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Led by Dr Barbara Knorpp, ‘Visual Anthropology and the City’ looks at documentaries on the city starting from the city symphonies of the 1920s to the video diaries of Jonas Mekas in New York and James Benning’s style of ‘Slow Cinema’ in Los Angeles. Urban anthropology has fascinated journalists, photographers and policy-makers since the emergence of the Chicago School in the 1920s. Ethnography and long-term research facilitated deeper insights into the everyday lives of urban neighbourhoods that were often associated with violence, crime and housing problems. Cinema and photography have also since their inception engaged with the urban, and their development is deeply entwined with that of the modern metropolis. We are interested in films, photography, and writings that look at modernity, subcultures, non-western cities, regeneration, urban elites, domestic space, social movements and urban architecture. Those taking this course will have the chance to hear about, watch and discuss films, photography and writings on the subject.
Session 1: The City Symphonies of the 1920s
Looking at early examples of documentary and city films revolving around urban life style and modern architecture, e.g. Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929).
Session 2: Jean Rouch and Cinéma Vérité
Best known for Chronicle of a Summer (1961), Jean Rouch is one of the most controversial figures in ethnographic filmmaking. His film Petit à Petit (1970) tells the story of an African businessman who is conducting ethnographic research in Paris – a reversed anthropology.
Session 3: The Heart of the Angel and Observational Cinema
Working from Molly Dineen’s The Heart of the Angel (1989), a film following 48 hours in the everyday lives of the people who work on the London Underground, this session will discuss the history of British documentary and the stylistic conventions of observational cinema.
Session 4: La Haine and Docu-Fiction
Mathieu Kassovitz’s powerful drama La Haine (1995) takes an unblinking look at a racially diverse group of young people trapped in the Parisian economic and social underclass. Using the film as a starting point, this session will explore the history of the city’s colonialism.
Session 5: US Filmmakers and Slow Cinema
Filmmakers such as Safi Faye, Jacques Rivette, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lav Diaz, Chantal Akerman or James Benning have experimented with slow representations of time and silence. In contrast we will watch personal accounts of everyday life by Jonas Mekas.
Session 6: [Guest Speaker] Dave Swindells on Club Culture in London 1980s-1990s (former Timeout Nightlife Editor and Photographer)
Dave Swindells will talk about the photographs that he took as a nightlife editor at Timeout on club culture and subculture in London during the 1980s-1990s.
Session 7: ‘The Exiles’ and Native Americans on Film
Kent MacKenzie spent his student days in the bars of Los Angeles where he befriended a gang of Native Americans. Following their dreams of urban life, The Exiles (1961), offers a refreshing perspective on people living in exile away from their native lands and traditions.
Session 8: Shinjuku Boys in Tokyo
Kim Longinotto’s film introduces three ‘onnabes’ – women who live as men and have girlfriends but don’t usually identify as lesbians -, working as club hosts in Tokyo. Shinjuku Boys (1995) is a remarkable documentary about the complexity of female sexuality in Japan.
Image courtesy of Dave Swindells.