The history of cinema is closely intertwined with the rise of modernity and film has long provided a framework through which urban life can be articulated. Cinema allows us to examine the role of the city and what it means to live in a metropolitan environment. From early cinema and documentary film, to film noir, New Wave and science fiction, the city plays a central role in a multitude of films.
Fritz Lang’s pioneering Metropolis inspired many dystopian visions of the city, such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, a paranoid depiction of Los Angeles in 2019, and Jean-Luc Godard’s sci fi and noir amalgam, Alphaville, which turns contemporary Paris into a dehumanised city of the future.
Spike Lee’s slice of life story Do the Right Thing, about one long, hot day in Brooklyn, was a statement about race relations in America and Mathieu Kassowitz’s La Haine, filmed in a Paris suburb, did the same for France. The criminality and poverty of Rio de Janeiro and Bombay were shown in Fernando Meirelles’ City of God and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! respectively. Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire is both about life in war-scarred Berlin and a metaphysical tale of human experience. For many, Woody Allen’s films define how New Yorkers see the world and how the world sees New York.
Filmmakers have long used the city to demonstrate both enthusiasm and anxiety about modernity and urban living. So how has cinema shaped our view of the city?
architect; writer; Middle East commentator
architect director and head of workplace sector, BDP
senior lecturer, University of the Arts (Wimbledon College of Art)
artist, film-maker; graphic novelist, Corridor and Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers; founder, New Delhi's Phantomville comics publishing house
|Dr Wendy Earle|
impacts and knowledge exchange manager, Birkbeck, University of London; convenor, Institute of Ideas Arts and Society Forum
|Nathalie Rothschild broadcast and print journalist; coordinator, Young Journalists' Academy|
|Helen Birtwistle PGCE history teacher; former resources and communications manager, Debating Matters Competition|
|Dr Wendy Earle impacts and knowledge exchange manager, Birkbeck, University of London; convenor, Institute of Ideas Arts and Society Forum|
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