New York in the Fifties
John Farr | 07/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A short but sweet piece that succeeds admirably in evoking a stimulating time and place. It's reassuring (though not that surprising) to hear Manhattan was as vibrant then as now, that the city opened its arms not only to immigrants but to left-leaning artists and writers who could never have thrived in conventional middle America. Highlights include a Jack Kerouac TV appearance, a brief James Baldwin interview, and current commentaries from Norman Mailer, John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion, Gay Talese, and Robert Redford. A must-see for Big Apple loyalists."
New York Mythology
R. Becker | Ross, CA United States | 03/31/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I have enjoyed some of First Run Features' other documentaries and I am really interested in this particular time period and its effect on cultural history so I was really looking forward to this one. This film was dominated by a parade of actors, writers, poets, and film makers telling the exact same story with very little elaboration. The story is one we've heard so many times that for me, it has become a little tiresome. The story always goes that somebody felt stifled in middle America and had to come to New York in order to flourish in the practice of their particular art. This particular narrative is not exactly unique to the 50's and in my opinion, without a whole lot of context, is not a very interesting or convincing story. Logically, if one is a stage actor, for example, it will be easier to flourish in New York no matter the time period. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of writers and poets who were able to both practice their art and succeed without having to move to New York and in my opinion a reasonable argument might be made that it can actually be more revolutionary to go against the grain rather than to move to New York where one can be sure to fit in with others of a like-mind. There is also a thread of narrative that suggests heterosexual New Yorkers of the fifties were either thinking about, pursuing, or having more sex than the rest of America. If so, again, it would take a lot of context to make such a narrative interesting. What I was really curious about were the references in the promotional materials to the Beat Generation, Jazz, performance, and art. We get very brief glimpses that are no more fleshed out than what you read in the promotional materials. This would have been extremely fertile ground, but this documentary does not delve into any of these subjects in any substantial way. Also, it must be mentioned that, in reality, Lenny Bruce was arrested in New York on obscenity charges as late as 1964 and New York police were still raiding gay bars as late as the Stonewall riot of 1969, so in some ways, New York was as backward as any other burgh in the U.S. This kind of balance would not fit neatly into this particular New York mythology. Prior to the invention of the pill in 1959, I doubt 50's era heterosexual New Yorkers were having more sex per capita, but if they were, one might expect to see some evidence like higher rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It seems to me that rather than hammer one particular kind of story over and over, the film makers might have taken some of that time to explore what was happening in the world of art, jazz, the Beat Generation and performance in New York. In my opinion, it would have placed the other interviews in a context that would have made them more interesting and relevant."