JULY 2008  
A race lost in a circular ride…Review of the film, Big city blues
With the growth of technology and capital, the 20th century witnessed a perplexing redefinition of existence for the human race on earth, and in society. Human progress is, as a consequence, often measured out by craftily-created facades passed on as ‘objective reality’. So, if life be measured out with coffee spoons, civilizations are measured out with skyscrapers in the cities, and success measured out with the ability to have a people believe in an idea howsoever retrograde it may be! For, at the end of the day, what matters are again technology and capital, and the success of both. So, while a Rome is being built every here and there ever since, our big, beautiful cities have no space to accommodate human predicament and endeavour. Innocence is buried behind the towering walls; truth is blurred in their dark shadows.

Big City Blues – a 20-minute short film made by Charles van der Linden way back in 1962 – is a forceful indictment of this very idea that strives to weigh the worth of civilizations by humongous structures and concrete chaos. Shot in and around a huge, half-constructed building, the film questions the lack of space for justice in society, despite the spatial prominence: a thirteen-year-old exploiting a nine-year-old, a twenty-year-old exploiting a thirteen-year-old, White exploiting the Black, the powerful exploiting the powerless!

The film begins with the camera shifting focus between the myriad shapes and structures of a half-done building with the noise of a city in the background. A little boy is playing with a lovely rabbit at the foot of the building; a girl (little older than him) jumps in to join him. After a while, the girl suddenly picks up the rabbit and runs away; the boy chases her; the girl runs into the building; the boy, still chasing, is called out by his mother from the building gate… Inside, the rabbit has got out of the girl’s hold and seems to be lost in the unfamiliar space. The girl, in a careful pursuit, tries to sight the rabbit… unsafe unfinished corners, sudden drops, dangerously hanging beams, confusing passages (a city in the making, a civilization being fabricated), the enormous city in the background in a flash: impending danger!

She hears a groan followed by a yawn; looks down at the lower floor from an unprotected drop: two drunken youth. One is a Black with a bottle and a trumpet, seems to have fallen asleep. The other, a White, with a bottle seems to be just waking up. Meanwhile, the girl has picked up the rabbit and looks at the youth, amused by their drunkenness. The White youth sights her, his expression suggestive; he throws the bottle at her; she suddenly senses a colossal danger. Chase begins; up and up the floors, unsafe stairs, cross corridors, beams hanging loose on the way—as though drawing a complex map upon which the city will be founded! The girl gets caught, but escapes, runs up to the top floor down the edge of a sharp drop. Now, the youth and the girl are face to face, as though in a ring waiting for the whistle; in the backdrop is the entire cityscape—an utterly noisy audience but without eyes, without ears, without voice, without memory.!

As the youth is about to catch hold of the girl, she, in an attempt to break free, steps on a beam over the lift shaft—the beam creaks, a scream follows, another beam crashes. The noise gets the Black youth out of his drunken stupor. He finds his friend missing, follows the scream only to see a dead girl up there splayed on cross beams.

Big City Blues rips apart the facade under which the modern society shelters itself, and offers it a fresh perspective for introspection in order to alter a destructive worldview about progress and human existence! A timeless piece of art!