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 fearsome 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. 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.


Murray Pomerance

A Dream and Not a Place

Writing of New York as “cinema city,” Richard A. Blake points to Jean Baudrillard’s “amazed” insight that New York seems to have been engendered by its image on the big screen, that to grasp it “you should not … begin with the city and move inwards to the screen; you should begin with the screen and move outwards to the city.” Such a commentary, he notes, says more about Baudrillard himself “as observer” than about the city (Blake 5). Although Baudrillard cannot really be said to inhabit the book you are about to read in the way his most adoring readers would wish, these pages start from the perspective that he is essentially right: to be in love with the movies, and also in love with New York, requires an affinity with his point of view. New York onscreen is New York, for those of us who have needed not only to walk its sidewalks but also to watch it in the dark. and it is true that for lovers of this screened New York, we travel from it to the city and not the other way around.

It is worth saying a little more about this perspective of Baudrillard, and the one we will adopt here, by and large. New York can certainly be subjected to an utterly different kind of investigation than these essays represent, one in which it is taken as a geographic entity (see Vernon Metropolis 1985), a cultural production with a history and power structure (see Goodman Communitas), a political residue (see Caro Power Broker), or even a single case study of a broader phenomenon, urbanization, that marked the period of modernity and that has effected shocking changes around the world (see Simmel “Metropolis and Mental Life”). But this book has no particular intention of looking at New York this way: of seeing it merely as a “typical city,” or a political amalgamation, or the result of a set of historical and political forces set in motion by such as Boss Tweed, Fiorello La Guardia, Robert Moses, Robert Wagner, John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani, or Donald Trump. These musings do not consider that New York onscreen is an attempted representation of these bedrock realities. and while it would certainly be possible . . .

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