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	Image: still from Modern times (detail)

Modern city film series

The 20th-century shift to city life

In the 20th century, cities grew more than ever before. Innovations in construction – such as the use of structural steel framework and the electric elevator – resulted in the evolution of the skyscraper. The rise of urban populations led to the construction of electric railways, bridges, department stores, cinemas and factories. Mass-production created cars and new house-hold appliances. But as the modern city rapidly transformed, inherent problems threatened the quality of urban life. The rapid increase in population led to ‘clean-sweep’ planning, enormous pressure on surrounding environments, urban decay and social and economic troubles.

This series of documentaries, feature films, short films and newsreels traces the evolution, transformation and contradictions of the modern city – from classics that lampoon the mechanisation of life in the modern age, such as Charlie Chaplin’s Modern times (1936) to more recent portraits of the urban experience like Wim Wenders’ Tokyo-Ga (1985). While the City Symphonies of the 1920s and 30s celebrate urbanism, the more sinister aspects of city life are explored in film noirs such as Robert Siodmak’s Cry of the city (1948) and in documentaries on the threat to Sydney’s heritage in the 1960s. Some screenings will be preceded by vintage Sydney newsreels, especially those reporting the construction of the Harbour Bridge, others by a short introduction by film historians.

Institut Français is the agency for the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs with responsibility for cultural activity outside France. It works to promote artistic exchange and dissemination of the French language, books and knowledge. Institut Français also complements the role of UniFrance Films in promoting French patrimonial cinema, the non-commercial screening of recent films, and showcasing its professionals. And Institut Français supports world cinema through the Cinémas du Monde pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival, the Cinémathèque Afrique, and Fonds Sud Cinéma for the funding of films, which Institut Français manages alongside the National Centre for Cinematography and the Moving Image.

Image: still from Modern times (detail)

Wednesdays 2pm & 7.15pm, Sundays 2pm
3 July- 6 October 2013

Special Saturday screenings:
14 September 2pm, 21 September 3pm


Tickets are issued at the Domain Theatre one hour before commencement. Films start at the advertised time. Doors open 30 minutes before this. Latecomers not admitted.

Location: Domain Theatre

Related exhibition: Sydney moderns

National Film & Sound Archive Embassy of France Institut Français

Man with a movie camera

Dir: Dziga Vertov 1929 (Soviet Union)
69 mins 35mm B&W Rated G
Abandoning the name of Denis Kaufman and adopting the pseudonym Dziga Vertov, the radical Russian filmmaker created a revolution in cinematic art with his vivid evocation of the power and excitement of the modern city. Using superimposition, split screens, varied speed and obtrusive editing, Vertov’s subject matter is the shops, traffic, children, coal miners, tram cars, shuttle looms, traffic signals, motor cars and workers of Moscow during the heyday of the Soviet Union. With a scenario concerning the making of a movie, from shooting, to editing, to public screening, Man with a movie camera belongs to a movement of films that began in the 1920s, known as City Symphonies. Using an experimental modernist aesthetic, filmmakers such as Vertov used images of everyday urban life to create highly formalistic visual poetry.


Wednesday 3 July 2013 2pm – 3:09pm

Wednesday 3 July 2013 7:15pm – 8:24pm

Sunday 7 July 2013 2pm – 3:09pm

Sydney’s harbour bridge, Modern times

Sydney’s harbour bridge
Dir: Lyn Maplestone 1932 (Aust)
10 mins 35mm B&W Rated G
Shows the construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge including the laying of the road and railway on its platform. Other scenes include the construction of the bridge’s arch, close-up shots of men and the equipment used in its construction, the opening ceremony on 19th March 1932 and trains, trams and cars using the bridge. Print courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

Modern times
Dir: Charlie Chaplin 1936 (US)
85 mins 35mm B&W Rated G
Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard
In 1936 the legendary screen personality Charlie Chaplin built a scathing comedy around the 'efficiencies’ of modern industrialisation. Commenting on the desperate unemployment and poverty many people faced during the Great Depression, the film satirised an urban world run by the wealthy with the aid of dehumanising machines. Bringing social inequity into stark relief, Modern times is one of Chaplin’s funniest and most socially committed works and was banned in Germany and Italy at the time of release. The lost world of 1930s Los Angeles is revealed by the location filming of the city and harbour.


Wednesday 10 July 2013 2pm – 3:35pm

Wednesday 10 July 2013 7:15pm – 8:50pm

Sunday 14 July 2013 2pm – 3:35pm

A propos de Nice, Cine Gazette No 12, Nice time, Steady! (Houen zo!)

A propos de Nice
Dir: Jean Vigo 1930 (Fr)
25 mins 35mm B&W
Vigo was 25 when he made his debut film, a silent cinematic poem that reveals, through a wry use of montage, the economic reality hidden behind the facade of the Mediterranean resort town of Nice. What starts off as a conventional travelogue turns into a satirical portrait of the town and its wealthy inhabitants. 35mm print courtesy Institut Français and French Embassy.

Cine Gazette No 12: The elephant will never forget
Dir: John Krish 1952 (UK)
11 mins 35mm B&W Rated G
One of Britain’s great post-war documentary filmmakers, Krish made this poignant tribute to the London trams on their final days of service before being sent to the scrap yard. When British Transport would not officially approve the production, Krish, with a small volunteer team, made the film in secret. This action cost the celebrated filmmaker his career with British Transport Films.

Nice time
Dir: Alan Tanner and Claude Goretta 1957 (UK)
17 mins 35mm B&W Rated G
Tanner and Goretta’s contribution to the British Free Cinema is one of the movement’s most ambitious films, collecting impressions of London’s Piccadilly Circus Saturday nightlife shot over six months in 1956-57.

Steady! (Houen zo!)
Dir: Herman van der Horst 1952 (Neth)
21 mins 35mm B&W Rated G
Van der Horst’s award-winning short documents a new city arising from the bombed out ruins of Rotterdam at the end of World War II – the result of a massive Luftwaffe raid. The Dutch title, Houen zo!, refers to the crane operators term 'steady as you go’ and the documentary offers an impression of a city taking on new life in a mighty symphony of labour.


Wednesday 17 July 2013 2pm – 3:14pm

Wednesday 17 July 2013 7:15pm – 8:29pm

Sunday 21 July 2013 2pm – 3:14pm

Cry of the city

Dir: Robert Siodmak 1948 (US)
95 mins 35mm B&W Rated M
Victor Mature, Richard Conte
Reflecting the dark and confused political and psychological climate of the US in the post-World War II era, a distinctive style of crime thriller emerged known as film noir. The noir ambience relied on low-key lighting, chiaroscuro effects and deep shadows to create feelings of disorientation, loneliness and entrapment. Typified by imagery of dark alleys, foreboding buildings and shadowy surfaces, the urban landscape became an ominous representation of the perceived growing threat of the large, modern city. In 1948, legendary German émigré director Siodmak used the streets of New York for much of the location shooting in one of his finest thrillers, Cry of the city. In it he weaves naturalism and stylisation to craft a riveting, menacing urban landscape in which a wounded gangster goes on the run for the last few hours of his life. 35mm print courtesy 20th Century Fox.


Wednesday 24 July 2013 2pm – 3:35pm

Wednesday 24 July 2013 7:15pm – 8:50pm

Sunday 28 July 2013 2pm – 3:35pm

The naked city

Dir: Jules Dassin 1948 (US)
96 min 35mm B&W Rated PG
Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff
The naked city is perhaps the most definitive city noir of its era. Dassin’s detailed story of a police investigation into the murder of a model takes a backseat to the star of the movie – New York City. Exposing the contradictions of the modern city – its promises and its perils, from its lowest depths to its tallest skyscrapers – the movie was shot entirely on location and culminates in one of the most electrifying and visually beautiful chase sequences ever committed to film. The compelling, distinctly personal voice-over narration by producer Mark Hellinger was much copied in later film and television. Heavily influenced by the European fashion for realism and social comment, Dassin – who also made Rififi – was blacklisted during the McCarthy era in Hollywood. 35mm archive print courtesy Universal Pictures.


Wednesday 31 July 2013 2pm – 3:36pm

Wednesday 31 July 2013 7:15pm – 8:51pm

Sunday 4 August 2013 2pm – 3:36pm

Double indemnity

Dir: Billy Wilder 1944 (US)
106 mins 35mm B&W Rated PG
Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray
In one of the finest suspense films ever made, MacMurray plays Walter Neff, an insurance salesman who, with a woman he has only recently met, Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), concocts a scheme to murder her husband and collect the benefits. The husband’s life insurance policy contains a clause which stipulates that if his death is caused by a moving train, the policy pays double its normal value. Based on a novella by James M Cain, the movie is a quintessential example of classic film noir. It was photographed by veteran cinematographer John Seitz ASC who, together with art directors Hans Dreier and Hal Pereira, created a landscape of stark contrasts, dark corners and multi-layered shadows using various Los Angeles locations for the exteriors. 35mm archive print courtesy Universal Pictures.


Wednesday 7 August 2013 2pm – 3:46pm

Wednesday 7 August 2013 7:15pm – 9:01pm

Sunday 11 August 2013 2pm – 3:46pm

Pick-up on South Street

Dir: Samuel Fuller 1953 (US)
80 min 35mm B&W Rated PG
Richard Widmark, Thelma Ritter
Fuller’s notorious noir is a lean and mean thriller about a pickpocket (Widmark) who accidentally lifts a roll of top-secret microfilm and becomes a target for foreign espionage agents. Ostensibly an anti-communist film (in part to appease the enforcers of the US Production Code), Pick-up on South Street is actually a cynical, unpatriotic film, with an amoral plot where the criminal protagonist remains a step ahead of the law and goes unpunished at the end. 35mm archive print courtesy 20th Century Fox


Wednesday 14 August 2013 2pm – 3:20pm

Wednesday 14 August 2013 7:15pm – 8:35pm

Sunday 18 August 2013 2pm – 3:20pm

The sleeping city

Dir: George Sherman 1950 (US)
85 mins 35mm B&W Rated PG
Richard Conte, Coleen Gray
In one of the few features of the era to be filmed entirely on location, an intern is shot by an unknown killer at New York’s Bellevue Hospital. Conte plays Frank Rowan, a detective whose past medical training enables him to operate undercover, posing as an intern working at the hospital. Filmed in semi-documentary style, the movie begins with an unusual prologue which assures the audience that the story is 'completely fictional’. This disclaimer was apparently inserted at the insistence of New York mayor William O’Dwyer, who objected that the film besmirched the reputation of the city-run hospital. 35mm archive print courtesy Universal Pictures.


Wednesday 21 August 2013 2pm – 3:25pm

Wednesday 21 August 2013 7:15pm – 8:40pm

Sunday 25 August 2013 2pm – 3:25pm

Where the sidewalk ends

Dir: Otto Preminger 1950 (US)
95 mins 35mm B&W Rated PG
Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney
A police officer, hard-boiled Mark Dixon (Andrews), living in the shadow of his father, a one-time mobster, is responsible for the accidental death of a murder suspect. His police career is already clouded by a history of excessive violence in carrying out his duties. Instead of reporting the incident to his superiors, he decides to dispose of the body. Preminger’s streetwise noir is a moodily fluid study in perverse psychology and ambiguity set in a perpetual night across New York’s side streets, dark alleys and back rooms. 35mm print courtesy 20th Century Fox.


Wednesday 28 August 2013 2pm – 3:35pm

Wednesday 28 August 2013 7:15pm – 8:50pm

Sunday 1 September 2013 2pm – 3:35pm

Sydney's harbour bridge, Terminus, Every day except Christmas

Sydney’s harbour bridge
Dir: Lyn Maplestone 1932 (Aust)
10 mins 35mm B&W Rated G
Shows the construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge including the laying of the road and railway on its platform. Other scenes include the construction of the bridge’s arch, close-up shots of men and the equipment used in its construction, the opening ceremony on 19th March 1932 and trains, trams and cars using the bridge. Print courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

Note: Due to circumstances beyond the Gallery’s control, we are unable to screen The progress of Sydney as advertised. Instead we will rescreen Sydney’s harbour bridge.

Dir: John Schlesinger 1961 (UK)
35 mins 35mm B&W
Winning a Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award, Schlesinger’s poetic documentary is a witty, acutely observed depiction of a day in the life of Waterloo train terminus in London. Made at a time when passengers could go practically anywhere by train, the film reveals the complex inner-workings of the station building with staff going about their daily duties. A collection of vignettes capture the human dramas: tearful family farewells, lost children, the cavernous lost and found department, handcuffed prisoners on their way to gaol, passengers wanting to get home.

Every day except Christmas
Dir: Lindsay Anderson 1957 (UK)
40 mins 16mm B&W
The dignity of labour is an underlying theme of Anderson’s award-winning documentary profiling London’s Covent Garden Market on a busy day of buying and selling. Capturing 12 hours in the life of the facility, the film reveals the complex logistics of a day’s trading; starting in Sussex, where trucks are loaded with vegetables, to the hustle and bustle of trading, to the last female porter of the market, to late in the morning when trade has peaked for the day and the old ladies are looking for cheap flowers to sell in the street.


Wednesday 4 September 2013 2pm – 3:25pm

Wednesday 4 September 2013 7:15pm – 8:40pm

Sunday 8 September 2013 2pm – 3:25pm

London can take it, London

London can take it
Dir: Humphrey Jennings, Harry Watt 1940 (UK)
10 mins 35mm B&W
This celebrated short documentary, produced by the GPO Film Unit for the Ministry of Information, describes the effects of the German blitz on London and its people over the course of one day. The directors, Jennings and Watt, were key figures in what became known as the British Documentary Movement, making a series of impressionistic observational documentaries focusing on ordinary people.

Dir: Patrick Keiller 1994 (UK)
81 mins 35mm Colour
London is neither feature film nor documentary, but a provocative essay detailing fictitious journeys through a very real city. Writer, director and photographer Keiller creates an electrifying, slyly witty portrait of a city in decay. The film was produced during 1992, a year that witnessed the re-election of John Major, the continuation of the IRA bombing campaign and the beginning of the 'fall of the house of Windsor’. Using a series of static camera shots – images of urban decay, road sign clutter, glowering skies – the film shares territory with the poetic realism of the British Documentary Movement, giving many insights into the city and its mysteries. The film premiered with an enthusiastic reception at the 1994 Berlin Film Festival.


Wednesday 11 September 2013 2pm – 3:31pm

Wednesday 11 September 2013 7:15pm – 8:46pm

Sunday 15 September 2013 2pm – 3:31pm

City Symphonies

City Symphonies is a term applied to a cycle of films, beginning in the 1920s, which attempted to capture the spirit, power, excitement and poetry of the city. Using a modernist aesthetic, the filmmakers juxtaposed images of everyday life, manipulating mood, tone, time and space, embracing all things new, sleek, fast and urban. The works often utilised what film historian Bill Nichols has termed the 'poetic mode’ of documentary film production – an attempt to move away from the 'objective reality’ of a given situation in order to uncover an inner 'truth’.

Dir: Charles Sheeler, Paul Strand 1921 (US)
9 mins 16mm B&W
'This portrait of New York, a precursor of the European experimental City Symphony films, has been acknowledged as the first American avant garde film. As modernists the filmmakers focused on “the towering geometry of lower Manhattan and its environs”, in Strand’s words, “to register directly the living forms in front of them and to reduce through the most rigid selection, volumes, lines and masses, to their in tensest terms of expression.”. Yet the intertitles, derived from the exuberant poetry of Walt Whitman, along with the depiction of natural forces and movement in the largely static frame, suggests a full blown romanticism, in which the obliquely framed skyscrapers of a technologically developed modern urban environment are brought into a transcendental harmony with nature’. – Jan-Christopher Horak, 'Modernist perspectives and romantic desire: Manhatta’, Afterimage

In the street
Dir: Helen Levitt, James Agee, Janice Loeb 1948 (US)
16 mins 16mm B&W
American photographer Levitt’s 1948 silent film, shot in Harlem, New York City (assisted by novelist and critic Agee and fellow photographer Loeb) was photographed with a concealed 16mm film camera. Extensively documenting Harlem in still photographs in the 1930s, Levitt was continually drawn to the neighbourhood because of its lively and unguarded street life. 'It was a good neighbourhood for taking pictures in those days, because that was before television… There was a lot happening. And the older people would be sitting out on the stoops because of the heat. This was… in the late 1930s, so those neighbourhoods were very active’. – Levitt

Under the Brooklyn Bridge
Dir: Rudolph Burckhardt 1953 (US)
15 mins 16mm B&W
Burckhardt was a Swiss-American filmmaker, photographer, painter and poet of 'dancers, buildings and people in the streets’. Born in Basel, he immigrated to New York in 1935 and fell in love with the teeming energy, the anarchy of the architecture, the vulgarity and the exuberance. Experimenting with short 16mm films, in 1953 he made a highly personal, improvised documentary focusing on the hidden social life of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and its surrounds.

Default averted
Dir: Rudolph Burckhardt 1975 (US)
20 mins 16mm Colour
New York City on the verge of economic collapse. Accompanied with a musical score by Thelonius Monk, the film captures a moment in 1975 when construction of the city had conspicuously halted due to severe economic problems. The filmmaker Burckhardt is one of America’s most insightful observers of the mid 20th-century urban environment.

Broadway by light
Dir: William Klein 1957 (Fr)
11 mins 35mm Colour
Photographer Klein’s first film is a hypnotic and evocative study of a night in the life of New York’s Great White Way. Times Square in 1958 is transformed into a pyrotechnic, rhythmic abstraction by Klein’s camera: the signs, the lights, the advertising, the spectacle.


Saturday 14 September 2013 2pm – 3:11pm

Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Lift to the scaffold)

Dir: Louis Malle 1958
90 mins 35mm B&W Rated PG
Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet
French with English subtitles
In a dark tale of murder and deceit, Moreau plays a wealthy woman who plots to have her husband – a munitions manufacturer – killed by her lover – an ex-army paratrooper. With a splendid jazz score improvised by Miles Davis, Malle’s first feature is an ingenious thriller: a perfect hybrid of French noir elegance and the New Wave’s rough-hewn realism. Cinematographer Henri Decae brings out the melancholy mystery of Paris’ boulevards and cafes, portraying the city environments through a palette of grey tones that heighten the urban romanticism. 'I showed a Paris, not of the future, but at least a modern city, a world already somewhat dehumanized’ – Philip French and Louis Malle, Malle on Malle. 35mm print courtesy Institut Français and French Embassy.


Wednesday 18 September 2013 2pm – 3:30pm

Wednesday 18 September 2013 7:15pm – 8:45pm

Sunday 22 September 2013 2pm – 3:30pm


Dir Wim Wenders 1985 (Ger)
91 mins 16mm Colour
A poetic portrait of Tokyo and a melancholy homage to the celebrated Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu (1903–63). Using a loose, diary format, Wenders explores the Japanese city most affected by the impact of post-war Western modernisation, as he searches for traces of the lost world so affectionately observed in Ozu’s feature films. The film includes a poignant interview with Ozu’s regular cameraman, Yuhara Atsuta. Print courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.


Saturday 21 September 2013 3pm – 4:31pm


Dir: Phil Noyce 1981 (Aust)
95 mins 35mm Colour Rated M
Judy Davis, Richard Moir, Bill Hunter
Amid a typical Sydney Christmas heatwave, an ambitious architect and an impulsive activist are caught in a confrontation involving local residents and their homes which are about to be bulldozed to make way for a modern, high-rise development. One of the great unrecognised classics of Australian cinema, the story of Heatwave is loosely based on the disappearance of activist, alternative newspaper publisher and heiress to the Mark Foy retail fortune Juanita Nielson. It is generally believed that Neilson was murdered because of her anti-development and anti-corruption stances. Print courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.


Wednesday 25 September 2013 2pm – 3:35pm

Wednesday 25 September 2013 7:15pm – 8:50pm

Sunday 29 September 2013 2pm – 3:35pm

Rocking the foundations

Dir: Pat Fiske 1985 (Aust)
92 mins 16mm B&W Rated PG
This powerful documentary tells the story the NSW Builders Labourers Federation and its attempts to save historic Sydney buildings and communities. Focusing on the battles for Victoria St, Kings Cross and The Rocks and the use of union power in assisting resident action groups and environmental groups, the film is an electrifying look at the introduction of union bans on millions of dollars’ worth of high-rise development in Sydney in the early-to-mid 1970s. Print courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.


Wednesday 2 October 2013 2pm – 3:32pm

Wednesday 2 October 2013 7:15pm – 8:47pm

Sunday 6 October 2013 2pm – 3:32pm