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Cinema & the City

Fabio La Rocca

A reciprocal relationship exists between cinema and the metropolis: a symbolic exchange, affirming a link between the world of cinematic images and urban experience. The cinematic captures the memory of the urban landscape and the ambiances of its everyday through the penetration of the camera as a ‘third eye’ into the hidden depths of the city. The particularity of cinematic language makes perceptible the complexity of the metropolis. Thus, through this ‘eye’ we can engage in a cinematic flânerie exploring the minutiae of urban experience to build a visual presentation as a phenomenological modality.

The universe of cinema contributes to our collective imagination of the metropolis, helping us to build a vision of the complexity and topography of urban existence. The movie image provides an aperture on the physiognomy and ambiances of the city, enabling us to ‘feel’ its atmospheres, to ‘touch’ the emotions that emerge from urban spaces onto the movie screen.

The power of the image lies in its capacity to transport us, allowing us to traverse the landscapes of the metropolis by way of the camera, thereby triggering a convergence of history, culture and visual memory in our perceptive space.

The particularity of cinematic language helps us to structure our collective imagination of the city through its multiform penetration of the real, and conversely, the real is shaped by the diversity of images presented to us through film which contribute to our understanding of the everyday. Cinema makes visible the metropolis, which on this view exists in and through the images projected onto the screen.

That the birth of cinema coincided with the dawn of the modern metropolis implies a visual journey parallel with the development trajectory of the urban landscape. This landscape forms a fabric of images which captivates and structures the gaze of the viewer, allowing us to form an interpretation of the urban panorama using a visual approach as a form of social science inquiry.

Following the theoretical perspective of Gilles Deleuze, cinematographic perception lies in the very essence of cinema, namely its production of images irreducible to the model of subjective perception. The visible helps us form an interpretation of the world, a configuration of the Weltbild: the world we understand as image. A Weltanschauung is at work in the cinematic panorama as an ontology through which to capture and develop a form of understanding of the real. In this analysis, the cinematic image is therefore understood as an image of thought and a reflex of daily life.

For Deleuze, inspired by Henri Bergson, the philosophical question of cinema is a mechanism of thought operating with the signs of the image-movement charged with dynamic tension. The relation between image and thought becomes a phenomenology which helps us to ‘decrypt’ the world and its urban dimension. The cinema can be viewed thus as way of understanding the urban landscape, a form of knowledge, as for Siegfried Kracauer an expressive documentary recording a given culture’s social world, or, following Simmel, a methodology through which to explore the sensible experience of urban social existence. Read on »

(trans. James Horrox)

24th and Mission


It all started when I heard a loud thump while waiting for a nighttime BART train.

I followed my ears to the source of the sound, where I discovered a Latino in his 60s sprawled out, prone, parallel to the bottom of the stairs, with his eyes open.

My first thought was that he was drunk but he gave off no stink of liquor and had a dignified appearance: trim and well-preserved, clean shaven, shiny brown dress shoes, a short-sleeve, open-collared linen shirt tucked into cream-colored, creased slacks.

As someone called 911 and notified the BART station employee, a group of riders stood around the man, concerned. An angelic, nurturing twenty-something woman hunched over him asking questions in English (“Are you ok? Sir? Are you ok?”) while her boyfriend asked the same questions in Spanish in the pauses, all of us hanging on a reply that didn’t come as he stared up at us vacantly, as if in shock, blinking every so often. Setting the small crowd at ease, the woman told us he was alright. Was she a nurse? Pre-med? Something soothing in her manner told us to believe her.

Long minutes passed. To our relief, the man came around a little and offered a few words en Español. We noticed that he had a quarter-sized, blood red circle on the top of his mostly bald head. Had he sustained a concussion? He seemed less than fully present.

As we looked on patiently, the man indicated that he wanted to sit up. Just behind him on the stairs, cheeks to heels, I reached a right hand over to his strong, worn palm, pulling him up while the woman lifted from underneath. Before we got the man all the way up he let go of my grasp and indicated that he wanted to move himself.

Sliding around on the tile, he propped his head up on the first stair and began a conversation in Spanish with the BART employee. Crisis averted, everyone else moved away to the train platforms on either side with still an eye on the man, just in case. As if the universe was telling me my work was done here, the train roared in a moment later, wind tunnel effect blowing my hair back.

Staring through the window as the train pulled away, I saw two paramedics poised over the man, restoring normalcy.

Flesh Made Word


The cultural passage sketching itself out within the folds of the internet sees the fundamental inversion of the equilibrium between flesh and word, the balance upon which Western culture has been founded from the time of the Old Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. […] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”. The sacrilegious blaze of porn in its most pagan and savage incarnation of Web 2.0 ignites a sensibility whereby, on the contrary, ‘flesh is made word’, the original and ultimate meaning, the base and pinnacle of the contemporary imagination.

Its liturgy is as a sacrificial rite with multiple totems and fetishes where the cults of the body and the mystics are restituted and celebrated to the echoes of Dionysus, where the most profound sacrality and eroticism are entwined in an intimate embrace. The cultural fabric which unfolds in such an exuberance of the senses constitutes an affront to the modern Western cultural paradigm, transfiguring its very axes – creation and procreation – in a pervasive recreation of the nuances of joy, luxury and lust.” Read on >