“As you see, we’re flying over an island. A city. A particular city. And this is a story of a number of people, and a story also of the city itself.”
That’s from the opening voice-over of the 1948 movie The Naked City, which was a very big deal when it was made, because it was a rare studio film that was shot entirely, lock stock and barrel, on the streets of New York City. You see, the American motion picture industry began in New York, at the end of the 19th century – Thomas Edison and other early innovators had their laboratories here, and shot their early films in and around Manhattan. But the movies moved to California in the 1910s, and rarely came back.
Plenty of films were set in New York… but astonishingly few were shot here. Studios constructed fake New Yorks on their Hollywood backlots; maybe, if they couldn’t fake it, they’d shoot a scene or two in New York, or send a crew to shoot exteriors, or use stock footage.
But that all changed with Executive Order No. 10, issued by Mayor John V. Lindsay on May 31, 1966. That document formed the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting—a one-stop shop intended to eliminate the red tape and copious permits of New York filmmaking, and to lure filmmakers East. It worked - perhaps too well.
The problem was, the explosion of production that followed the establishment of the Mayor’s Office in the mid-1960s coincided directly with the beginning of the most troubled period of the city’s history… a quarter-century of rising crime, increasing debt, decreases in public service and servants, and general urban anarchy.
And that period was captured over the course of the next two decades, vividly, in the likes of Midnight Cowboy; The French Connection; Death Wish; Dog Day Afternoon; Taxi Driver; The Taking of Pelham 123, The Warriors; Fort Apache, The Bronx; Do the Right Thing; and After Hours—portraits of a city’s decay and downfall, and ones that, ironically enough, might not have existed at all were it not for the incentives provided by the city itself.
Now, from the safe distance of a Disney-fied and gentrified Manhattan, these films provide us with a window into a past that’s been razed and replaced by a safer present. 9/11 took a toll on The City… so did the rise of income inequality, rendering New York City, more than ever, a place solely by and for the rich. That shift, and the rapid suburbanization that accompanied it, has left New York nearly indistinguishable from other large American cities. And thus these movies…. become a valuable reminder of what once was.
And what we’re witnessing, in the films made in New York, and set in the present, is a conversation of, of connections and reflections between the fictional lives in their foregrounds… and the real lives happening behind them.
So in their own unique ways, every great New York movie is an accidental documentary of what The City was - at the precise point of its production, and not a moment longer.
All of those movies, taken together, tell their own version of the history of New York.
That’s the history we’re here to tell.
Jason & Mike in A Very Good Year
Hello “Fun City Cinema” subscribers - long time no see! The show is still on hiatus, as your hosts Jason Bailey and Mike Hull have been working very hard on “A Very Good Year,” a new podcast with a simple premise: each week we invite a guest (filmmakers and actors, critics and historians, comedians and musicians) who loves movies, and ask them to select their favorite year of movies. We then spend (about) an hour talking about that year: we ask them to share their top five films of the year; we look at the year’s news headlines, award winners, and box office champions; and we finish with a lightning round.
If you haven't subscribed to that show yet - well, you should! But if you need a bit more enticing, we wanted to share our first episode, in which we're joined by actor ("Bill & Ted," "The Lost Boys," and, most relevant to you Fun City folks, "Death Wish 3"), filmmaker ("Zappa," "The YouTube Effect"), and all-around good guy Alex Winter to discuss his very good year: 1931. Enjoy!
Our new show - A Very Good Year
“Fun City Cinema” hosts Jason Bailey and Mike Hull proudly present “A Very Good Year,” a new podcast with a simple premise: each week we invite a guest (filmmakers and actors, critics and historians, comedians and musicians) who loves movies, and ask them to select their favorite year of movies. Some pick a year from their movie-going past; some go deep into film history. Whichever the case, we spent (about) an hour talking about that year: we ask them to share their top five films of the year, and tell us why they love them; we look at the year’s news headlines, award winners, and box office champions; and we finish with a lightning round, where we talk about as many films as possible in as few minutes as possible.
“A Very Good Year” debuts this fall; our guests include Bilge Ebiri, Roxana Hadadi, Keith Phipps, Drew McWeeny, Dana Stevens, and Alex Winter.
Bonus Time: Born to Win
Heads up: Jason and Mike were lucky enough to contribute an audio commentary to Fun City Editions’ new Blu-ray of “Born to Win,” one of the great unsung gems of early ‘70s fun city cinema. This seriocomic drama from 1971, directed by Ivan Passer (“Cutter’s Way”), tells the story of a high-class hairdresser turned low-rung junkie. George Segal stars, alongside Karen Black, Paula Prentiss, a young Hector Elizondo, and an even younger Robert De Niro.
In this bonus episode, we’ll tell you a bit about the movie and our experience doing the commentary; we’ll also play you a brief excerpt from it.
And you can order your copy now, via Vinegar Syndrome: https://vinegarsyndrome.com/collections/frontpage-partner-labels/products/born-to-win-fun-city-editions
Thanks for listening!
How two New York classics captured the essence of Times Square then – and what they tell us about it now.
No two films capture the urban grime and desperate time of New York City in the late 1960s and 1970s like John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy” and Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.” Both films set much of their action in Times Square (and specifically on “The Deuce,” the block of porno houses and grindhouses on 42nd between Seventh and Eighth Avenues), evocatively documenting that district in its heyday – or its nadir, depending on who you talk to.
In this episode, we’ll examine the history of Times Square, and its evolution from Gotham’s epicenter of sex to its soulless current iteration, as well as the making of “Midnight Cowboy” and “Taxi Driver.” And in telling those stories, we’ll look at how the “Disneyfication” of Times Square mirrors the suburbanization of New York, and ask what was lost (and gained) in the transition.
Our guests are “Midnight Cowboy” cinematographer Adam Holender, film critic and historian Glenn Kenny, historian and author Kim Phillips-Fein, and “Taxi Driver” director Martin Scorsese.
Check out our website at funcitycinema.com for more information and episodes.
Keep America Great
How a riot in Manhattan reconfigured a New York exploitation classic – and American politics for half a century.
John G. Avildsen’s 1970 New York drama was originally titled The Gap, dramatizing the white-hot topic of the generation gap through the story of a white-collar businessman searching for his hippie daughter in New York’s seedy youth underbelly. But when it came out in that summer, its ad campaign focused on the supporting character of a loudmouth, bigoted hardhat, and it had also been retitled after that character: Joe.
In this episode, we’ll look at how the May 1970 “Hardhat Riot” in downtown New York City prompted not only that change, but a shift in electoral norms and party politics that continues to this day. And we’ll look at Milos Forman’s Taking Off, released the following year, which told a similar story of well-to-do parents searching for their hippie daughter in Gotham, but in a very different way (and with a very different outcome).
Our guests are author and historians Jefferson Cowie and Derek Nystrom, filmmaker Larry Karaszweski, and film writers Kristy Puchko and Zach Vasquez.
One of the mainstays of NYC cinema is the subway, which serves as an immediate visual cue to not only the city’s setting, but its mood. But the subway is also, conveniently for dramatists, a microcosm of Gotham. The city and its subway are both places where people of all walks of life – race, class, gender, temperament – rub shoulders and try to get along.
In this episode, we look at the production of two iconic examples of NYC subway cinema: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) and The Warriors (1979). But we also look at the complicated history of the subway – where it came from, what it promised, and what it delivered – as well as its challenging present and uncertain future.
Our guests are historian Nancy Groce, pop culture writer Hunter Harris, Warriors director Walter Hill, public transit expert Danny Pearlstein, and film critic Alissa Wilkinson.
This show rips.
Just started with Do The Right thing and there was so much love and attention to detail, thanks for putting this out! Great show.
I ❤️ Fun City
A truly fantastic podcast.
Great pod about the greatest city, New York.