he City represents the collaborative work of many people. Not directed by Pare Lorentz but by Willard Van Dyke and Ralph Steiner, it had as contributors Lewis Mumford, the narrator, and Aaron Copland, who wrote the score. Lorentz wrote the script. The American Institute of Planners for the 1939 World's Fair produced the film. The film was meant to raise questions about the quality of life in America's cities and to praise the type of communal living that could be found in the developing suburbs. According to the movie, the suburban life was much closer to the American ideal of small town New England life.

Van Dyke had been one of the cameramen on The River, and the lessons of that project are evident in The City. Thematically, he embraces the views that Lorentz was putting forth in both The River and The Plow That Broke the Plains. Only by returning to the old ways, albeit the modern version complete with cars and prefabricated housing, can America fix the problems that have resulted from industrialization and misuse of the natural environment. Combining striking visuals, the bucolic New England village, the filthy slums with children playing in the street, the congested highways, and the lovely, clean suburban garden community, with the music of Aaron Copland and the spare narration of Lewis Mumford, Van Dyke and Steiner follow the pattern created by Lorentz in his early works. Like Lorentz, they wanted to shoe the problem as powerfully as possible, so as to convince the audience of the need for a solution.

 

A segment of The City will play below. It was selected because it contains the essence of the film's message: man taking control of the machine and using it to build better communities, communities that allow him to come closer to the pastoral ideal. The segment was also chosen because it clearly reflects both the influence of Pare Lorentz' vision that the documentary film can both inform and persuade as well as his artistic combination of image, narration and music. In it's form it echoes The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River. The City combines stunning visuals with a Thomson-inspired score by Aaron Copland and a spare and powerful narrative.

This section of the film opens the third section of The City. It follows a paean to the simplicity of life in small New England communities and an indictment of life in the industrial city. Section three explores the potential of life in the new suburbs, made possible by technology. Special attention should be paid to the narration as well as to Copland's score. Several shots stand out, including the aerial views of the new infrastructure and the children at play. Please click on the film still below to start the RealVideo, and allow the film a few seconds to begin streaming.

 

The City

Complete version of
The City


Introduction | Pare Lorentz and the Films of Merit | The Plow that Broke the Plains | The River | The City | Works Consulted