Thursday, October 15, 2009

New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down...

Believe it or not, I actually only saw Taxi Driver in the past few months, but, of course, absolutely loved it (watched it twice in a row). One of my favorite things was the images of New York in the 70s, which was such a weird yet alien
place that was still oddly familiar. (I think I've written about this here
before in connection with The French Connection / The Warriors / Taking of
Pelham 1-2-3). After watching the movie, I actually used Google Maps street
view to try and figure out the location of the Belmore cafeteria, where the cab
drivers hang out late at night (There's a picture here: But the block
looks so different I couldn't even figure out where it used to be even once
I found out the intersection.

Anyway, someone has gone one step better and documented the current state of
every location in the movie. It's insanely thorough and incredibly awesome
(and only partially complete). This, for me, is as if they put porn on the
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


Quinapalus said...

That's really cool...I'm also a sucker for pictures of old New York, or old Chicago. It's sort of the same reason I read The Adventures of Augie March twice a few years back. Saul Bellow would draw these incredibly vivid pictures of Chicago streets in the 1920s and 30s, and when I lived there I sometimes would go so far as to track down the exact street corner in the present day to see the difference. Apparently the corner of Wilson and Sheridan (about 3 blocks from where I used to live) was where you'd go if you were looking for "the wrong sort of girl".

Highly recommended for Chicagoans!

drischord said...

Great site but depressing to watch New York change into the city of generic gentrification. That said, I do have memories of Manhattan from even the early '90s and you know what, there were parts of it back then that were genuinely scary.

And now those same parts have all become either Starbucks or Restoration Hardware.

Question is: Will they be saying the same thing about Detroit in 30 years?

Quinapalus said...

I certainly have conflicting feelings about the homogenization and gentrification of New York (not wanting to eventually get priced out of the city entirely is one concern) but looking at those pictures, I can't say I'd RATHER be living in the New York of Taxi Driver. There are trade-offs and negatives about any era...

Detroit is an interesting case. If you believe this article by Rebecca Solnit from Harper's magazine, it's a city in the process of reconverting into wilderness:

But when I visited there a year ago, the city was vigorously trying to spruce up its downtown and modernize its image. One element of this was a rebranding campaign in which they called the city The "D", and strained to show off its hip, Sex-and-the-City-ish appeal to young people. It's a little like Radio Shack becomming "The Shack".

Via Chicago said...

I think I'm with Q. The Disney-fying of Times Square is excessive no doubt, but I think the old gritty, NY is a lot more appealing in theory and on the silver screen than as a place you actually have to walk through at night.

For you Chicagoans, a great movie for this same sort of thing is the horror movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It's from the early 80s and takes place mostly in Wicker Park which, at the time, was the kind of hideous cesspool you would set a horror movie in. Pretty fascinating to see. Plus (and I know Q will appreciate this!) at one point they drive by the Philadelphia Church Jesus Save sign that used to be right around the corner from the Despera-dome.

drischord said...

Oh yeah. That's my point. New York was my family's default weekend destination growing up, and even in the late '80s/early '90s, which came after the city's official nadir, it was downright scary.

Would have never considered living there until the late '90s. Part of that was me growing up and part of that was the city changing into a safer, cleaner place.

But I will say this-- I'd take New York circa 1998-2003 to the one that exists now.

Quinapalus said...

Besides the absence of many of the used record and book stores (which I will definitively grant as a falling-off), and the continued cost of living increases, why was New York better 6 years ago?

drischord said...

More locally owned businesses in general. Record/book stores first and foremost, but also true thrift stores, affordable diners, small markets with good produce/sundries, non-chain coffee places, etc, etc.

Also affordable housing in the northwestern part of Brooklyn, which is now totally gone from my distant vantage point. Strangely enough, there are cheaper digs in Manhattan now.

And finally, a more multi-ethnic Manhattan. Chinatown isn't as Chinese. The Lower East Side is now full of hipsters. The tiny strips of Indian/Korean/Italian/Irish/German/Jewish culture are receding in central and lower Manhattan. Same goes for iconic African American neighborhoods in Harlem. Even the "inner" parts of the outer boroughs are the same way. By the time you get out to a real Chinatown in Flushing or the old-fashioned Irish feel in Woodside or Woodlawn, it's like you're in a different city. For some things, like to find where Indian culture went, you literally have to go to a different city-- Edison, New Jersey!

I'm not saying the fall-off hasn't happened in all urban areas as people move back into cities. (Although I must give LA props for maintaining a multi-culturalism that trumps Manhattan and rivals Queens.) But NYC was the capital of locally owned businesses for a century. (I suppose it still is, but not by much of a wide margin.)

Nowadays, when I see block after block of Starbucks, Subway, and every bank on the planet (it's the banks I hate the most), it feels less like '90s New York and more like...

...brace yourself, Quinapalus...


Quinapalus said...

Well, for the most part I wouldn't argue with any of that, though I think you overstate the case in places. Chinatown may be becoming less Chinese, and there may be bigger concentrations of Chinese now living in Flushing and Sunset Park, but Chinatown in Manhattan is still plenty Chinese. When I first moved here (way back in 2004) it was so Chinese that I would become disoriented when I got off the Chinatown bus, and could almost convince myself that I had passed through a wormhole to Shanghai.

But everything you talk about was all well underway by 1998-2003. I was mostly curious why you cite that particular block of time as a heyday. 2009 is just 2003 a little moreso in terms of homogenization and rising rents. Everybody is nostalgic for some bit of New York history, and I've heard the 90s, the 70s, the 60s, in rare cases even the 80s, but with the exception of some 9/12 weren't-we-all-so-patriotic talk, I've yet to hear anyone wax nostalgic for the just pre-and-post millennium period specifically. Maybe the only thing a slice of New York history needs to become nostalgia-worthy is the passage of time.

drischord said...

Well for me it's partly because the period I cited ends with me actually living there. So I can only relate to being an actual resident starting in 2002. Even though I haven't lived there in years, when I walk around now, I see the place in terms of a one-time resident rather than a tourist. Pre-2002, I was just a tourist who was visiting friends.

But the other reason, which isn't specific to me, is that the '98-'03 era (approximately) envelops the overlap of crime going markedly down-- remember this didn't truly peak until Bloomberg took office-- and of gentrification destroying a huge chunk of the city's homegrown character.

Obviously the city was way safer in the '90s than it was in the '80s. And obviously gentrification had already started choking the character out of many neighborhoods by the late '90s. But for me, this was the period when safety and local character/"livability" had the largest overlap.

drischord said...

"Maybe the only thing a slice of New York history needs to become nostalgia-worthy is the passage of time."

I like this!