The city and cinema have been inextricably connected to each other since the emergence of films. Gradually, the urban space begins to influence the movies so much that it is impossible to imagine one without the other. “The street in the extended sense of the word is not only the arena of fleeting impressions and chance encounters but a place where the flow of life is bound to assert itself” (Kracauer, p. 72). The streets become a constant central scene of actions, and a city street often acts as a space in movies where the destinies of characters intersect, where anything might happen.
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Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
The unbearable heat drives the inhabitants of New York mad, sparing neither black nor white. Just one day in the life of a small block in Brooklyn, where African-Americans, whites, Latinos, and even immigrants from Korea manage to get along. The Italian Sal and his sons run a well-known pizza restaurant, and a black guy, Mookie, who has to feed his young son, works at the pizza delivery service. The life of the quarter is chaotic, and at first sight, it seems that there is no plot-forming connection in the actions of the characters. However, the film is like a volcano, where instead of lava, hatred and xenophobia boil up, fueled by the summer heat.
Hatred is unreasonable, and its roots lie in a lack of understanding and unwillingness to perceive others. Sal hates blacks for their laziness, and they, in turn, cling to his Italian pizzeria, considering Brooklyn as a black-only neighborhood. The closer the end of the day, the more inevitable the eruption. Usually, well-hidden intolerance, aggression, and cruelty are irresistibly coming out, and “doing the right thing” is no longer possible. That’s why Sal’s nice, old, cozy Italian pizzeria turns into a real battlefield by the end of the day.
This movie is a cynical and dramatic view of the theme of racial intolerance on the one hand and essential from the perspective of the culture of city streets on the other hand. It reflects the era of the 1980s and the moral state of American society. The picture raises issues that are still relevant today. The plot, combining both comedy and tragedy, reveals the truth of New York’s black neighbourhoods to the audience. To fully understand the splendour of Spike Lee’s work, it is necessary to pay attention to all the details, from small deception to literally cleaning sneakers from dirt with a toothbrush. All this clearly describes the characters and explains the tense situation. After all, this entire block was a time bomb that exploded very loudly in the final part, but it was expected.
Fascinating is the image of the madman Smiley, who wanders around the city selling photos of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. This character represents all the chaos that is happening around and the madness in people’s minds. Smiley preaches against violence, but he was the first one to use it. It was he who caused this outcome, and it was he who hung the photo in a place where it made no sense to talk about justice. The film highlights many social paradoxes, one of which is the inability to assess the situation sensibly and the inability to accept the views of other people. No wonder the local drunkard and “city-wise man” says to Mookie, “Always do the right thing!” The film’s characters lack objectivity in evaluating their own actions.
La Haine (Matthieu Kassovitz, 1995)
The action of this film takes place in Paris in the mid-1990s. After a riot provoked by police cruelty against an Arab teenager, Abdel, three friends find a revolver in poor neighbourhoods, far from tourist routes. A Jewish boy, a black boxer, and a young Arab want to take revenge: hate breeds hate. The film is full of masterful scenes of different plot saturation (street riots, police ruthlessness, simple life of Parisian bandits). One of the critical episodes with the sounds of aggressive rap music hovering around the city helps the director, in the end, come to concise philosophical generalizations about the causal relationship of youth extremism.
Pensive, black-and-white, with a lot of dialogue and morality, the movie “La Haine” makes the viewer, first of all, think about the essence of human nature. The person, in contradiction to the instincts of self-preservation, leads himself to self-destruction, not violently, but, most surprisingly, voluntarily. When a young guy chooses outrage, anarchy, and goes to the streets in order to bring meaningless chaos into the world, then it is possible to talk about the lost generation. It applies not only to the French youth, but this topic is also relevant all over the world, especially now.
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It raises burning issues of problem youth, racism, police cruelty, but all this is very well veiled and certainly does not have an edifying tone, which is one of the essential advantages of the film. For Mathieu Kassovitz, it is more important to transmit the feeling of hatred that reigns between people on the streets of the city. Technically, this black and white film is shot in a very classy way, there are a lot of exciting plans and director’s ideas, many of which are not noticeable to the viewer but significant. Also, the costume designer did a great job recreating the casual style, market clothes, worn leather jackets, dirty t-shirts, sports labels; all this perfectly complements the street style of the picture.
Kahaani (Sujoy Ghosh, 2012)
Kahaani is a dynamic movie, with perfect storytelling and an intriguing plot that involves viewers from the very first minutes. The atmosphere of India, with its glitter and dirt, interestingly sets off all these detective intricacies. The straightforward title of the film expresses the mood. On the one hand, everything is so simple — Vidya, with a child under her heart, came to Calcutta to look for her husband.
At first, Calcutta appears in grey colours, but then it changes into a colour corresponding to the inner world of the heroine. It is especially noticeable towards the end — the festival of the goddess Durga is near and Calcutta becomes red and white. At the same time, “Kahaani” is not as simple as its name. It is complex and interesting, exciting so that it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Compared to the business capital of Delhi and glamorous bustling Mumbai, Calcutta is more alive, real, exotic, juicy, and spicy.
The action of this movie is not placed in Calcutta by accident. It is the city of Kali, the goddess of death and destruction, fear and horror. However, in Bengal, Kali is revered not as the patroness of murderers but as the protector. The gods created demons, but they lost control of them. Tired of the outrages committed by the rakshasas, people prayed to Durga, and she took her divine great and terrible form, destroyed the demons, and protected people. Knowledge of this legend contributes to a deeper understanding of the film and its symbolism. Moreover, the plot unfolds during the annual celebration of the patroness of the city.
My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007)
Winnipeg is a city in the heart of the continent, built on the confluence of two rivers, hiding a secret under a secret and a movement under a movement. Somnambulists inhabit the city, and to leave it – means to be free, to get the main lesson from life: to learn to breathe. Maddin’s mother lives in this city, and he arranges experiments to remember himself back then, in childhood, compare sensations and try to understand why it turned out this way and not otherwise.
Guy Maddin hires actors to play his siblings and moves into his old home. The building has long been occupied by other people, but there is a law in Winnipeg that requires landlords to leave their former owners overnight if they ask for it. And the people of Winnipeg always carry the keys to their old houses. Using photos from the family album, the director makes unfair substitutions; rips off the covers of longing, sadness, and lethargic sleep. Bison, veins, bosom, veterans, horses, blackmail, coupes, nuns, and fascists – how can all this fit into a town that, according to the residents of Winnipeg, only sleeps?
It is a pseudo-documentary narrative that reveals the soul of the city. The monologue is conducted on behalf of the author and director, Guy Maddin. It is a deeply personal story and mythology, in which the most important events in the history of the city are their own memories. For instance, how the only tree in the park was blown up with dynamite, how the department store was demolished and blasphemy was built in its place, or how spiritualistic seances were held in the Bank building.
Winnipeg is an enchanted city, snow-covered, unmarked on the street, and home to the largest percentage of sleepwalkers in the world. The goal of Guy Maddin is to break the connection with the city, similar to the connection with the mother’s womb, to be able to mentally get rid of it. This desire to escape is equivalent to the most passionate declaration of love.
Winnipeg is shown as a very scary and strange place. The director was able to show the dream of the city and create the impression of a dream of a person with a mix of images. It is due to the features of editing, camerawork, film, voice acting, etc. Black and white film works to create a sense not of antiquity, but a dream.
Movies capture a city at a specific time and usually demonstrate the city from both the best and worst sides. The modern city can no longer be separated from the media. The image of the city in movies has become a universal symbol of the state, a metaphor for the relationship between man and power, man and culture, man and society. Throughout its evolution, cinema has influenced political, economic and cultural reality and transmitted our understanding and perception of urban space.
Kracauer, S. (1960). Theory of film: The redemption of physical reality. London: Oxford University Press.