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Berlin: Symphony of a Great City

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

At once an invaluable photographic record of life in Weimar Berlin and a timeless demonstration of the cinema's ability to enthrall on a purely visceral level, BERLIN, SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY (1927, 62 min.) offers a kaleidoscopic view of a single day in the life of the bustling metropolis.

Also included is OPUS 1 (1922, 10 min.), a rare example of the German avant-garde cinema. Director Walther Ruttmann's hand-colored film is an exploration of the geometry of movement.


The title says it all: this is a visual symphony in five movements celebrating the Berlin of 1927: the people, the place, the everyday details of life on the streets. Director Walter Ruttman, an experimental filmmaker, approached cinema in similar ways to his Russian contemporary Dziga Vertoz, mixing documentary, abstract, and expressionist modes for a nonnarrative style that captured the life of his countrymen. But where Vertov mixed his observations with examples of the communist dream in action, Ruttman re-creates documentary as, in his own words, "a melody of pictures." Within the loose structure of a day in the life of the city (with a prologue that travels from the country into the city on a barreling train), the film takes us from dawn to dusk, observing the silent city as it awakens with a bustle of activity, then the action builds and calms until the city settles back into sleep. But the city is as much the architecture, the streets, and the machinery of industry as it is people, and Ruttman weaves all these elements together to create a portrait in montage, the poetic document of a great European city captured in action. Held together by rhythm, movement, and theme, Ruttman creates a documentary that is both involving and beautiful to behold. The original score by Timothy Brock is lyrical and dramatically involving, complementing the mood and movement marvelously. Also included is the avant-garde short Opus 1, an abstract study in animated shapes and movement. --Sean Axmaker

Special Features

  • Berlin (Dir. Walther Ruttmann): Germany, 1927, B/W, Stereo, 62 min
  • Opus 1 (Dir. Walther Ruttmann): Germany, 1922, Color, Stereo, 10 min

Product Details

  • Actors: Paul von Hindenburg
  • Directors: Walther Ruttmann
  • Format: NTSC
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: May 15, 2012
  • Run Time: 62 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6305301697
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,425 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Berlin: Symphony of a Great City" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Mr Peter G George on August 2, 2001
Format: DVD
Berlin, Symphony of a Great City is a dazzling film full of wonderful images. It starts with a train journey into Berlin, a journey with a real sense of speed and the thundering of the tracks. This speed continues throughout the film through the use of fast paced editing. If there is a story to the film, it is simply a day in the life of the city. The film starts with the morning and ends with night and in between shows how Berliners went about their daily lives. The focus is not on the great buildings, the famous Berlin landmarks, but on the streets where people lived and worked. Thus the film is no travelogue of tourist destinations, but rather an experience of the Berlin which Berliners saw every day.
This film has gained something since it was made. It has gained poignancy because the Berlin it shows is now lost. Anyone who has seen photos of Berlin in 1945 will realise that almost all the buildings in Berlin, Symphony of a Great City have less than twenty years left to live. The same can be said for many of the people. While watching the film, and especially scenes of happy schoolchildren, I kept wondering what happened to them. There is a joy in this Berlin of the twenties. It looks like a fine place to live, but these people and this city are about to enter a nightmare. There is something quite moving about this.
The print used for the Image DVD is very good. The black and white images are clear and detailed and there is hardly any apparent damage. Music is especially important with a film described as a symphony and the music composed by Timothy Brock adds a great deal to the film. It fits in well with the action and the various moods of the film. The DVD also includes a short film by the same director as Berlin, Symphony of a Great City. Opus 1 is a bizarre little film consisting of abstract shapes interacting with each other. It is hand-coloured and actually rather beautiful and hypnotic.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Underwood on February 14, 2005
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Watching this outstanding film is like travelling back in time to Berlin of 1927, experiencing it as a visitor or as a native Berliner would, with views, insights and glimpses of street scenes, restaurants, shops, trains, stations and many more. In a carefully arranged sequence, the film begins with a train ride into the city as a passenger would see it, then we see empty streets as the city awakens to a new day. Each short scene captures a piece of everyday life in the metropolis; from pidgeons on the street and a meandering cat to a couple of quarrelling men on a busy street. The style of this early documentary often reminded me of some famous Soviet Avant-Garde films such as "The End of St Petersburg" and "Earth" in that the pictures, camera angles and varying speeds of presenting a sequence of images create a drama, a feeling, thereby making this much more than just a collage of city scenes. A perfectly suited orchestral score composed by Timothy Brock completes the experience. Director Walther Ruttmann has truly managed to capture the essence of Berlin in 1927 in this one hour film which is divided into five acts; from early morning in the first, to night life in the fifth act, making you feel as if you really have visited pre-war Berlin for a day. This becomes even more poignant when you consider that the city was largely destroyed by bombs during World War II, and that this marvellous film allows a unique travel experience to a long-lost time and place. Picture quality is excellent as well, and for any lover of history and travel, as well as of film making in general, this DVD is a must.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Beth Fox on March 6, 2005
Format: DVD
Until I saw this movie, I could never imagine a "visual symphony." This film is exactly that. The film brilliantly shows a day in Berlin in 1927 from such overwhelmingly different perspectives that you actually believe that you were there. This silent film -- without any written dialogue -- starts on a train moving quickly into Berlin in the early morning hours. The city is still dark and quiet, with few cats and dogs, and fewer people, about. Then, the city picks up its pace: children go to school; shopkeepers open their shops; factory machines start up. Through lunchtime, through the afternoon: one quick shot after another: newspaper headlines, shop windows, an anarchist on a platform, men and women, old and young. Into the evening -- the city slows down, but the nightlife picks up.

Berlin in 1927 would easily have been ranked one of the top five cities in the world. You get to see it before the Nazi era, and before much of it was destroyed in World War II. You simply cannot take your eyes off this film. The music only enhances the experience -- slow music for lunchtime, exciting music for grinding machines.

And don't miss the extra feature, a short called Opus I. It is essentially abstract shapes moving, pulsing, and disappearing, to music. This short was hand painted, frame by frame. It is very unusual and, like all abstract art, different people will see different things in it.

Do not miss "Berlin: Symphony of a Great City." It has been imitated, but never duplicated.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By DJ Joe Sixpack HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 10, 2002
Format: DVD
Pioneering German director Walther Ruttman weaves a beautiful , rapturous look at Berlin during the height of the Weimar Republic. Everyday life is captured and extolled, from the heights of wealth to the nobility of labor, along with the splendor of modernity, from vast, efficient factories (which still look impressive) to the leggy glamour girls of the capital city's globally notorious nightlife. Most of all, though, there's the immense artistic vision of the director, piling on one perfectly composed, poetically thoughtful shot after another, rhythmically editing them together in a groundbreaking montage style. "Berlin" was indeed a seminal film; numerous other "city symphonies" proliferated in its wake, and the music-montage style is clearly echoed in Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi," and its sucessors, "Powaqqatsi" and "Baraka." This is where it all started -- a masterful and fascinating film, and a nice glimpse at life in one of Europe's greatest cities. Pity, then, that Ruttman went on to become a Nazi propagandist, and died making films for the Reich during WWII, although really, I suppose it was inevitable.
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