Dark City

dark-city

Dark City
1998, 100 minutes
directed by Alex Proyas

Well, this is the last film of the semester’s film series. And what a dark one it is. It even has “dark” in the title. It’s kind of sad, not to mention sort of incongruous, to end the series with a dystopia like this on a sunny, beautiful day like today. This feels more like a Will Ferrell movie sort of day. Actually, this feels like a go out and sit on the grass with a lady-friend sort of day. But nevertheless, the show must go on.

Many of you have commented to me before that these film notes bear, at best, a tangential relation to the films being screened. At worst, some of you have said they bear no relation to the films at all. Some of you have even recoiled in horror when you found out that I hadn’t even watched the movie before I wrote the film notes. As in, how could you write about a movie when you hadn’t even seen it?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say why: architecture is about built expression. To that extent, it is fixed in a non-abstract materiality. However, the effects, inspiration, and performance of architecture often exceeds the banality of the mere structured materiality. It may be argued, that in architecture, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This film series, which is about the intersection, interference, and/or engagement between film and architecture, thus must be explicit about the what, exactly, is the nature of the connection between the film being screened and our engagement with the built environment.

Here’s my bias: I’m less interested in what the film looks like than in what assumptions and ideas the filmmaker brought to bear in the film. Film has been able to express ideas through a conflation of moving images and aural experience. The relationship, ergo, is one of an irreducible combination of sight, sound, and time. The design of the set within a film offers no more insight into this relationship than the sketches or photos of the set design. Plot, also, is a mere triviality. You can read a breakdown of the plot of a film in any review you care to look up online, and it won’t necessarily have anything to do with architecture. In fact, I can’t think of a single movie in which the unfolding plot of a film bears any interesting insight into the nature of our creative profession.

In Dark City, which I have seen before, thankyouverymuch, the most striking idea is the way it treats urbanism and memory. In the city in which the movie takes place, certain characters have the ability to alter memories. From this ability to alter memories directly follows the ability to change cities. Buildings are erected and taken down instantaneously in this film. Without memory there is no time, and without time there can be no cities.

When I was an undergrad, majoring in painting, one of my friends at another university told me of her interest in landscape architecture. A professor had told her recently that landscape architecture was the most potent of all the arts because it involved all four dimensions: three dimensional space plus time (the seasons and plant growth). I scoffed at her and told her it was the reverse: the reason why landscape architects are often confused with landscapers, the people who blow leaves and trim hedges, is because of that dimensional promiscuity. Painting was the most pure because it only involved two dimensions, sculpture was compromised because it dealt with three, architecture was beholden to three dimensions plus the vagaries of sociology (I was apparently kind of Clement Greenberg-ian), and landscape architects were for “Anglo-Saxon sissies,” as Adrian Geuze put it last night. The same reasoning has been used to explain why TV, which is multimedia in the sense that it uses sight, sound, and text, has always been marginalized as an art form, unlike the relatively vaunted art form of cinema.

dichiricostreet

Of course, now landscape architecture is, like, the most cool thing in all of the whole planet, and the relation of time to the city is of utmost importance. How do you design for time? Did Aldo Rossi accomplish it? Did Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Field Operations accomplish it? Does Bob Stern do it? Does DiChirico paint it? What does design sensitive to time look like? Enjoy the last film of the semester.

(originally written April 24, 2007)

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One Response to “Dark City”

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