During this crisis, you might already have received many suggestions on how to spend your time at home. The Port City Futures Team thought to make a small contribution as well by recommending our favorite cultural expressions concerning port cities. Being transported to those special places where the land meets the sea might be a welcome, yet educational, distraction. So stay safe, stay inside, and we hope you will enjoy our suggestions during this difficult time. We are also curious about yours: share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Documentary: Inland Sea
Andrew Littlejohn (Leiden University) recommends Inland Sea, an observational documentary by Japanese filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda (2018). It tells the story of an old fisherman in Ushimado, a village on the shore of Seto inland sea. The documentary gives insight into the social and micro-economic relationships within this small village, that depends on the sea.
Vincent Baptist, EUR: "Despite what its title suggests, Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, 2008) plays out in and near the Argentinean port Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Following a reclusive merchant sailor on a journey back to his family home, the film creates a nuanced but bleak portrait of physical and mental isolation. It’s a challenging piece of slow cinema, that tries to put you in the mind of someone who seemingly wants to wander the world, and its oceans, eternally."
Available via the Culture Unplugged storytelling project.
Music: Harbour boat trips: 01 Copenhagen by Trentemøller
Yvonne van Mil (TU Delft) urges you to listen to this ‘…perfect mix of melancholic, industrial music to guide you during a windy walk through the docklands or dream away, sitting at the quay and staring at boats.’ All this from the coziness of your couch, of course.
Available on Spotify and iTunes.
Film: On the Waterfront
You never walk alone on the docks, Paul van de Laar (EUR) says, and according to him this is depicted perfectly in the film classic On the Waterfront (1954). In the film, Marlon Brando plays ex-fighter Terry Maloy who now works on the New York docks and encounters love, jealousy, revenge and atonement. Brando received his first Oscar for this performance.
Available for streaming via various channels.
Films: Grosse Freiheit Nr 7 and “Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins”
Carola Hein, TU Delft: “For me, among the most classic films associated with a single port city are the ones by Hans Albers that celebrate the city of Hamburg and its pleasure district, notably “Grosse Freiheit Nr 7” (1944/1945), banned in Nazi Germany or “Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins” (1954). The songs from the films have become hymns of the city, notably for the local football club St. Paul. Albers even has a statue in Hamburg, located on a square named after him.”
Documentary: Groeten uit Rotterdam
Maurice Harteveld (TU Delft) recommends Groeten uit Rotterdam (Greetings from Rotterdam). “This VPRO television film production tells a story of the cultural life in Rotterdam around 1980. It has become a unique document of a turbulent time, in which public spaces are the domain of the car, public life goes underground and building blocks have been demolished. In essence, it shows the other side of the shiny Modernist machine-like port city.”
Available via IFFR unleashed.
Book: The Ports Portable. A cultural travel guide to the port cities of Antwerp, Hamburg & Rotterdam
Fancy a walk along the quays of Antwerp, Hamburg and Rotterdam? You can go to Google Streetview, or order the book Maurice Jansen (EUR) recommends: the Ports Portable by Eric van Hooydonk and Pieter Verhoeven.
Available via De Slegte or other online secondhand bookstores.
Based on a book by Dutch writer F. Bordewijk, the Oscar-winning film Character (1997) tells the gripping story of an estranged father and son during the interwar period in Rotterdam. Hilde Sennema (EUR) thinks the film is a worthy adaptation of the book. “It’s especially interesting because the film was shot in Hamburg, in order to simulate the old dock system of Rotterdam, which was destroyed during World War II.”
Available via YouTube (English subtitles) or secondhand DVD.
Further reading: Writing port cities
In 2016, Carola Hein (TU Delft) wrote an article on the role of storytelling within the creation of port city culture, and in port city marketing, for online magazine Portus (you need to create a log-in, but it’s free and opens up tons of other reading materials on port cities). Make sure to read it, also to discover some other literary references to port cities.
Carola Hein, “Writing Port Cities”, PORTUS: the online magazine of RETE, n.31, June 2016, Year XVI, Venice, RETE Publisher, ISSN 2282-5789, URL: http://portusonline.org/writing-port-cities/
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (English Edition), A Harvest Book, Harcourt, A Helen and Kurt Wolf Book, Orlando, a.o. 1974.