footage with print news coverage of the time in order to identify subjectivities/trends/gaps/intentions etc. Remember that the importance of an event in one location can be emphasised through repetition).

Nevertheless, the layers of the city come to the fore. The past of each location moves closer to the experienced present. It would be interesting if this app had a fiction film function (or a sister app), to demonstrate the manipulations identified in David Bass’ text. The outsider/insider views could be revealed to the city walker, highlighting the possibility of the construction of the ‘multilayered reality’ of Foucault’s heterotopia.

Film+Art Deco= Tuschinski

After establishing movie theatre success in Rotterdam, the film enthusiast and entrepreneur Abraham Tuschinski set his sights on Amsterdam. In 1921 he built this art deco masterpiece which still operates on Regulierbreestraat, near Rembrandtplein. According to the ‘behind the scenes’ tour guide at the Tuschinski (attended in September 2012), he transformed this area from the ‘Devil’s corner’ of Amsterdam which had criminals lurking in its narrow alleyways, into the perfect location for a cinema and theatre experience equidistant from the shops on one side and the restaurants/bars on the other – do some shopping, watch a movie, go out afterwards – a great combination to ensure regular cinema visitors.

During this tour, we were also told a variety of stories regarding Tuschinski’s cut-throat approach to running a business including working his staff hard, evicting  the poor who lived in the houses which were to be transformed into the Tuschinski, arguing with architects and at one point threatening a fellow cinema owner with a gun to give up a movie they were fighting over for the premiere night….the historical accuracy of these reports are hard to establish, however they construct a picture of a determined man seeking to create the very best film experience – affordable for all classes. He was an innovative and strategic designer, developing elements to his theatre such as new air conditioning techniques and the idea that you could have an equally good cinematic experience from any seat in the house (particularly the Grote Zaal). He also has his eye on the market of cinema viewers, tapping into the ‘mothers market’ coming up with marketing schemes such as printing TT (Tuschinski Theater) on any nappy used in the creche, to be returned to the theater – ensuring that the mothers come back to the building and will be tempted to watch the next film.

Aside from this interesting backstory and purpose as a location of film exhibition, our job is to explore the building itself and its representation in films. These pictures demonstrate the elaborate design work of both the exterior and interior, which make this building a wonderful visual spectacle  – a ready made film set.

Imacon Color Scanner

Pathe Tuschinski: Contemporary Exterior


Pathe Tuschinski: Interior – main foyer

Information source: Tuschinski ‘behind the scenes tour’, September 2012 – Faculty of Arts. Image source: Google images

Youtube finds:

Clip of Tuschinski Theater 25 years (1946) : Staff party – Images of the arrival of guests for the gala performance due to the 25th anniversary on October 28, 1946.

Advertising report (1930): Report of the huge crowds during the ticket for a performance of the German opera singer Richard Tauber in the Tuschinski theater in Amsterdam.

Advertising Film around the annual issuance of Passepartouts the Tuschinski cinema in Amsterdam. (1936) Also show shot of Munt Tower

There are several other films of this variety – reports on famous visits or royal visits or anniversary events. From this link you can access many more. However these are all voiced in Dutch which makes the actual content/representation constructed difficult to interpret.

Fiction Film scene listed by Ivo:

Als twee druppels water/ The Spitting Image (Fons Rademakers 1963):
54.35-57.30 Tuschinski Theater


The cinematic city opposed to the real city

Living in Amsterdam sometimes makes you forget how beautiful the city actually is. Dozens of canals become normal, Medieval architecture seems just an other part of everyday life, the Anne Frank House is nothing more than a bus stop, etc. But of course,  it isn’t normal at all!

I would like to use this blog to show the beauty of Amsterdam and combine that beauty with another passion of mine: Film. How has Amsterdam been portrayed in film and documentary and do the representations do any justice to the real Amsterdam? In other words, does the cinematic city add up to the actual city? With the use of reports, photo’s, clips and reviews I’m gonna try to investigate whether or not both versions of the city are alike.

Can’t wait!