Imagining the city
Saturday 27 October, 3.30pm until 5.00pm, Lecture Theatre 2 Can Films Change the World?

The history of cinema is closely intertwined with the rise of modernity and film has long provided a framework through which urban life can be articulated. Cinema allows us to examine the role of the city and what it means to live in a metropolitan environment. From early cinema and documentary film, to film noir, New Wave and science fiction, the city plays a central role in a multitude of films.

Fritz Lang’s pioneering Metropolis inspired many dystopian visions of the city, such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, a paranoid depiction of Los Angeles in 2019, and Jean-Luc Godard’s sci fi and noir amalgam, Alphaville, which turns contemporary Paris into a dehumanised city of the future.

Spike Lee’s slice of life story Do the Right Thing, about one long, hot day in Brooklyn, was a statement about race relations in America and Mathieu Kassowitz’s La Haine, filmed in a Paris suburb, did the same for France. The criminality and poverty of Rio de Janeiro and Bombay were shown in Fernando Meirelles’ City of God and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! respectively. Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire is both about life in war-scarred Berlin and a metaphysical tale of human experience. For many, Woody Allen’s films define how New Yorkers see the world and how the world sees New York.

Filmmakers have long used the city to demonstrate both enthusiasm and anxiety about modernity and urban living. So how has cinema shaped our view of the city?


Karl Sharro
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture
Tim Williams
architect director and head of workplace sector, BDP
Kyran Joughin
senior lecturer, University of the Arts (Wimbledon College of Art)
Sarnath Banerjee
artist, film-maker; graphic novelist, Corridor and Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers; founder, New Delhi's Phantomville comics publishing house
Dr Wendy Earle
impact development officer, Birkbeck, University of London; convenor, Academy of Ideas Arts and Society Forum

 Produced by

Nathalie Rothschild freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio
Helen Birtwistle history and politics teacher, South London school
Dr Wendy Earle impact development officer, Birkbeck, University of London; convenor, Academy of Ideas Arts and Society Forum
 Recommended readings

Scenes from New London
While a director can sometimes visually refresh a city by being first to new parts, what's startling about two new horror movies is that they make familiar places strange
Mark Lawson, Guardian, 10 May 2007

Tomorrow's world
Cinema remains the best place to experience the architectural imagination at full flight
Jonathan Glancey, Guardian, 21 May 2006

recommended by spiked

Reducing cities to a statistical sprawl
Austin Williams, 25 July 2007

'It's like things are now, but worse'
Patrick Hayes, 8 October 2006

spiked film reviews

Session partners

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