Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Five (Because) NYC Films

About a month before I moved to New York, I did a series of LiveJournal posts about NYC films and the lessons I believed they offered to me as a prospective New Yorker. I'm still pretty proud of those posts and I feel like they hold up.

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Taxi Driver
King Kong (1933)
Sweet Smell of Success
Rosemary's Baby
Sex and the City
The Fisher King
Can't Stop the Music
The Goodbye Girl
The Muppets Take Manhattan
(I also did a post referencing Funny Girl, but it was the day I moved and more a "here I go" squee than a proper post.)

Having lived here nine years has, unsurprisingly, given me a new perspective. So here are my "five because" New York movies.

#5. A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

This may seem like a weird one, but I first saw this on a Christmas Eve when, for financial reasons, I was in the city rather than in Tennessee with family (don't get too sad for me -- it was just a lot cheaper to fly after the holiday, which is what I ended up doing). It perfectly encapsulated the lonely-yet-exciting vibe of being in Manhattan away from family at Christmas -- at least as I was experiencing it -- and there was nothing more emotional to me than the group rendition of "Fairytale of New York." On the other end of the emotional spectrum, of course, is "Santa Wants Some Loving" (LMAO George Clooney creeping out from behind the trees!). This is not actually a movie, I guess, but it's a new holiday favorite of mine and makes me want to spend Christmas Eve at a piano bar in Midtown.

#4. Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

You can keep your Sex and the City, *this* is my Fabulous and Fashionable New York Movie. Faye Dunaway is a fashion photographer whose work has taken a turn for the macabre, and her photos somehow closely resemble crime photographs that she can't possibly have seen. She experiences episodes where she literally sees through someone else's eyes, instead of what's actually in front of her, and people keep dying around her. Tommy Lee Jones is her love interest, Raul Julia is her ex-husband, and Rene Auberjonois is her fabulously bitchy manager. The movie is a particularly brutal example of "Bury Your Gays," but in 1978 that wasn't as much of a trope yet (though with Someone's Watching Me coming out the same year and Cruising a couple years later, it was well on its way). And coming as it did in the late 1970s, it arrived with its own "love theme" -- by no less than Barbra Streisand! (Check it out, it's so dramatic!) I love this movie as a straight-up thriller, but I also love it as a New York movie. Iconic Manhattan locations, stark studios, creepy warehouses and credibly cramped apartment sets (except for Laura's lavish apartment, of course) make this a much more genuine look at New York than most movies set here now, even if that look is somewhat outdated.

#3. The Secret of My Success (1987)

Hang on, hear me out. Most of my own personal mythology about New York came from the 1980s, and The Secret of My Success was certainly part of that. Sure, it's a complete fantasy (not to mention basically an 80s remake of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), but it's also a snapshot of a particular slice of New York -- one that's part of the image of "making it big" out here. I'm not a successful CEO or hedge fund manager, but I do get to work in some of the shiny buildings like the one pictured above. I work at a desk, I have a job that actually makes use of my college degree, and I get a nice car to drive me home every evening. And there is occasionally free food and swag. It's not overwhelming success, and I don't have a ton of time to write (which is what I came here to do), but if you'd told 17-year-old me what I do every day, she would have thought it was amazing. But what does she know? ;-)

#2. The Out-of-Towners (1970)

When I'm having a bad day here, where it feels like the city is against me at every turn, I'm irresistibly reminded of this movie. It's a perfect encapsulation of a phenomenon that any real New Yorker has experienced many times. You start the day with a plan and either one little thing goes wrong or there's some piece of information you were missing, and it sends your entire day down the toilet. Like, you might as well have never left your apartment. Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis have one hellacious night, with misfortune piled onto misfortune, and you can trace a whole lot of it back to one or two little things they should have done differently right at the beginning. I don't really like where this movie ends up, with the couple deciding no big city job is worth this big city headache (everyone has a bad day, give it a little more of a chance than that, guys), but I've had days that feel at least a little like what they go through in the movie -- having to be late to work because the subway trains are borked, falling on the sidewalk, having to trample over trash bags because no one left a path, being pooped on by a pigeon, finding out that place you need to go to is closed on the one day you're trying to go, etc. You have not truly lived here if hasn't happened to you.

#1. The Warriors (1979)

The longest subway ride EVER. In fact, I'm fairly sure that *if* you were to take the subway from Van Cortlandt Park to Coney Island, as the characters of this film have to do, it would take longer than the running time of this film (for one thing, you'd have to change trains at least once). And that's even without the police and the other gangs dogging your every step. This movie is so, so good, and I love that -- even though it's set in Future New York, it's still unmistakably New York (side-eyes the fake NY of Escape from New York). I could cry at the diversity -- not just ethnic diversity, but all the different gangs that feel fully realized with their own backstories. It's kind of a perfect metaphor for the city itself; every gang has their own turf, their own rules. And New York isn't one big city, it's a bunch of different neighborhoods all crammed together. (just like the real NY) The movie's plot is simple, but incredibly effective and has the same basic structure of another film by the same director (Walter Hill), Southern Comfort -- our characters have to get from Point A to Point B, but it's super hard because 1) they have a serious disadvantage of some kind, and 2) there's been a major misunderstanding that puts them at odds with people they have to get through/past to get to their destination. I've always wanted to make a day of taking that subway trip. Just probably not in the middle of the night.