Cry of the City [Boldizsár CR, UK, 2017]
Cry of the City shares its title with the partially remembered Robert Siodmak noir from 1948, a film in its design and making so fastidiously monochromatic that it would have probably looked black and white shot in colour. Boldizsár CR’s 2017 fashion film occupies instead a sort of infinite dusk, in which the sky snips aquamarine through scant fissures in the city’s architecture, and wan male figures flit head-down through strands of frayed neon illumination, haunting various indeterminate urban zones, bus stops and phone booths - skulking faces dissected by dripped graffiti on municipal perspex.
A kindred image emerges of youth failed by urban life. Class and community loom large in Siodmak’s film, whose winsome, ruthless antihero, Martin Rome (Richard Conte), steals and kills to escape the poor immigrant community in which he grew up. No community, nor company, in Cry of the City (2017). Boldizsár’s models - from the agency Premier, who commissioned the film - are always alone. Their struggle is not so much in their inability to escape the city, but in their essential estrangement from it.
In an exchange from the 1948 picture reappropriated as voiceover in Boldizsár’s film, Rome’s childhood-mucker-turned-pursuant Lt. Candella (Victor Mature) upbraids him for the rift his crimes will score through the old neighbourhood. Listening one perceives how antiquated the conversation sounds against images of Boldizsár’s cold and spectral city. Like inverse Martin Romes, Boldizsár’s heroes likely uprooted to come here, to this negative space of centralised capital, precarity and abstract labour. Gustave Flaubert wrote of the “unassailable logic” of “the word [Paris]” that beckoned his tragic romantic Emma Bovary to the city. His fellow modernist F. Scott Fitzgerald of “the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.” These ghostlike men seem assuredly post-modern in their apprehension of Fitzgerald’s lost future, yet still the city retains for them its dreadful logic and thrall.
In such context one cannot read beauty in solely apolitical terms. Casting agent Paul Rowland, credited with creative direction on the film, and whose work with Premier is the bedrock for the commission, speaks regularly of “intellectual” or “pure” beauty, largely distinguished from that uncritically bestowed by dint of trend or social media celebrity. Conte’s Rome is a heel, but his lighted dream-shot eyes and the cage-rattling urgency of his desire is radically beautiful. As Siodmak departs from the story’s facile veneration of community to eyeball the ways the city’s authoritarian mechanics underserve the vulnerable, persecuting those who helped Rome out of basic decency or need, it is hard not to see an ethical dimension in Rome’s physiological inability to know his place.
Today, upwardly-mobile jewel thieves are monochrome myths, and Rowland’s models face or feel none of Rome’s urgencies or dreams, because those are facets of a human experience systematically erased by the provisions and privations of global consumerism. Again, inverse to Rome, whose defiance is beautiful, their beauty is their defiance. Adrift in abstract lives, they embody it as a mode of truth, intellectually and purely.
‘Cry of the City’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.