Publication Details

This paper was originally published as Cockburn, J, Simmel, Ninotchka and the Revolving Door, in Proceedings of Cosmopolitanism and Place: The Design of Resistance Conference, Centre for Social Theory and Design, University of Technology Sydney, 21-22 October, 2005. Updated 2015.


In this paper, Jon Cockburn examines the device of the revolving door employed by Ernst Lubitsch in the opening scene to the film "Ninotchka" (1939), in which the operation of this architectural mechanism metaphorically prefigures several key themes in the film. Specifically, these themes are first, the complementary necessity of coupling efficiency with desire and second, that firmly held principles should be balanced with mutual pleasure. In the late 1930s, in articulating these contrasting attributes the film described the balancing act that confronted self-sufficient modern women, who faced expectations that they be industrially efficient yet noticeably sensual. However, while recognising each of these themes as key to the film’s development, to maintain brevity Cockburn's paper focuses discussion on the opening scene, via concepts drawn from Georg Simmel’s essay "Bridge and Door" (1909). The paper then turns attention to the entry of the main character, Ninotchka (played by Greta Garbo), linking prior argument to her initial establishment in the film. It is noted that the character of Ninotchka paradoxically exhibits the efficiency attributes of scientific management (F.W. Taylor) and flânerie (Victor Fournel, Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin). Concluding and as a postscript, the paper examines the operation of the broken wall, traversed by the dachshund Dackie, his stray friends and Monsieur Hulot in Jacques Tati’s film "Mon Oncle" (1958). Tati’s device of the broken wall operates comparably to that of Lubitsch’s revolving door, yet draws into consideration a different disposition toward conspicuous modernity by contrast to chaotic urban community.