Walt Whitman’s poetry frames scenes from 1920s New York in this film classic
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong,
light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies …
Billed as ‘a study of the modern Babylon-on-the-Hudson’, the short film Manhatta (1921) captures the rapidly developing cityscape of New York in the early 1920s. Made in collaboration between the US photographer Paul Strand (1890-1976) and the US painter Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), the piece is widely regarded as the first American avant-garde film, as well as the first of the non-narrative urban documentaries known as ‘city symphones’. The influential work traces the rich contours of a modern metropolis via a series of dramatic vignettes, as guided by Walt Whitman’s poem ‘Mannahatta’ from his collection Leaves of Grass (1855-1892). This version of Manhatta features a 2k digital restoration of the original 35mm film print, as well as a new score from the Illinois-based composer William Pearson commissioned by Aeon, with movements inspired by the film’s symphonic structure.
Directors: Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler
Composer: William Pearson
Cellist: Genevieve Miedema
Percussion: Abigail Foehrkolb