It’s a hard film to categorize: it combines aspects city symphony, silent comedy, melodrama, epic genres, and a sort of nascent proto-neorealism. The visuals are heavily influenced by the German Expressionism of the 1920s, but really blends everything into a style all his own…. As you watch, be sure to pay attention to the way the characters interact with the city and the crowd: the city of the 1920s is an extremely public place: notice the tension between private and public, between free will and conformity, between individual and “the crowd.” There are profound tensions — especially for an increasingly urban America after the closing of the frontier. Watching movies together in the great old movie houses like this — alone in the dark with our fellow city-dwellers — provided an important forum for us to navigate these tensions, in our own heads and in public, individually and as a crowd.
See the Brattle’s Film Notes to read my full introduction to the film.