1/20/15

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MIDTOWN MANHATTAN...IN 1948


On October 13, 1948, Lieutenant Strickland (first name unknown) took his Eyemo camera and stationed himself on the east side of Manhattan, near 42nd street. He then proceeded to photograph various views of the neighborhood's mass transit stations for reasons that are something of a mystery (though I have my theories). The views are, for the most part, static and artless recordings of various public transit hubs and the people who use them. My guess is that Lt. Strickland was one of the many armed-services trained cameramen who, upon their return to civilian life, tried to find a way to put their very specific (but somewhat limited) craft to use. These were the people who shot the amazing footage that turns up on all those WW2 IN COLOR shows on History Channel and it was probably frustrating for them to have captured such historic events, made it back home, and not quite known what to do with themselves or their Eyemos.

Eyemo 35mm Camera

I have a feeling this footage was intended to be general "stock house" stuff, background plates that movie studios would buy by the yard to be used as transitional shots in movies set in New York but filmed in Hollywood. (There was almost no on-location filming done in NYC until the 50s). Perhaps Lt. Strickland worked for a specific company, but somehow I doubt it. This footage feels free-lancy to me, as if he'd heard that there was a sudden demand for views of mass transit intersections and so he high-tailed it to 42nd street and, in one afternoon, shot as much as he thought he could sell to the local stock house.

First he gives us several views of a subway entrance (and exit) at an unidentified corner which, given the locales that follow, was probably the number 6 train at 43rd and Lexington. By parking the camera there and simply letting it roll as people go about their everyday life, Strickland inadvertently gives us a hypnotic view of existence in all its banality on a fall day in the late forties. Most people ignore the camera (though a few look at it with irritation) and go blithely on their way, unaware that they will one day be watched and written about on something called a computer in the then-unimaginable twenty-first century. Some things to notice: there are many more short people than there are now and there is no texting or cell-phoning. Men's ties were short and silly looking. Women are, for the most part, plump and frumpily dressed. All men wear hats. All--or most--of these people are now dead.

After the subway entrance, Strickland moves to 42nd Street, faces east, and gives us a view of the Elevated train that once ran on Third Avenue. (You can see the sign for a store marked "Waldorf", which relates to the semi-nearby Waldorf Hotel--the store was probably a pharmacy. You can also see the Automat, which makes me idiotically happy). As the El was taken down in the mid-fifties, this footage is quite a lovely thing to have. I've stared down this very block many times and tried to imagine an Elevated train bisecting the view and never had much success at it--it just seems so incredibly wrong for the east side of midtown. But looking at it here, it's just an everyday view of what was then a very different Manhattan.

Strickland then walks further east, passes under the El and turns around, giving us a westward facing view of the El and the city behind it. After a bit of this, he climbs to the top of the El steps with his handy little Eyemo and captures the platform--also a wonderful view as we can see the tops of the Chrysler and GE buildings and get some nice long looks at the actual train, which is filled with windows and looks quite pleasant in a rickety sort of way. Finally he gets sick of public transportation, leaves the platform, walks west on 42nd all the way to Fifth Avenue and parks in front of the New York Public library. A few not very well framed views of that distinguished and virtually unchanged building and he heads north, capturing my favorite of all his shots of the day, the then-two way traffic that ran along Fifth. It's hard for most people to believe that Fifth (and Madison) Avenues were once well functioning two-way streets and that they weren't somehow wider than they are now. But as you can see from Lt. Strickland's footage, such was the case.

After this, Strickland headed to the stock house, showed them his stuff and happily made a sale! How else would we have this footage today if he hadn't? He took the money, dropped into a bar on Third Avenue, downed a Boilermaker and headed home--via the El--to wherever he was living, to proceed into whatever future awaited him...



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3 comments:

  1. Just beautiful Don't think i saw three men without a
    tie. Tomorrow know matter what shirt I have on I am wearing a tie. I will turn myself into my grandfather.
    Plus maybe I saw maybe take out my complete
    16mm B&H camera and wide it up just to listen to it.
    Do have to shoot some footage with it someday.
    Never mind someday I just ran it. Music to the ears.
    Good night everyone.

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  2. One of the first films to be shot on location in Manhattan was "The Naked City." You can almost smell the hot asphalt.

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  3. There's also Edgar Ulmer's "Carnegie Hall" which I've never seen--don't know if there are any exteriors. And of course on-location footage of 3rd Avenue and the El in "Lost Weekend". But then you have to go back to the 20s to see NY on film, for the most part.

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