UC Berkeley Library

UC Berkeley’s library buildings are open! Learn more.

Using the Library during COVID-19

UC Berkeley’s library buildings are now open. To stay up to date on the Library’s policies and services during the pandemic, visit the Library’s COVID-19 webpage.

City Symphonies

A Bronx Morning (1931)

A film by Jay Leyda. "A camera on an elevated train enters the Bronx. We look down at morning activity. Three title cards tell us, "The Bronx does business ... and the Bronx lives ... on the street." We look in store windows, at fruit and vegetables on display, and at a newsstand. We see shops and shoppers, carts and autos. A truck dumps coal; the iceman cometh. Drying clothes hang on lines strung between buildings. Women push prams; children look down from balconies, a woman leans out an open window. The streets are busy. Children play dice, stickball, and hopscotch.

A propos de Nice (1930)

Directed by Jean Vigo; photographed by Boris Kaufman. "The film depicts life in Nice, France by documenting the people in the city, their daily routines, a carnival and social inequalities. Vigo described the film in an address to the Groupement des Spectateurs d'Avant-Garde: "In this film, by showing certain basic aspects of a city, a way of life is put on trial...

Berlin: Die Sinfonie der GroaŸtadt (Berlin: Symphonie of a Great City) (Germany, 1927)

Directed by Walter (Walther) Ruttmann. A cross section of life in Berlin from dawn to midnight on a late spring day. Uses montage, cutting, and editing to capture the pulse and tempo of this city. An early example of 'impressionistic' documentaries created in 1927. "With Berlin, die Sinfonie der GroaŸtadt, Walther Ruttmann directed the landmark film of the 1920s symphonic cityscapes. [Special feature] Melodie der Welt is the first German sound feature.

Man With The Movie Camera (Man With a Movie Camera) (Chelovek s Kinoapparatom) (1929)

Directed by Dziga Vertov. Photographer, Mikhail Kaufman. An experimental film without any plot, showing, through a succession of street and interior scenes, all the tricks of which the instrument is capable creating a boldly detailed portrait of the Moscow of the l920s. Uses numerous cinematic techniques such as split screens, multiple superimpositions and variable speeds to study the relation between cinema and reality. Credits and other information from the Internet Movie Database Kino.

Manhatta (USA, 1921)

Directed and photographed by Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler. "In 1921 two Americans, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), a painter, and Paul Strand (l890-1976), a still photographer, made a one reel documentary film based on the Walt Whitman poem "Mannahatta." The motion picture version, spelled Manhatta, is an abstract study of New York City that expresses the greatness of the city by manipulating the images portrayed on the screen.


An epic vision of New York City shot over 17 years (1959-74), during which time Harris pioneered and contemporized time-lapse film making techniques to achieve a unique experiential view of the world. A film by Hilary Harris. 1975. 20 min.

Rain (Regen) (Netherlands, 1929)

Co-directed with Mannus Franken). "A day in the life of a rain-shower. As a city symphony Joris Ivens films Amsterdam and its changing appearence during a rain-shower. A very poetic film with changing moods, following the change from sunny Amsterdam streets to rain drops in the canals and the pooring rain on windows, umbrellas, trams and streets, untill it clears up and the sun breaks through once again. Although it seems to be one day it took Ivens a long time to film what he wanted to film (for even in Amsterdam it doesn't rain every day).

Rien Que Les Heures (Nothing But the Hours) (France, 1926)

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. Cast: Nina Chousvalowa, Philippe Heriat, Clifford McLaglen. An early quasi-documentary depicting the passage of time during one day in Paris, showing the same characters reappearing at different tasks. The film was the first attempt to express creatively the life of a city on the screen and to dramatize familiar things in familiar surroundings, giving birth to a popular genre. It returned to Lumiere's free-flowing naturalism and outdoor locations but with the added dimension of effective and rhythmic montage. 36 min. ;

Skyscraper Symphony (1929)

A film by Robert Florey. A montage of the skyscrapers of Manhattan opens with a succession of stationary views of the upper portions of numerous buildings. This is followed by a wide variety of fluid shots, which also begin to show more and more of the surrounding city, in addition to the skyscrapers themselves. 9 min. See also: Taves, Brian. "Robert Florey and the Hollywood Avant-Garde." In: Lovers of cinema : the first American film avant-garde, 1919-1945 / edited by Jan-Christopher Horak. Madison, Wis. : University of Wisconsin Press, c1995.

The Bridge (De Brug) (Netherlands, 1927-8)

Directed by Joris Ivens. This landmark abstract study of a massive iron bridge in Rotterdam, with its stark black & white montages and fluid camera, was described in the British journal Closeup (1928) as a 'pure visual symphony'. ; See also: Ivens bibliography