Cities in Cinema

In class last week we discussed how films can affect peoples impressions of urban environments. Films can be especially influential when they depict a city the viewer has never visited by providing them with their first impression of the place. For a person from a rural area urban depictions in film can make them glad they live in a quieter and safer area, or make them desire the excitement and unpredictability of urban life. People living in urban areas may share experiences with the urban lifestyle shown in films or disagree with it. Either way when a film is set in an urban environment, it’s leaving the viewer with an impression of that city. This got me thinking about movies I’ve seen that showed urban life in a particular city.

Some examples I came up with showed life in the past such as the depiction of New York in the 1860’s in Gangs of New York.  The city is still relatively undeveloped and uncontrolled but modern New York is taking form. Other movies like Gladiator and Troy showed urban life in ancient times. Movies like Taxi Driver and the Godfather series give you a look into New York throughout the 1900’s. This Link leads to the first of a series that depicts how New York was depicted in the 1970’s compared to how the city is today.  Sherlock Holmes depicts life in London in the 1800’s. All of these films leave the viewer with a look into how urban life has changed and remained the same throughout various time periods.

Many recent films have also dealt with urban life in the present. One of the better examples I thought of is Crash. Crash shows life in Los Angeles from many points of view that gives the viewer a full spectrum of different experiences living in the city. This Link leads to a discussion on whether Crash gives a true depiction of life in Los Angeles and how residents felt about it’s depiction of race relations in the city. Movies like Training Day and the Friday series also depict life in Los Angeles and may make people think LA is a dangerous place. Wall Street shows the more upper class urban lifestyle but still may make city life seem intimidating. The Town is another example of present day urban life with it’s depiction of life in Boston. Overall, many movies set in cities show the darker side because it’s more interesting but they don’t show the whole story of urban life.

Films can also depict what possibilities lay ahead in movies that depict city life in the future. Some movies depict a dark future where cities are destroyed, war torn, or abandoned. Examples of this include Escape from New York, Children of Men, Mad Max, and I Am Legend. Other movies show an advanced future where technology has completely changed urban life. I Robot, Demolition Man, Minority Report, Blade Runner and A.I. all show how technological advancements could change city life. This Link discusses how Children of Men and Blade Runner depict urban life in the future.There is no question that city life will continue to evolve. As technology improves, it will be further integrated into the urban landscape which could result in cities like those depicted in Sci-Fi Films.

Overall I never really considered how films can leave an impression of the places depicted in them, especially places I had never been. My experiences with places like LA, Chicago, London, and many other cities are limited to what I’ve seen in movies which means my impression of these places is probably skewed. It’s important to remember that when watching a movie that’s depicting an urban environment that it’s not showing the whole story of the city and how urban life really is for everyone.



Week 1 — Brief History of Cities

As part of the discussion in class on the development of early cities, the issue of class and social hierarchy was addressed and although in modern society it is thought that these lines between classes have been more or less blurred, there are still some vague remnants. The linked article examines American society and the remaining characteristics of what was thought to be an almost extinct idea; social hierarchy.

With the advances in technology that have shaped modern society as we see it today, the availability of goods, education and an opportunity to further oneself is so widespread it makes distinguishing Americans of different class somewhat difficult, or at least this is what most would like to believe. Though there are still the rich and the poor in society, supposedly what matters and makes American society unique is the belief that one has the freedom to move up or down in the social hierarchy– an idea that defeats the validity of class barriers. In contrast with this idealistic take , the article argues that mobility up and down the American hierarchal ladder has slowed or possibly even declined in recent years. One’s success in his or her education is closely linked to their respective position in the hierarchy, and those fortunate enough to be at the top gain momentum up the ladder as they gain access to better healthcare and lifestyles, thereby widening the gap between the rich and the poor even more. Though from a moral standpoint it is disheartening to see a bolding of the lines between different classes in society, it does bring for the question of how essential a social hierarchy is to the development of urban centers and what may come of the possible development in the future.