Cinema and Modernity

While “modernity” has often been broadly defined as referring to the “new modes and orders” (Machiavelli) of politics, society, philosophy, science, and culture that first emerged in Western Europe in the early 16th century, the renamed working group will focus its attention on a relatively recent phase of modernity from the late 19th-century to the present.  Significantly, this period corresponds to the emergence of a new medium that arguably has become the most important art form of the last 120 years:  cinema.  In the coming year, the Group proposes to organize eight monthly meetings and two or three related public events around a new focused topic:  “Screening Modernity: From Silent to Sound Cinema.”  This theme will allow the Working Group to focus its critical attentions on “late” silent films of the 1920s and early sound films of the 30s (with a few exceptions that are noted below) all produced in one of six modern cities: Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Hollywood, London, and Tokyo. Each monthly session (at which a catered meal will be served and which will run for approximately two and one-half hours), will focus on a single film.  While the Group has yet to arrive at final and complete list of films to be discussed (availability and accessibility of some of silent films can sometimes be a tricky and contingent matter), the most likely foci of our discussions are the following films (of which we’d chose 7 or 8): Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) or M (1931), F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) or City Girl (1930), P. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (aka Lulu, 1929), Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin Symphony of a City (1927), Luis Buñuel’s L’Age d’Or (1930), Jean Cocteau’s Blood of the Poet (1932), Marcel Herbier’s  L’Inhumaine (1924), Carl Dreyer’ The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) or Vampyr (1932), Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike (1925) or October  (1928), Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929),  Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita (1924), D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), Charles Chaplin’s Limelight (1952), Ted Wilde/Harold Lloyd’s Speedy, Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1927), and Yasujiro Ozu’s A Story of Floating Weeds (1934).