Take a stroll through Times Square on a typical evening in 1931 by watching this extraordinary footage that was shot for God knows what reason. It's date is mislabeled as 1929--the films playing in the theaters that are seen include 'Dance Fools Dance', 'The Front Page', 'Trader Horn' , 'My Past' all of which were released in '31--but who cares really? Note that there appear to be no crosswalks and that people bravely step into thick traffic, seemingly unafraid of the approaching cars and trolleys. (Perhaps cars were so lightweight that getting hit by one really wasn't that big an issue?) There's an all-you-can-watch 'Newsreel Theater' that charges 25 cents and that must have been the first 24 hours outlet in history. The multiple lighting displays give us a look at the garish and wonderful area at that time and makes one yearn for color footage of the same stuff...

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Why was the fascinating footage posted above shot? Hard to say, but I'm glad it was. It consists of three fragments of documentary street footage photographed at three different locations on 5th Avenue in 1929. In the first, two women enter the middle of a crowd (many of whom are looking directly at the camera thus spoiling the shot) wearing strange garments. They proudly if amateurishly, announce that they're 'pajama dresses' and are 'the smartest new women's apparel.' A bossy man (the director?) orders them to say it again and then the camera angle changes to a tighter view. Was this coverage for a version that was planned to be edited like a 'real' movie? Next we see a view of stifling crowds on Fifth Avenue on what was apparently a stifling day, as many straw hats are in evidence and some men actually are going jacket-free, a shock to the eyes of city denizens in that era. The two women continue their strange perp walk and the crowd continues smiling, staring and waving at the camera, thus continuing to spoil the shot.

But things get even stranger at 2:34 when none other than Raymond Duncan, Isidore Duncan's very peculiar artist brother, takes a walk on a different section of Fifth wearing a Toga. He seems to have attracted a crowd of his own as he swans through the city streets, serenely unconcerned with the weirdness of his own costume. Was this a movie about strange pajama and toga get-ups? The third section is supposedly shot on Fifth and Seventy-third Street but it bears no resemblance to the corner that I know so well. (Perhaps there's another 5th and 73rd in Queens?) A black street vendor plays a strange whistle and a group of confused people gather around him. Perhaps he's playing the part of Pan in this increasingly weird epic. Weirder still, he seems to be playing 'That's Amore'...which was composed twenty-four years after this footage was shot.

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Dig this: there's a Youtuber who has a channel called 'Soft Tempo Lounge' which features music videos (for want of a better term) he/she have created using footage culled from various 60s-era sources--found footage, commercials, repurposed feature films etc. that are set to music by Euro-pop artists of the time. They're quite accomplished and frequently even mesmerizing. The above selection will serve as an introduction to Soft Tempo Lounge's work--there are many more which you can access on their channel. It's a a repurposing of footage from Jacques Tati's masterful film 'Playtime' (1967) set to a song by Syd Dale titled 'Brass Buy Lightly'. The video itself is titled 'The In Crowd' and features a swinging party of the era--or rather what passed for a swinging party of the era just before heavy-duty rocking parties rendered the one pictured as quaintly tame and a relic of the late-fifties era of narrow ties, cocktail dresses and the like. Catch the groovy moment with the woman between 50 and 60 seconds. Somehow it says everything...

For more info on the not-enough-known-about Syd Dale click here for his Wikipedia entry.  Many thanks to my good friend Marc Myers of JazzWax for hipping me to this stuff.

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Ever wonder what James Finlayson looked like off-screen, sans mustache? No? Well, so what? Part of the wonderful few minutes of home movie footage from the early 30s (posted above) is taken at Stan Laurel's daughter Lois's second birthday party. Both Finlayson and Ollie were present and it's quite charming to see them off-screen, not in character--although each of them do provide a little mugging for the camera. Finlayson even cocks an eyebrow as he does in so many L&H comedies, only the effect is strange--since he doesn't look like the man we know from the movies he appears to be somebody doing a not very convincing impression of Finlayson. There's also some footage of Stan fishing and a peculiar bit of Ollie horsing around on the Roach backlot.

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Above is one of the strangest show-biz artifacts I've ever come across. Apparently there is a Lucy/Desi museum in Jamestown New York (birthplace of both Lucille Ball and Lucy Ricardo). Among the large collection of memorabilia is a full reconstruction of the set of the Ricardo's apartment. Above you'll see a short, shaky but quite delightful look at it. It's in color too, thus giving the much-viewed set a strikingly strange reality. The spinet piano is there, residing in the center of the room under the bay window, as is the fireplace, the couch, the kitchen--the whole sheer.

I always loved the way the address of the building changed from episode to episode (though it was always on East 68th Street). I also dug how loopy the floorplan was. The Mertz's building was a brownstone which would have been no more than 20 feet wide, but somehow the three rooms are stretched out over a space that would have to be at least 40 feet wide, with the kitchen incongruously on an angle with a back porch off the side (thus making it a side porch). There was also the nice backstory of the Mertz's having been in vaudeville and retiring to the life of do-nothing landlords. Presumably the building was bought with savings from years of tank-town touring.

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