Short Film Profile
Copyright © 2011 Catherine Stratton

A City Symphony Underground

The New York City Subway is over 100 years old but it continues to do what it has always done; take people where they want to go. Yet, the ride is always an adventure and unexpected happenings are the norm.

Film notes

I'm fascinated by films that depict everyday life, such as the films shot long ago by the Lumière Brothers in 1890s France. The Lumières called their 30-second snippets of French life "actualities” and, today, they provide enthralling and haunting moving images of lives once lived in places much changed since.

Forty years later, in the 1920s, shooting life "as it is" became the hallmark of a new documentary film genre called the “City Symphony.” These "day in the life" films took scenes of people going about their lives and assembled these into poetic interpretations of the changing moods and rhythms of a city.

My film attempts to do the same with the scenes I shot under a city.

Production Notes
This film was shot with an HD JVC 110 and Panasonic HMC150. Ancillary equipment - lights, tripods, etc - are forbidden in the Subway so the camera alone had to "do the job." The aperture was kept wide to get a more filmic look and audio was recorded with an on-camera shot gun. Light in the subway is varied and often of mixed temperatures. Many stations have patches of outdoor light streaming through sidewalk grates onto the tracks, reminders that these first stations were infused with light coming in from glass tile skylights built into the sidewalks above.

Movement is in all the shots to simulate both the ride taken and the constant drive of change and motion through time. All shots were created "in camera." No special effects are used. The strobe-like effect was the result of shooting through bulletproof glass in the front cab door.

Archival footage of a subway train, shot in 1905, is used to place the film within an historical context and to remind the audience of the passing of time.

Original music is used as a leitmotif and ambient sound is designed to impart "impressions" made along the journey. Here I was influenced by the music of Charles Ives. The drummer reappears as a metaphor for the non-stop beating of the Subway's heart.
subway transportation historical tonepoem artfilm train citysymphony


Camera Assistant


Copyright © 2011 Catherine Stratton

Awards and nominations

Best Experimental Film
6 Apr – 11 Apr | United States
Director's Choice
6 Feb – 31 Mar | United States

Previous screenings

5 Jan | New York, United States
6 Feb – 31 Mar | Jersey City, United States
Director's Choice
18 Mar – 19 Mar | New York, United States
6 Apr – 11 Apr | Providence, United States
Best Experimental Film
National Gallery of Art | 2011
23 Apr | Washington, United States
22 May – 17 Jul | Sacramento and Los Angeles, United States
27 May – 30 May | Harrisburg, United States
Norrkoping Film Festival Flimmer | 2011
30 Sep – 9 Oct | Norrköping, Sweden
Big Vision Empty Wallet | 2011
7 Dec | New York City, United States

Film details

Related news

A City Symphony Underground has received a new award at SENE Film, Music and Arts Festival. | more...
4 May 2011
Information on this profile is provided by the film owners and/or compiled from available sources | Profile updated 29 Aug 2011