Another Three Chapters from Visualizing the City
by Alan Marcus and Dietrich Neumann
Notes made whilst reading further chapters
Chapter 8: The City Being Itself? The case of Paris in La Haine
Francois Penz, pp. 143-157
According to Penz, there are different kinds of cities in films:
- Real Cities (on location)
- Reconstructed Cities (in studio)
- Virtual Cities (produced digitally)
Penz himself is only concerned with the first, the Real Cities, in his analysis of La Haine (1995) and how it represents Paris and its suburb Chanteloup-Les-Vignes. The suburb was built in the 1970’s, designed by architect Emile Aillaud in collaboration with artist Fabio Rieti. Because of the large murals on a number of buildings and oversized sculptures scattered about, Penz suggests that Chanteloup-Les-Vignes presents elements of a utopian architectural vision. Rather poignant, since it became the setting for a dystopia both on film and in real life.
La Haine was filmed in full colour, but the final output is in black and white. This was a conscious decision, where the BW effect has been used to transform and unify the film. Colours were deemed distracting and counteracting the director’s vision. Other visual strategies used to explore the concepts of suburb vs. city and express or deny a sense of belonging include:
- depth of field
- use of perspective
An important term used is ‘referential space’, whereby a film often is identified from the outset, and rooted both geographically, socially and historically.
Penz concludes the chapter by elaborating on the impact of architecture in film:
“City planners and decision makers can use the moving image to harness the power of cinema to promote an identity. This makes it crucial for designers, architects and planners to be able to understand better the mechanisms through which they, too, can convey their vision of a future city.” (p. 155)
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Chapter 9: Composing London Visually
Robert Tavernor, pp. 159-178
Tavernor analyses how London is designed from a series of viewpoints around and within the city. Ant planning decisions made include assessments of the development’s visual impact on photographically recorded images of London from fixed viewing points. This approach to planning is unique to London, and is incredibly interesting from a cinematic point of view.
He refers to Camillo Sitte and his statement that city planning could, and should, be seen as art and uses this to argue that all urban planning should be considered in the same fashion. Sitte’s principles are also shown to be present in the 2000 By Design document by DETR.
Is determining the future vision of a city based on (selected!) static views really a good thing? As Tavernor points out;
“We experience cities kinetically” (p. 176)
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Chapter 12: Rain in the City
Jill Stoner, pp. 217-236
Stoner presents a critique of filmic and cinematic aspects of the city and discusses the architectural potentials of transparency (film) and motion (cinema). Her essay is a call for fantasy, for producing fantastic images and asking them to enter our urban life. But, the inherent problem of the fantastic is, that once it is realised it can no longer be just that - fantastic. The crucial distinction is whether it is in front or behind our eyes. The point of fantasies, according to Stoner, is not to construct them. But:
“Fantasy serves another purpose – to alert us to what is missing in our cities, without necessarily suggesting its form.” (p. 217)
Stoner goes on to talk about rain at length. To her, rain is ‘blurry and imprecise’. Its formlessness can, even in a city, suggest an absence of architecture, setting free our imagination. Perhaps this blur can hold clues to a redefinition of architecture;
“…it acts both literally and metaphorically as an agent of chaos, of emptiness and of chance, and these three qualities offer liberating alternatives to the current conventions of urban design” (p. 219)
Perhaps the rainy, blurry, imprecise dystopia of Blade Runner can act as a starting point of utopian designs of future cities?