City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination

City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination

City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination

City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination


New York, more than any other city, has held a special fascination for filmmakers and viewers. In every decade of Hollywood filmmaking, artists of the screen have fixated upon this fascinating place for its tensions and promises, dazzling illumination and fear-some darkness. The glittering skyscrapers of such films as "On the Town" have shadowed the characteristic seedy streets in which desperate, passionate stories have played out - as in "Scandal Sheet" and "The Pawnbroker." In other films, the city is a cauldron of bright lights, technology, empire, egotism, fear, hunger, and change - the scenic epitome of America in the modern age. From "Street Scene" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to "Rosemary's Baby," "The Warriors," and "25th Hour," the sixteen essays in this book explore the cinematic representation of New York as a city of experience, as a locus of ideographic characters and spaces, as a city of moves and traps, and as a site of allurement and danger. The contributors consider the work of Woody Allen, Blake Edwards, Alfred Hitchcock, Gregory La Cava, Spike Lee, Sidney Lumet, Vincente Minnelli, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Andy Warhol, and numerous others.



Since its debut in 1961, Blake Edwards's Breakfast at Tiffany's has been considered one of the preeminent films celebrating New York City. Its first image of Audrey Hepburn as the elegantly dressed Holly Golightly standing at dawn before Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue defines carefree New York sophistication for many. In acknowledgment of this, one Manhattan cinema, The Screening Room, showed the film every Sunday for the run of its existence from July 1996 through October 2003.

On one level, it is odd that this, among the thousands of films that have been set there, has achieved the "New York City film" status it holds. It does not focus on the internationally recognized, iconic sights most associated with the city in 1961, like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the United Nations, Lower East Side tenements, the George Washington or the Brooklyn Bridge, or the arch in Washington Square Park. Neither Edwards nor the film's stars, Hepburn and George Peppard, are figures whose careers are particularly associated with New York City. Until the film appeared, Tiffany's jewelry store never had the tourist attraction status it has held since. The film's hugely popular, Academy Award-winning song, Henry Mancini's "Moon River," has nothing whatsoever to do with New York City and, indeed, invokes a rural rather than an urban landscape.

One aspect of the film that helps to account for its New York identity involves its celebration of the city as a place to which people who are unhappy with their lives come to reinvent themselves, a place where dreams come true. This element of fantasy is evident in both the film's title and its opening sequence. As the film opens, Holly arrives at Tiffany's alone at dawn with a bag of take-out coffee and a cruller and quietly, reverently, peers into its windows. Tiffany's is an expensive jewelry store. One cannot have breakfast there (although reportedly even now, nearly half a century after the film appeared, the store still gets requests for breakfast reservations). For Holly, this impromptu breakfast is the perfect way to end, or begin, a day. As she looks at the jewelry she would love to be able to afford, she herself looks like the wealthy, elegant socialite that she dreams of . . .

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