Dig the groove that follows. It's apparently the swinging year of 1964 (when I happen to have been born) or thereabouts. And look at what New York City looked like at that shaky and changing time in the following reel of home movies. Midtown Manhattan is featured--along with many lovely shots of 30 Rock, where my father was then employed. Check out the fact that some men still wore hats--and not BASEBALL CAPS but proper hats for street, office or evening wear. The fifties still loomed large in the cultural zeitgeist--truthfully all decades end about halfway into the next one (which makes it clear sailing now that 20th century truly finished its run late into the last Presidential cycle).
Later in the reel we're in the Village (Greenwich that is), on MacDougal Street and Minetta, in front of Cafe Wha? This was, by the way, the sight of my first apartment in the city--for less than a year I had a walk-up (and five flights definitely defines it as a walk...UP) at 124 MacDougal, A very exciting time of life to live there. In some ways it was the only time to live there. ( I was twenty one and in those days twenty-five was middle-aged in that neighborhood. Now it's filled with a disproportionately large amount of stollers and nannies).
As always with these home movies, the reality of the time is so much better captured than in more planned, stagy capturings of the period. There are, however, a good number of commercial (I hesitate to say "Hollywood" because by then the term was loaded and not always accurate) films that grab the New York of that period in all its glory. Of course Sidney Lumet was the director of several of them. Watch "The Pawnbroker" and you'll a lot of the city in all its grit and glory...in one scene Lincoln Center in the process of being built in the background as Rod Steiger stands on a Lincoln Plaza terrace. Also "Love With the Proper Stranger" with Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood perfectly captures the ambience of the city at the time...gray, jazzy, noir-ish but utterly, beatnick-ly romantic. That film was directed by the recently deceased Robert Mulligan, whose most famous credits remain "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Summer Of '42" but whose most lasting achievement remains, to my mind, the aforementioned McQueen film. (Professionally Mulligan did everything a director needs to do and more. And yet, curiously, he currently commands only a footnote in cinematic history).
Nonetheless it is the non-professional director of these home movies who gives us the best, most honest and most vibrantly "being there" feeling of the time and place. Questions we might pose: Who was he/she? Where'd they get this camera? Who posted this reel? How did they get this footage? And what's become of some of those 20-ish men and women who are so exuberantly allowing their youths to be captured by this mysterious cameraman? If you're one of them, write to me. But only if you have proof of identity....
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 5:45 PM