I watched City of Cranes four times. The aspect of the short documentary that stood out the most to me was the suspension of time. It feels as though the earth stands still for the sole purpose of portraying the universe of the crane drivers. Although many drivers were interviewed, it was as if they were all one voice and character. There are no other voices except for the interviewees in this film. There are no external voice overs and the filmmakers’ physical presence is not seen or heard. This serves to allow the viewer into a secret world with no interruptions.
I started to view the drivers as an elite group, but not in a negative way. I revered them for their patience and ascetic qualities. Their knowingness and reflections on humanity were very engaging, but sweetly simple. The isolation and contemplation revealed was almost religious in nature. City of Cranes evokes more of a feeling than it tells a narrative. The piece is not character driven at all in the sense that there is no single recognizable person around whom the film is centered. We do not ever see the crane drivers explicitly, nor do we know which of them is actually speaking. The viewer may see a face partially obscured by shadow or glare, the back of a head, or a climbing body, but will never be able to identify anyone by name. The collective voice of the crane drivers coupled with the images of the cranes contributes to a bubble-like atmosphere. The viewer gets a sense of what it is like to be contently secluded in a glass box in the sky.
The images shown within the context of the chapter titles and interviews personify the cranes as human – or at the very least living, feeling creatures. The editing is very steadily paced and eloquent when showcasing the cranes as objects of ballet and art. More close-up shots of the cranes and their individual parts start to be presented which turn the images into truthful objects but also beautiful in the same way some abstract paintings might be thought to be. There is a balance very similar to dance happening at the moment a crane driver is discussing how multiple cranes working together is similar to a ballet. Colors are vibrant and the large machines somehow come across as delicate as young ballerinas. The viewer begins to look at the humans as part of the machine in a symbiotic relationship. This is not to the detriment of the drivers; they are proud of their work and feel personally attached to their cranes. As a culture we do not normally think of construction workers as “deep,” and this work tears down that stereotype.
The music at the beginning and end of the documentary matches the content: it is a mechanical yet melodic humming with light piano. It’s ethereal and fitting to the reflective sentiments described. The filmmaker could have chosen harsher sounds or music since cranes do appear on loud construction sites, but instead she shows us a different part of existence. The shots of the cranes are framed like photographs and the music is accompanied by the natural sound of “the city above.” Quick cuts reveal many different landscapes with cranes and the unifying visual pieces are birds and airplanes that coast through the frames. This adds cohesiveness to the images. The natural sound of the machinery adds an authenticity and extra layer of “truth” to what could be a mundane story about a seemingly simple blue collar occupation.