Ubuweb is one of the best websites you’ll ever find. They collect audio, video and printed material from obscure and avant-garde artists and curate them for the rest of the world. So, when I was a teenager, discovering all sorts of new and interesting things, I’d have had to wait for an avant-garde movie night on Channel 4, or buy an expensive VHS tape or LP from some art-house shop, which would mean a train trip to the nearest town. Now, I can go to Ubuweb and enjoy thousands of hours of wonderful art for free, and you can too.
Jay Leyda was the only American invited to study with Sergei Eisenstein in Russia, and he got that invitation thanks to this wonderful film, which he funded by selling a wooden carving found in a junk shop to one of the Rockefeller family. It’s an avant-garde piece about…well, a morning in the Bronx. It’s fascinating purely for the images it captures – real Americans during the Depression, kids playing in the street with worn out shoes and clothes, mothers rocking their babies, shops desperately trying to sell their products for below cost price, quiet street scenes.
But it’s not just the reportage element of it that’s fascinating, it’s the rhythm and composition of some of the images. The beauty of a tenement street captured at just the right moment and in just the right way; the cutting from two pumpkins to the OO from a sign saying “Look”, the shaking of a sheet – it may not sound like much just written down, but the film is composed beautifully, a true “city symphony” as the description says.
I feel my limited ability to describe the finer points of cinema like this may well get in the way, so I’d just recommend watching it. A fascinating view of a lost era, made like a painting or a great piece of music.