Book review: Architectures of Revolt: The Cinematic City Circa 1968

reviewed by Alexandros Daniilidis

8 Sep 2022, 12:11 p.m.
Alexandros Daniilidis

Mark Shiel (ed.) Architectures of Revolt: The Cinematic City Circa 1968, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2018; 262 pp.: ISBN: 978-1-4399-1004-7, $36.95 (pbk); ISBN: 978-1-4399-1003-0, $99.50 (hbk)


Architectures of Revolt is a ground-breaking account that explores and records the dynamics between filmmaking, architecture (as material manifestation of power and control) and the design/production of (urban) space in and around May 1968. By employing filmic case studies from Europe and beyond, the editor and the corresponding contributors succeed in reframing landscapes of contemporary metropolises as stages of critique, resistance and revolt against the conservative (re)structuring of society and the establishment of a dystopian societal order.

The aim of this book is to provide the reader with a perspective that showcases the dynamics between political activism and its cinematic representation in urban space. Cinematic expression and urban architecture are employed as the means and stage of actualisation of this perspective, respectively. Each chapter commences with an informative outline of the socio-political conditions and circumstances of the time that fostered the sentiment and the level of people’s political engagement, thus giving shape to the ‘stage’ upon which the films were directed.

In the first chapter, Jennifer Stob transfers the reader to Paris, the epicentre of the European movement of resistance in 1968. The author introduces cinétracts, a total of 42 short, 16 mm political films that aimed to ‘convey and prolong the extraordinary sense of time and togetherness across reclaimed city space that characterised the May unrest’ (p. 38). The raw material used in cinétracts is a synthesis of photographic material, originating from independent photographers and journalists, thus underlining the influence of Situationist International’s practice of détournement. An additional aim of cinétracts was to critique and ‘transform the conventional apparatus of cinema’ (p. 44) and, through this, to redefine its role as a vehicle of social change.

In Chapter 2, Gaetana Marrone situates the focus in Milan, a city that like no other ‘symbolised better the wealth and power of Italian neo-capitalism’ (p. 67). By the mid-1960s, the city was rendered the epicentre of industrial and economic activity, a fact that was also reflected in Milan’s architectural development. While Milan was now gaining ground over Rome in cinematic production, most of the public remained unaware of the tough conditions of the urban working class. The author utilises Pasolini’s Teorema (1968) and Cavani’s I cannibali (1969) as carriers of a message for social change, highlighting the oppressive backdrop of architecture and urban space (particularly in I cannibali) and emphasising, in terms of cinematic expression, the cultural, social and spatial division of the city.

Andrew Webber, in the third chapter, puts more emphasis on the formative role of cinematic production towards the development of a radical cultural scene in the divided city of Berlin in 1968 rather than the architectural factor and its meeting point with cinematic expression. His approach is supported using films like Making of a Molotov Cocktail by Holger Meins1 (1968) and Inextinguishable Fire by Harun Farocki (1969). Webber highlights the vigorous and subversive character of students’ demonstrations of the time, supported by the films that indicate radical trajectories and methods of resistance.

Chapter 4 moves its attention to the other side of the Atlantic. By employing the ‘cinematic “Guernica” ’ (p. 117) of Medium Cool (1969) by Haskell Wexler, Jon Lewis situates the reader in a politically tense Chicago, highly influenced by the ongoing Vietnam war and the upcoming Democratic National Convention of 1968. In his docudrama, Wexler establishes shots of the city’s built environment, succeeding in this way to capture realistic shots of demonstrations, thus rendering the streets of Chicago the primer narrative. Furthermore, Medium Cool is a representative case of 1960s American neorealism that would use ‘real locations, a mix of professional and nonprofessional actors, a focus on poverty and the real lives of real Chicagoans’ (p. 119).

In Chapter 5, Stanley Corkin employs three films as tools to explore and showcase the dynamics between the built environment, the politics of culture and radical student movements of the time in New York. The films featuring here are Columbia Revolt (1968) by Leftist Newsreel collective, Greetings (1968) by Brian De Palma and Midnight Cowboy (1969) by John Schlesinger. While being of varied origin and mode of production, all three films are representative selections that portray the city as the pathological, oppressive and restless urban organism ‘in the midst of social and physical change’ (p. 142). While Greetings and Midnight Cowboy communicate issues of sexuality, anti-war protest and urban decadence, Columbia Revolt resonates the radicalism of May 1968 through the cinematic depiction of the university’s uprising of 1968.

Chapter 6 explores cinematic depictions of social struggles in late-1960s Los Angeles, the cradle of Western capitalism and ‘the capital of the world’ (Lyotard, 1979). In his essay, Mark Shiel2 commences by introducing the socio-economic conditions of the post-World War II era that, by the end of the 1960s, rendered Los Angeles a global city as well as a land of consumption, automobiles and Hollywood production. Shiel’s selected movies include Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1969), Dreifuss’ Riot on Sunset Strip (1967) and Demy’s Model Shop (1968) that highlights the Beatnik factor. The selected films build upon the city’s social unrest of the time, while all are linked by three anti-authoritarian narratives: the New Left, Black Power and hippie counterculture. This chapter is a good textual supplement to Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003).

In Chapter 7, Jesse Lerner delivers insights into Mexico’s social turmoil on the eve of the 1968 Olympic Games which are approached by critical scholarship as a series of gentrifying efforts, thus rendering Mexico City (or Distrito Federal, DF) ‘a modern and prosperous metropolis’ (p. 189). The high rates of urbanisation that followed the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) led to an urban sprawl that, by the end of the 1960s, had transformed DF into a ‘macrocephalic capital’ (p. 191) that would intensify social divisions, and these divisions were further empowered by envisions of the modernistic metropolis. Three sites are employed in this chapter as the stages for critical films of the time: the impoverished district of Tlatelolco, the campus of UNAM3 with the students’ October uprising and the incarceration centre of Palacio de Lecumberri. The combination of these factors led to the development of an important radical cinematic expression that was communicated through groups like the Superochero (the ‘super-eighters’ due to the use of Super 8 cameras) as well as other critical cinematic groups that were referred to as ‘the children of 1968’ (Grupo Cine OctubreCooperativa Cine Marginal and Grupo Nuevo Cine).

In the final chapter, Stephen Barber examines cinematic depictions of Tokyo in the late 1960s with a particular focus on the countercultural character of the Shinjuku District. Apart from the discontent towards an accelerated architectural development and urban sprawl by the end of the decade (a consequence of Tokyo’s heavy bombing by the US Air Force in 1945), urban filmmaking of the time underlines aspects of environmental awareness and urban expansion of a city that was ‘in a process of irreparable disintegration’ (p. 220). Furthermore, the films of this chapter (Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses and Oshima’s Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, both of 1969) act as an oppositional voice against the presence of US military that was perceived as ‘subjugating the country to the military and cultural power of the United States’ (p. 216). Direction techniques are also introduced that would emphasise the ‘street’ character of these films. The chapter is further enhanced by an interpolating section that showcases the perspectives of directors Chris Marker and Andrei Tarkovsky about Tokyo.

What makes this book particularly interesting is not solely the fact that the addressed filmic case studies are mediators of subversive ideological frameworks and resistance, but also the implementation of the idea that the ‘medium is the message’ since the book’s contextual approach also highlights the revolutionary cinematic practices introduced by the filmmakers. The editor’s ingenuity proves to be of a catalytic role since he succeeds in collecting a series of essays that are in continuous ‘conversation’ with each other and, thus, to deliver a varied and highly informative account of the dynamics between urbanism, socio-political events and cinematic art form. This book should be of interest to anyone engaged in the fields of cinematic studies, art, social and political history, urban planning and architecture, sociology and cultural geography.



1.Student filmmaker during 1967–1968 and a subsequent member of the Red Army Faction, a notorious leftist urban guerrilla group.

2.Professor of Film, Media, and Urban Studies, King’s College London. Author of Hollywood Cinema and the Real Los Angeles (Reaktion Books, London, distributed by University of Chicago Press, 2012) and Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City (Wallflower Press, London/Columbia University Press, New York, 2006). Editor of Screening the City (with Tony Fitzmaurice; Verso, London and New York, 2003) and Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context (with Tony Fitzmaurice; Blackwell Publishing, Oxford and New Malden, MA, 2001).

3.Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico).



Lyotard J-F (1979) Passages from ‘le Mur du Pacifique’. Trans. Brochet, P, Royle, N, Woodward, K. SubStance 11(4): 37–38.


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