The Construct of Screen City take’s over New York
Describing the spatial ambiguity between the screen city and the real city…
There have been many complex relationships between architecture-film-city along the history; the one I found more intriguing is in the side of the production of them and the technologies of the storytelling. How one feeds the other, and how much they need each other. How to build a screen city? There are many different method of reinventing a city, from using real locations of the city itself and transforming them to suit the atmosphere of the story, to simulate part of the selected cities in a soundstage in a smaller scale to be able to work in a completely controlled environment, to even start using free backlots of the city to recreate parts of the story.
One of the most common questions on the subject is how and on what grounds architecture should meet film? And the answer to the questions must be the city itself. But are architecture and film simply the representational servants of a prior reality of city? And further, as the novel was said to eclipse architecture as the primary vehicle of civic representation in the early 19th century, does film now doubly leave architecture in the shadows, perhaps as no more than a scenic backdrop for the actions by which film captures the city in flux? Or is it more likely that far from a prior reality the city itself is a construct of the parallel projected hard and soft fictions of architecture and film? What will happen if the creation of the fiction takes over the real city? Will both worlds show an urban integration?
New York has certainly been the city that has most inspired film-makers, from King Vidor to Luc Besson, including Alfred Hitchcock, John Schlesinger, Sidney Lumet and Spike Lee. But This common fate binding the city and the cinema cannot find a better embodiment than in the works of Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, they come out as the auteurs of a real New York work.
The production of film binds the real architecture of the city, with the fictional idea of the modern city that the filmmaker has. With cinema we step back in time and space to visit our favorite cities, London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Rome… We know their situations, their personalities their eccentricities, even their pathologies so well, and yet, even when we come to visit one or other of them, we may never venture beyond the envelope of our fictive experience. Even the movies that are about our home city depict a strange place not of our actuality.
I imagine the City of New York becoming a huge set able to define all the possible histories and geographies collapsing past, present and future, a vast scale no ‘real city’ which flexibility will permit to shoot any kind of story. By setting up the stages, the construct in service of the fiction is gradually re-appropriating the real world. The images of the sets, will act as a mirror for architects to see how we can see buildings and cities reinvented on the screen.
New York is conceived as the biggest soundstage ever built, in New York, the Mayor’s Office of Film bids against rival cities and studio lots to bring location work to its streets. (Propaganda) There is a certain degree of nostalgia and idealization of the metropolis by itself, and is one of the unique place where a magic melting-pot in which life mixes with the supernatural world of fiction comes together as an homage to this relationship between film-architecture-city. However the contrasting styles from both worlds will question it’s own urban integration, as we know from reading Moby Dick: ‘true ‘ places never are … in any map’. The limitations of the sound stage will be the water, the island itself; another city limit is the all too celebrated Manhattan skyline, where the rooftops will be urban equivalents to hills…
In 1964, for Playtime, Jacques Tati built with the help of his architect/art-director, Eugene Roman, an extraordinary setting which, in Tati’s own words, was the ‘real star of the film’.
It was gigantic, and became known as ‘Tativille’, possibly after Godard’s Alphaville (1965) But, of course, it wasn’t just any city; it was the city Jacques Tati needed to continue to explore his idea of the modern city, and, in order to get the shot that he required, the office blocks were in fact on wheels and tracks and could be moved at will. No ‘real city’ could have given him that flexibility. It was a gigantic enterprise.
In the case of Playtime, he offers the vision of individuals gradually reappropriating for themselves bland and uniform spaces -the little old lady at the street comer, or the scene in the drugstore, which he felt ultimately one could not mistake for a drugstore anywhere in the world other than France.
Finally, I would say that Tati as a chronicler, a critic of modern architecture and a humorous observer of his time offered us a good example of an architectural vision reinterpreted through the eyes of a film-maker, in which the film acts as a mirror for architects who can see buildings and cities reinvented on the screen.