In Monkeys Go Home!, when Henry first arrives at his new Provencal house, there’s a short “Henry takes it in” low-angle shot that leads to a reverse shot of the house:

Monkeys Go Home first arrival with power lines

Every time I’ve rewatched Monkeys Go Home! (I had to quit for a while because I started thinking it was under-appreciated) this  image makes me laugh. The power line kind of ruins it. But in the end we’re so used to seeing power lines that they’re essentially invisible.

Except when they aren’t. Power lines act as a key part of the mise en scene in Tropa de Elite 2: O Inimigo e Outro, where they stand for the way in which the crooked police trap everything in their system:

Elite Squad 2 wires as a spider web

The mass of power lines tends to accompany scenes in the crowded, teeming streets of cities, as in The Bourne Legacy chase scene through Manila and an establishing shot from Gangs of Wasseypur:

Bourne Legacy Manila chase 3

Gangs of Wasseypur utilities

But not every big city has crowded thickets of electric power lines overhead. Some images from early Soviet cinema – Man With a Movie Camera – and a shot from Farewell, a recent French film set in Moscow, show a much less cluttered power infrastructure:

Man With A Movie Camera landscape 2

Farewell Moscow 6

There’s a similarly well-controlled set of power lines in Napoli, in Le Mani Sulla Cita, New York, in The French Connection, and in Los Angeles, in Lethal Weapon.

Hands Over the City Napoli 1

French Connection chase 16

Lethal Weapon LA streets 4

New York can generate its sense of crowding from the ratio of building height to street width (combined with pedestrian traffic) and doesn’t need tangled power lines, as we can see in In the Cut:

In the Cut NYC 3

One thing that makes Harlan County USA visually interesting is the way in which power lines are quite extensive, as seen in this wide shot of Brookside, Kentucky:

Harlan County USA Brookside KY 6

The power lines are more extensive, but not more intrusive in the mise en scene than in another coal-mining area, Clairton, Pennsylvania (or the Wasseypur, India in Gangs of Wasseypur) as seen in The Deer Hunter.

Deer Hunter Clairton PA 3

As I went through all the screen grabs from movies, power lines started to move out of the mostly unseen background, which made this image from The King of Marvin Gardens catch my eye. The Atlantic City, New Jersey we see in The King of Marvin Gardens is certainly on the downward slope and ramshackle, but it has a streamlined corner of downtown, and the total lack of power lines slicing through the sight lines does a great deal of work in this image:

King of Marvin Gardens Atlantic City 1

This is, if nothing else, an advertisement for alleys behind main streets, a place to put the infrastructure that makes the city run.