Friday, June 27, 2014

A Bronx Morning (1931)

Jay Leyda made this film in the “city symphony” tradition that was so popular in late 1920s. Feature-length examples include Walter Ruttman’s BERLIN: SYMPHONY OF A CITY (1927) and Dziga Vertov’s MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (1929). The film is a strong example of montage editing within the framework of the American avant garde tradition, and in fact it was on the strength of his work here that Leyda was invited to study under Eisenstein.

Similar to Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand's earlier MANHATTA, Leyda's film encapsulates the themes of modernity that were being dealt with in many avant garde and Modernist works at this time. But whereas MANHATTA focuses on large, imposing urban spaces and the concept of alienation and impersonalization, A BRONX MORNING focuses on people, and emphasizes the sense of community among the Bronx residents whose morning routine Leyda captures on film. Leyda also forgoes the prosaic intertitles of MANHATTA, which brings us closer to its subject and takes a participatory approach as opposed to Sheeler and Strand’s observational one.

More than anything else, with its masterful command of film form to create its effects, A BRONX MORNING stands as an artifact of a time when the split between film theory and production was not as pronounced or polemical as it is today.

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