An eight-minute look at NYC by photographer Charles Sheeler and artist Paul Strand. Intertitle narration from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Good interplay between the eyes of the artist and the technician, striking an interesting balance, and becoming worthwhile both as a film and as historical footage. Compositions are wonderful, idea perhaps inspired later “city symphonies”? The visual fascination is with steel, machinery, technological progress, steam, smoke, masses of people. Effect is slightly alienating, perhaps like seeing images from a once-powerful, now-lost civilization: a future city that existed in the past. The musical score alters the film, however. What was meant as awe-inspiring and reverential becomes instead ominous: our contemporary associations of machines with death, smoke with pollution, and technology with inhumanity spin the images like a politician, trying to conform it to our own world-view rather than letting it stand as an expression of the Modernist 1920s.

Charles Sheeler & Paul Strand, 1921


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