Oculocentric perspectives are often dominant in descriptions of the city essay film. Whether flâneurial, observational, lyrical or visionary, the gaze is often placed at the centre of the filmic perception of the city, which is itself conceived of as a sight, image, or palimpsest. In this article, I reflect on the centrality of noise to modernity, and of capitalism to urban sound. In doing so, I pursue a dual goal: to foreground a sound-based understanding of the city through the essay film; and to ask how sound can help us understand the city essay film as a critique at once of the metropolis’ entanglement with capitalism and of the cinema’s historical contribution to the creation of the city as spectacle. A workable definition of the city essay film as an object of theory is attained via an engagement with urban and sound studies, and the discussion of sound design and sound discourse in Many Undulating Things (2019), a geopolitical essay by Bo Wang and Pan Lu about Hong Kong.