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by Various Authors

grade: 8

In A Day in Vienna, editing plays a key role. A highly experimental editing, which through associations of images conveys a very precise message. What does this remind us of?


Vienna. Always a crossroads of different cultures. A living, pulsating city, glorious capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And yet, at the same time, a city that suffered greatly during the war. Immediately after the end of World War I, there was a great desire to restart and, at the same time, there was a need to convey to the nation and the world the image of a city in which, after the end of the war and the empire, prosperity reigned and life started again (almost) as if nothing had happened. Particularly interesting in this respect is the documentary A Day in Vienna, made precisely in 1919 and produced by Selenophon Talking Ltd, in which we see what happens during one day in the elegant Austrian capital.

Numerous people are about to board a tram. A pan shot shows us the city from above. The camera lingers on the details, statues and high reliefs of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Children play on the lawn, while a group of visitors look curiously at the animals in the Schönbrunn Zoo. And again, models try on dresses and hats in a clothing shop, while coquettishly looking at the camera. Numerous tourists are about to visit the Hofburg, where the emperor once lived.

All this happens in Vienna, on an ordinary day in 1919. The city is more alive than ever. Prosperity is now part of everyday life. This, at least, is what we are shown in A Day in Vienna. And in showing the whole world how the city was recovering after the end of the war, the directorial approach adopted is particularly interesting. Yes, because, in fact, editing plays a fundamental role in A Day in Vienna. A highly experimental editing, which through associations of images conveys a very precise message. What does this remind us of?

It is impossible not to think of Russian propaganda cinema, which in those very years was experimenting with new film languages and new ways of telling reality. Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera would only be made ten years later, but in the meantime Lev Vladimirovič Kulešov was demonstrating how an image can change meaning depending on the image that precedes or follows it. And if we think back to another great classic in film history – Battleship Potemkin, made by Sergei Mihajlovič Eisenstein in 1925 – we are immediately reminded of the three stone lions, symbol of the revolt.

In A Day in Vienna there are not three lions, but three statues of horses. And such shots recur frequently throughout the documentary. A documentary that proves to be extraordinarily far-sighted and in step with the times and that in some ways anticipates certain milestones in film history itself. A documentary that cleverly lets the images speak for themselves and that needs nothing else to convey its message. Not even redundant captions. Images of a bygone time and a (seemingly) happy city.

Original title: A Day in Vienna
Directed by: Various Authors
Country/year: Austria / 1919
Running time: 9’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Various Authors
Cinematography: Various Authors
Produced by: Selenophon Talking Ltd

Info: the website of the Filmarchiv Austria