Berlin: Symphony of a Great City & Subjectivity

Reading Kracauer’s negative review on Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) and then David Macrae’s response to it made me question how we can determine if specificity, in a medium like film, exists.

Kracauer seems convinced that Ruttmann’s “rhythmic ‘montage’ reveals that he actually tends to avoid any comment on the reality with which he is faced,” that he made the film with a rather “surface approach.” Interestingly enough he used candid photography as an example and quoted Karl Freund when he was asked whether it is an art. To that he said, “It is the only type of photography that really is art. Why? Because with it one is able to portray life.”


Macrae realizes that Kracauer regards “the viewer… as a hollow recipient of data emerging from the screen with no conception of the nature of medium, creator, or construction.” He argues that subjective is objective, that “the viewer’s processes of witnessing ‘formal qualities,’ ‘dynamic displays,’ ‘striking analogies’ between movements or forms’ exist as much in ‘reality’ as do the various component objects of their construction.

When I say that subjectivity is objective, i mean that I don’t think it’s ever realism for realism’s sake. It’s realism with a message in the end. And saying that poetics does not hold any realism is an argument against history. It’s insinuating that the arts had no part in revolutionary moments, that nina simone’s music did nothing for the civil rights movement.

It is usually with exaggeration that reality is understood. Like Bertolt Brecht said, “Less than at any time does a simple reproduction of reality tell anything about reality.”


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