Paul Strand 1890-1976
Manhatta (1921)
Directed by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler. Like the Portapak in the sixties, the movie camera was still a novelty in 1920 when Charles Sheeler and photographer Paul Strand teamed up to film Manhatta. Sheeler bought a French-made Debrie, a combination 35mm still and movie camera, just after its release in 1918. It was lightweight and easy to use, primarily for shooting newsreels on location. Manhatta, one of the first avant-garde films made in the United States, was a portrait in time of what Walt Whitman called "the city of the world," a cinematic prose poem exalting the energetic and modern pulse of New York City. Sheeler and Strand constructed a rhythmic series of images, interspersed with verse excerpted from Whitman, fashioning an expression of the city over the course of a day. Their urban portrait begins at dawn as scores of people arrive to a day of work. "City of tall facades of marble and iron . . . When million-footed Manhattan unpent descends to its pavements." In shots from high perches around lower Manhattan, we see people hustle about, smokestacks billow, machines giving rise to new construction. And at the end of the day, man and machine slow to rest as dusk descends upon the city.