Analysis Of Urban Cinematic Projections Film Studies Essay

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Paul Nelson
Architecture M(Arch)
Year 5
Unit: ARC911M
January 2013
Proposed Research Question: To what extent can the analysis of urban cinematic projections influence & inform our perceptions of the built environment?
The theme I would like to investigate within this subject is primarily concerned with the power of cinematics to portray the dynamic and shifting conditions of urban space and the built environment over a period of history. From initial reading into the subject I propose to set up two frameworks as a way of analysing the interplay between the reel selective, urban projections of cinematic space and the tangible/ physical boundaries of the real built environment or cityscape. The first setting of this exploration will investigate the early period of cinematics through the films of Mitchell and Kenyon, and the portrayal of the Edwardian urban environment, along with its analogous references to the imperialistic power of the metropolitan centre. The second will draw in references through the analysis of the cinematics of Manchester and the contrasting, receding and implosive images of post-industrialism focusing predominantly on the 1968 film The Changing Face of Salford.
Through the examination of these two altered urban environments I would like to progress the discussion further by looking at the possible repercussions of these cinematic projections in the manifestation of the built environment. In Richard Koeck’s book entitled; The City and the Moving Image he discusses this practical application and notes that:
‘It offers a source of visual stimuli that could be used to generate urban distinctiveness and also to maintain historical connections. Such practical applications may help to offset contemporary processes that undermine urban identity, belonging and social cohesiveness.’ (Koeck 2010: 32)
At this stage I will further these initial ideas by looking at the influence or perhaps non-influence of past cinematics as a force for the re-modelling of the modern city. In Jill Stoner’s; Toward a Minor Architecture she talks of our landscape of constructed mistakes as well as the professional elite’s predilection for moral judgement. Within this work she ties together Walter Benjamin’s ideas of dramatic action as a critical method for the interpenetration of private and public zones with her own assessment for the dismantling of disused objects of architecture as a means of reinterpreting the urban landscape. In conjunction with the ideas of Stoner and Benjamin I will also tie in the concept of the Collage City, an idea born out of urban movement through the study of cine-tecture and its inherent spatial interconnection. With regards to this notion Robert Kronenburg writes:
‘Cities are kinetic constructs, a physical manifestation of a strategy, places which can have more than ‘one’ identity, and whose meanings and interpretations depend on physical engagement with the space.’
From this juncture I intend to introduce the twin notions of topophilia and topophobia, which directly interpreted is the psychological attachment of belonging or non-belonging to a specific place. These will formulate methods of analysis for the reinterpretation of urban space through historical mapping and on a smaller scale the mapping of architectural space. This process being mediated through the study of changes to the urban landscape from the period of early film through to the post-industrial upheaval and regeneration depicted in films such as The Changing Face of Salford.
Literature Review
Book:
The City and the Moving Image; Urban Projections, Les Roberts & Richard Koeck
Individual Essays:
1. Old World Traditions and Modernity; Heather Norris Nicholson
4. City of Change and Challenge; Julia Hallam
13. Cine Montage: The Spatial Editing of Cities; Richard Koeck
14. Informing Contemporary Architectural and Urban Design with historic Filmic evidence; Robert Kronenburg
Split into a number of chapters, the City and the Moving Image invites various authors from the field of cinematics to discuss ideas within their particular research area. As a result, and with each chapter dedicated to a different aspect of cinematics, the book can be seen as a collection of essays which contribute to its whole. Thus providing an eclectic amalgamation devoted to the study of urban projection from differing tangential references.
The book commences with an investigation into early cinema citing sources such as Thomas Edison, the Lumiere Brothers and Mitchell and Kenyon. Of interest in this subject is the way in which early cinema has informed our understanding of architecture and cities. Through this media the author suggests that physical factors in the urban patterns not only provide an indication of how urban space was utilised in the past but can also determine how urban spaces could be re-interpreted to better improve the use of public space in the future, Kronenburg suggests that in a similar nature to architecture, film possesses four dimensional characteristics, through the way in which individuals interact with physical buildings and urban space. (Kronenburg 2010: 224)
This concept is pivotal in understanding the relationship between cinematics and its efficacy in the realms of urban design. Furthering this notion, it is clear that through these earlier films a city of interconnected yet coherent complexity is visible on screen:
‘The historic urban environment has far less clutter and far greater design coherence in terms of what is now often described as street furniture. Furthermore, each object has a readily identifiable use, which in the vast majority of cases would be used directly by city dwellers – street lamps, postboxes, seating are some examples.’ (Kronenburg 2010: 229)
When viewing these films, the author reminds us that rather than staged or orchestrated projections of the city which would follow in years to come. Films such as those of Mitchell and Kenyon are actualities, providing an accurate portrayal of the city during the Edwardian period and more importantly, he argues, the way in which it is used.
Other essays within the book also deal with this notion, but at the same time also question the adoption of these actualities by early film makers, suggesting that the city was also capable of naturally complementing these early films through the dynamism of the urban fabric.
Whilst the essay also notes that early film makers fundamentally utilised the city as a tool for the collective experience of ‘viewing oneself on screen’ it also inadvertently created a participatory and collective re-enactment of nostalgia for future audiences.
In a separate essay focusing on the earlier films of Liverpool by the Lumiere brothers, the author, Julia Hallam suggests that films of a historic quality such as this creates a prosthetic memoryscape. In this sense although early urban projections were intended as actualities, she argues that the differentiation of personal experience from the filmic interpretation of memory slowly form a collective experience of past time. (Hallam 2010: 72)
It is quite clear however that although this perspective is taken by the author, it none the less has practical applications in the way in which contemporary processes can be suppressed in favour of a an urban landscape which resolves contextual identity in a way that the modern city does not.
Within the final essays this concept is welded together more effectively and the author cites the work of Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter in their dialogue regarding the Collage City. (See literature review below). He furthers the concept of the post-modern condition in which he proposes that our cities now suffer from a lack of architectural identity which avoids dialogue with its historical context; films such as those of Mitchell and Kenyon providing the backdrop to this proposal. (Koeck 2010: 210)
At this point in my research I intend to trace this architectural condition back to the post-industrial period of the post-war years by examining the two films; The Changing Face of Salford, Part 1, Life in the Slums and Part 2, Bloody Slums both produced in 1968 and provided courtesy of the North West Film Archive.
Film: (Courtesy of the North West Film Archive)
The Changing Face of Salford Part 1; Life in the Slums & Part 2; Bloody Slums, Produced by Mike Goodger
Produced as a ‘bioscope’ documentary, the changing face of Salford sets out to portray the difficulties of life in the working class domicile of the post industrial years. Consisting of two parts; the first sets the scene commencing with an archetypal view over the grey terraced landscape of Salford at the end of the 1960’s. It is clear from the outset that these ways of life along with its dwellings have now become living relics of the area’s relatively prosperous history. Within this context the narrator proclaims in a style of unified development; ‘that there is great work to be done by the people of Salford.’ Yet simultaneously, he also documents the dramatic attrition to the social cohesiveness of the area claiming:
‘The occupants in chameleon like manner taking on themselves the erosion of their surroundings. A state of limbo when the present is not permanent and the future only an unguaranteed promise.’ (Goodger 1968)
It is this interplay between the old and the new which is at the centre of discussion and the film exhibits these juxtapositions within the urban landscape. Streets dissected in two, roads amid a pile of rubble and towering concrete structures provide a backdrop to a scene of half demolished dwellings. However unlike the positive ‘progressionistic’ style of other cine documentaries of the time, the film grapples with the concept of a ‘changing face’:
‘It’s a ghost town full of remembrances and not all of them bad – halfway house from nowhere to somewhere and often the waiting and anticipation cause torment, transference from old to new and many of the passengers making the journey are weary riders. For the weapons of demolition are but the tools of progress leaving behind nothing but old memories until finally a bare desolation.’ (Goodger 1968)
The films successfully demonstrate this uncertain transition however they are unable to fully analyse the effects of the urban planning schemes as they come to fruition. Rather the new developments are often seen as a backdrop and are never filmed in any great complexity. Sub-consciously they loom over the horizon of the changing city, successfully interpreting the trepidation of the slum inhabitants. It is in this respect that the films capture the thriving communities prior to the vast demolition programmes; and although set against the conditions of squalor and deprivation, they illustrate scenes of street utilisation and social interaction unlike later scenes of desolation and desertion. It is perhaps this sense of loss which is expressed most significantly albeit unintentionally by the film maker. Through the destruction of these tightly grouped streetscapes, the landscape becomes pitted with great voids and expanses of wasteland, becoming a construct of absence as opposed to presence, and it is from this that I intend to introduce the concept of the collage city as a responsive manifestation of the destructive results of modernist planning.
Book:
Collage City, Colin Rowe & Fred Koetter
Following on from the analysis of The Changing Face of Salford this book quantifies and augments the cinematic experiences of the films from the early 20th century and those from the post industrial era into an architectural manifesto which calls for the cementation of the fragmented city. In relation to the modernist ideal of singular towers set amongst vast open spaces, the opening pages proclaim that although representing a new and socially therapeutic alternative to the historical ideals of urban planning, they ultimately signalled the end to deception, dissimulation, vanity, subterfuge and imposition. It is quite clear having said this that throughout the book, these ideals are seen not as positive catalysts but rather negative ones, creating an sterile, pre-determinable environment. (Koetter, Rowe 1984: 4)
Setting up an immediate dialogue, the authors Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, examine the effects of modernistic ideas of urban planning as well as discussing the immediate disjunctions in their deliverance and execution. The intrigue of an organic city consisting of a continuous solid form of shifting masses is compared directly to one of rational voids formed by the mass strategic developments akin in many ways to those illustrated in Salford. In this respect the authors suggest that the modern city in effect became the inverse reality of that in which it was replacing; only in doing so it formed a landscape of distant, disparate objects. Taking this concept yet further they suggest also that these individual objects disregard local minutiae creating a vacuum of empty space around them, unoccupied by any useful or effective function:
‘For it is surely apparent that, while limited structural spaces may facilitate identification and understanding, an interminable naturalistic void without recognisable boundaries will at least be likely to defeat all comprehension.’ (Koetter, Rowe 1984: 64)
As a direct proposal, the book calls for a collage city to form as a means of reintegration between the two contrasting urban forms. This type of city it is suggested borrows aspects from existing historical layouts characterised by the tight assimilation of infill space whilst concurrently digesting the void spaces created from the hangover period of post modernist arrangement to create a textured, more meaningful and occupiable urban landscape.
In fitting in with the overall dissertation, the Collage City acts as a link between the cinematic experience of Mitchell and Kenyon to that of Goodger’s Salford. It successfully demonstrates the concept of a continuous solid becoming one of continuous void through the ideals of the modern city.
Book:
The City and the Moving Image; Urban Projections, Les Roberts & Richard Koeck
Individual Essay:
9. Mapping the City through Film: From ‘Topophilia’ to Urban Mapscapes, Teresa Castro
This individual essay within the works of The City and the Moving Image focuses on mapping as a tool for both the subjective and objective dimensions within the cinematic urban space. Castro introduces the concepts of topophillia and psycho-geography as a means of interpreting urban space. She suggests that through these interpretative methods a sense of place is created through photogenie. She argues that film can be used as a medium for the portrayal of either topophobic or topophillic cityscapes and therefore from this a form of unintentional cognitive mapping takes place, she writes:
‘If the term topophilia does not cover all the implications of film’s topographic fascination, it can nonetheless offer a way of addressing cinema’s fascination and sustained commitment to exploring the specificities of place.’ (Castro 2010:148)
In her essay, Castro investigates Patrick Keiller’s film London in which he manipulates topophobic landscapes as a way of instilling a sense of belonging to a place through the eyes of a fictional character known as Robinson. Castro relates this practice directly to the semi-conscious emotions of the cinematic audience and suggests that through the subjective submission of film, an urban perspective can in a sense be warped to produce a desirable effect, which challenges pre-disposed notions related to the urban landscape in question. (Castro 2010: 147)
Tying this concept in with both the films of Salford and the earlier cinematics of Mitchell and Kenyon it is possible to evaluate the two through the twin contrasting notions of topophobia and topophillia. Whilst each demonstrates one form or the other, it puts into question the subjective approach of the film-makers themselves. Within my dissertation I intend to contrast this notion with that of photogenie and prosthetic memory-scape as forms of analysis of the urban environment.
Book:
Urban Cinematics; Understanding Urban phenomena through the moving image, Francois Penz & Audong Lu
Similar in style to Richard Koeck’s; the City and the Moving Image, Urban Cinematics investigates a range of topics related to the overall theme of cinema and architecture. Of particular interest are chapters one and twelve which deal with the language and meaning of the City Film and the City as a Cinematic archive respectively. In Chapter one, the author deals with memorialisation of film and its utilisation in creating a ‘cultural identity’. This idea resonates clearly with the themes explored by Julia Hallam in the way in which cinema forms a collective heritage, which could be used to inform the design of modern cityscapes. However this book goes further to describe the cognitive process of film in the creation of an explorative landscape which can be perceived through its physical existence.
Following on from this concept, the author demonstrates the direct similarities between architecture and film suggesting that like architecture, films form a historical context which confronts the interactive audience in the present creating a landscape of mixed architectural temporalities. When viewed in the present, these films, the author proposes, now take on an apparitional disposition, becoming a scene of ruin:
‘The presence of ruin corrodes the stability of the present. The archive – here in the form of films – in as much as it stores our ruins awaits reawakening.’ (Lu, Penz 2011:202)
To this end the author suggests that as a restorative approach we must re-establish our ability to perceive the city as splintered and contingent rather than as a unified whole. In this respect, the concept echoes that explored by Rowe and Koetter, in the drive for a city of local minutiae. However unlike Rowe and Koetter, Penz argues that the use of cinema as a collective experience and the way in which it forms architectural perception can be used as a reflective tool for the re-invigoration of the ruin. The ruin in this sense existing as an expression of its previous form through the mediation of film, existing only in the present as a site of loss.
Critical Perspective
Post Strutural Social Theory
Through my research I intend to adopt a Post Structural Social perspective as a tool for analysing the notions of cinematic experience and its influential manifestations within the built environment over a period of history.
Post Structuralism has in its past paralleled itself with discussions regarding film and cine-semiology, adopting derridean principles of the sign and the signifier. Of interest in this theory is the concept of textual dissemination, however as Robert Stam explains in his book; New vocabularies in film semiotics, the scriptural vocation of the cinema, becomes the language by which the propagation of meaning is substituted. Furthermore Stam suggests that through cinematic montage it is necessary to revise our understanding of semiotics and its associations with language. (Stam 1992: 28)
Characterising this notion to a greater degree is the theorisation of the cinematic image through Polysemy; this concept developed by the theoretician Roland Barthes in a literal sense describes the cinematic image as consisting of many ‘semes’ or meanings. Through this it becomes possible to derive a multitude of significations and explains cinematics power to transcend the barriers of national language or indeed of language in a general sense. (Stam 1992: 29)
This concept allies well with the perceptions of the topophillic and topophobic characteristics of film in which the binary oppositions are mediated through the filmic language of cinematics. This filmic syntax is an idea which originates back to the early theorists of cinema such as Riccioto Canudo and Louis Delluc, both of whom identified the linguistic qualities of film to its rather non verbal nature.
The theory of binarisms is one which emerges often in the discussion of cine-semiology and indeed in Post Structuralism in general. Throughout my dissertation research this is a constant theme, be it through the analysis of solid and void space through the interpretation of the collage city or in the subjective analysis of the Mitchell and Kenyon films to that of Goodger’s dereliction of Salford cine documentaries. These contrasts are often discussed by Derrida as a place of semiotic play, forming a boundless context of intertextuality.
This intertextuality expanded by the work of Ferdinand de Saussure seeks to study the way in which the deriviation of signs are interpreted within the structure of text or in the case of film, the cinematic image. This study can be expanded to include the theory of psychoanalysis which explains the subjectivity and the relations of desire in cinematic discourse. Within film theory the notion of cinema as an object is substituted for the cinema as a process through which a narrative is created. It becomes a subjective relationship between the observer and the film, in many ways similar to the notion of collective nostalgia discussed by Julia Hallam in the City and the Moving Image; Urban Projections. This successfully illustrates the pervasive social power of the cinematic experience which structures the human psyche towards a form of re-enactment. In this situation it is very easy to see the way in which cinema could be utilised to inform our ideas of the urban environment and it is this concept, which I intend to discuss to a greater extent throughout the dissertation straddling notions of Topophilia and Topophobia.
Methodology & Ethical Issues
Throughout my dissertation I aim to investigate the twin ideals of urban topophilia and topophobia within the framework of both the Mitchell and Kenyon actualities and Mike Goodger’s cine-documentaries. Through this investigation I intend to access material from a variety of sources both written literature and archive film in order to support my research problem.
By accessing these two alternate sources it will provide me with an opportunity to undertake first hand research whilst simultaneously binding the findings with existing material on the broader subject matter.
In the first instance it will be necessary to collate resources which deal with the notions of urban cinematics. Due to the expansive treatment of this subject over history it will be necessary to refine my existing findings in order to strengthen the overall conclusion. The key themes of investigation are predominantly concerned with the following:
- Architectural Mapping through urban cinematography
- Memoryscape and the topophilic quality of early film
- Notions of photogenie and the interrelationship with the urban landscape
Through these primary sources I expect to ascertain further referenced literature which may plug into these initial themes. Whilst sources such as Koetter and Rowe’s Collage City have already been identified it may be useful to broaden the overall synthesis and research analysis which investigates the cinematic interpretation of a changing architectural cityscape. Through this the following themes are integral to the discussion:
-The Memorialisation of film and architecture
-Architectural Identity Loss
-The Collage City and Urban Void
On analysing films accessed from the North West Film Archive I intend to interpret the cinematic experience through a discussion of both the main themes explored by the narrator as well as an explanation of the identifying images which survey the changing architectural landscape. As a dissertation focusing predominantly on cinematics, stills will be utilised to support the discussion of key elements attributed to architectural analysis. Images accessed will derive predominantly from the two films and those from the North West Film Archive will be referenced accordingly following their requested guidelines and copyright legislation.
Work Plan
February 2013 – During this period I expect to continue further in depth research focusing on both existing literature accessed as well as additional literature. I intend to formulate an introduction outlining the structure of the dissertation as well as its expected findings deriving from the research conducted.
March 2013 – Following an in depth study of the subject matter I plan to begin the process of drawing the relevant information together in order to create a first draft which will form the basis for my final submission.
April 2013 – After feedback from the first draft, I expect to edit the final document in readiness for the submission on 29.04.2013

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