Directed by Margaret Rorison, filmed in the golden light, the cityscape is mainly devoid of people. Instead, the focus is upon the textures of abandoned warehouses – elegant tiling, peeling paint, rich red brick. Wider shots reveal the grandness of Baltimore’s past in this quiet and valuable act of cataloguing the city.
While the synopsis may make Baltimore sound like a purely sombre affair, alongside its exploration of downturn, is a love of the city. To take so much time and effort to film throughout the city and capture the detail to the architecture and the vivacity to the colours which persist against the decay, brings a charming sincerity and engaging atmosphere. It may have been filmed over the past few years and exemplifying the businesses and aspects of the city which have disappeared but the visual style and the choice of shots capture the feel of its heyday. There’s a richness in the decay, focusing on the minute details balances out the more melancholy themes.
The message that it holds is a saddening one, not only for what’s lost but for how it goes unappreciated. We’re entering an era where the history, heritage and culture of cities are becoming less and less honoured, and more and more facts to be found on Wikipedia pages. It contrasts the quiet, lonely streets with encouraging your imagination to fill in what it must have looked like during its glory days. It embraces the architecture in a way which makes you long for the days when buildings had character and weren’t overrun with glass and angular styles.
Perhaps the only thing that lets it down is the sound quality, which can become repetitive or even distracting. For the most part it has a wonderful use of silence, to let the aesthetics speak for themselves but it then frequently uses sound in a way that’s focused on fairly high pitched, extended frequencies. They don’t have much to add, although you can pick up on their intention to push the themes to the documentary. Eventually when it moves into using natural ambient noise of the streets, everything flows more smoothly.
Baltimore manages to capture the sadness of a city fallen on hard times while simultaneously evoking the feel of its heyday. Using the vibrancy of its colours and the wonderful architecture it throws you back and enhances the disappointment in what’s been lost as time has moved on. In telling that story it holds a genuine and strong love of the city, wishing for its rebirth and to honour everything it has to offer.