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Cities in film

Watching a documentary on the gangster film, it got me to think about cities in film. What films depict the idea of the city really well; communicate the warp, weft, and flow of a metropolis. The types of movies that all my friends who are engaged in thinking about urbanism should see. Here’s the start of a list:

Though a soundstage picture, it must be acknowledged, in that it’s essentially a filmic treatise on the idea of a city, and is so phenomenally influential.

The lure of the city proves great for a country boy. Murnau’s films had palpable energy.

The Naked City
The first shot-on-location crime film of the sound era, it’s use of New York City milieus provides texture not found on soundstages.

The Third Man
The desiccated husk of wartorn Vienna exposes what cities are like when pushed to their extremes.

Rear Window
Because of the limits of its setting, I almost didn’t include this, but that setting is so distinctly and undeniably urban.

High and Low
Class bifurcation; seaminess and fun; a police procedural that turns over the rocks in Yokohama.

Maybe cities aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Blade Runner
a.k.a. Metropolis 2. L.A. is as much of a character as any human (or replicant).

Wings of Desire
Thanks to angels, we get to peer into the minds of Berlin dwellers.

Dark City
The first 2/3rds of this movie are a brilliant reflection and commentary of urban life. The last 1/3rd is a mindless showdown.

Run Lola Run
Only in a city could you cover so much ground on foot. Also, the flash-forwards in passersby’s lives reveal more about urban life.

I’m surprised, given massively expanding urbanism, no film in the last 10 years strikes me as suitable fodder. I’m sure there are flicks I haven’t seen, though, that would qualify…

  1. What about “24 City” or “The World” on Beijing both from Jia Zhang Ke!? Or “Chungking Express” from Wong Kar Wai or even “What Time Is It There?” from Tsai Ming Liang!? Maybe it’s just me…but I do see a lot of Chengdu, Beijing, Hong Kong or Taipei in these films…!

  2. The village in “Yojimbo” is a full character in the story. As is Mexico City in “Los Olvidados”. The Casbah in “Casbah”, “Pepe Le Moko” and “Algiers” and Paris in “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain.” Actually there are too many good examples to list, though you could make room by dropping “Rear WIndow”, which is deniably urban outside the cityscape of Hitchcock’s imagination.

  3. Man With A Movie Camera, Rome Open City, The Sweet Smell of Success, The Battle of Algiers, The French Connection, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Do The Right Thing (single block rather than whole city). I don’t think there’s much American film of the last ten years except for the generic “southern California as movieland” although you might count Los Angeles in Mulholland Drive or Collateral. (Los Angeles Plays Itself?) But as noted above, there’s a lot of movies from elsewhere that would fit the bill. A couple that spring to mind are Amores Perros and City of God. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch more.

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