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City Speaks

Sweeping vision of Manchester as an urban utopia in the making, by one of Britain's greatest documentary filmmakers.

Documentary 1947 66 mins Silent


Urban utopia beckons in this idealistic vision of postwar Manchester - fascinating to revisit as Northern Powerhouses and city devolution return to the agenda. Sponsored by the city council, it's very ambitious for a local government film. Under the soaring, sweeping direction of Paul Rotha, it takes in themes of industry, energy, leisure and housing, present, past and future.

Paul Rotha was an important and individualistic figure within Britain's famous documentary film movement, and A City Speaks was one of the last major films he produced and directed before his career hit the rocks. Many of Rotha's stylistic signatures and political concerns are here but the mood is uncharacteristically leisurely and optimistic. The result, though overlong, is a very absorbing watch. Mancunians may be particularly interested in the housing sequence, comparing Hulme with Wythenshawe. Other viewers will most enjoy the purely visual passages of the film, alternated with more prosaic explanatory ones. Rotha's setting of images to music (culminating in a giddying Wagnerian montage) expresses his belief in throbbing, pulsing, sinewy cities with every reason, so it seemed, to face the future head-on, in harmony and with confidence.