City as Protagonist - 01


 Bombed out Vienna cathedral, 1948.

Bombed out Vienna cathedral, 1948.

Recently I've become a bit obsessed with movies that use the set or location of the film not only as a backdrop but allow it to operate as an active character in a movie's plot.

Cities can make for great protagonists in fiction and story telling. Cities are the repositories of countless experiences, places of joy and desperation, great good and evil, beauty and vulgarity, profanity and God, amongst villainous company and angels alike. They persistently exist as ready made fictional characters and fecund sources for narrative exploitation. 

The catalyst for this new found interest was recently having the opportunity to view The Third Man projected on the big screen. Trailer for restored film follows.

Filmed in 1948 and released in 1949 this film has been canonized as a nes plus ultra of film noir for good reason. The narrative compels, there's scintillating cinematography allowing the film to show rather than tell,  the actors are radiant (especially Orson Welles), and the Anton Karas soundtrack creates a delightful and unique tone and atmosphere. The film is unthinkable without Karas and his Zither, as another character in the mix.  Prominent throughout this film are exterior shots of a war devastated Vienna. Shells of buildings, run-down damaged interiors, mounds of building rubble, and oddly vacant night time streets. The cinematic use of dutch angles and harsh lighting that produces extreme shadows cast upon the buildings of Vienna heightens the sense of the place.

 Dutch angle and streets as set.

Dutch angle and streets as set.

 Chase through rubble, leaning building shell in background.

Chase through rubble, leaning building shell in background.

 Shadows and urban backdrops.

Shadows and urban backdrops.

It's a rare opportunity to be able to witness a moving visual record of a post WWII European city while still in recovery mode from Allied bombing damage. This film allows a small glimpse of an urban post apocalyptic landscape providing stark witness to what happens when war becomes diplomacy by other means. Without the decrepit streets of Vienna as supporting actor this film would not be as significant, well considered, and remembered as it is. This viewing experience leaves a mark in the imagination. 

I'm intentionally not mentioning the sewer scenes as it is my understanding that most of those shots were not on location and were filmed on set in England. They are beautiful images but for me not specific enough to the urban space of Vienna.

Lastly I would be remiss if I didn't provide links to a few more youtube clips:

 

OPENING CREDITS and THE SOUND OF 1948 VIENNA

The long goodbye and farewell Vienna.