To mark the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the BFI will in November 2009 present Of Dreams and Cities – Architecture and Film at BFI Southbank and in the BFI Mediatheques at BFI Southbank, QUAD in Derby and the new Cambridge Central Library.
Architects and architecture have featured in a variety of ways in the cinema, and Of Dreams and Cities – Architecture and Film offers a wide range of films, from expressionist silent drama to contemporary documentary, from vintage Hollywood studio fare to European auteur classics and highly personal ‘essay films’.
No film season about architecture should omit The Fountainhead (1948), perhaps the most famous depiction of an architect – one whose Le Corbusier-like vision is of a future where skyscrapers rule. Other classics with an important if often overlooked architectural component include Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), with its evocation of the modern metropolis; Paul Strand’s poetic Manhattan (1921); and Jacques Tati’s comic fable Playtime (1967). Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles’s dark masterpiece, is rightly famous for its many impressive sets, not least Xanadu, the lavish palace of Charles Foster Kane. Citizen Kane will be re-released on an extended run to coincide with the season.
We also feature film as architectural document in lesser known but fascinating works like Proud City: A Plan for London (1946), Twelve Views of Kensal House (1984) or A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba (2006). Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City (2008), meanwhile, includes a passionate commentary on the consequences of urban planning. Perhaps no other medium is as adept at capturing the essence of a building, rendered all the more poignant when the original has disappeared or been altered beyond recognition.
A special selection of rare British films and TV documentaries from the BFI National Archive is available to view free of charge in the Mediatheques, including László Moholy-Nagy’s New Architecture at the London Zoo, and The Ten Year Plan, in which Carry On’s Charles Hawtrey gamely promotes the post-war prefab.