|A race lost in a circular ride…Review of the film, Big city blues|
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.