Saturday, October 24, 2015

New York, New York!

I'm on a seventies retro kick lately. Those times were the formative years of my adolescence and early adulthood, and I don't have fond memories; I wanted the era to be done with and we should move on already. The way we process ''the good ole days" means that people are now cycling through the 1970s using the rosy-tinted lenses of nostalgia. To help ground me with the past I've watched some movies from that decade, specifically The French Connection and Taxi Driver. I saw both when they were first released, and at the time, neither impressed me. Mostly because I was young and those stories challenged my notions of right-wrong as I had little regard for moral ambiguity. What further tainted my appreciation--as it were--of the 70s was that I visited New York City at its worst.

Fast-forward to today. Every modern depiction of the city shows it as a polished theme park for the well-to-do. There might be shots of grungy alleys and forbidding sewers, but that's to establish mood. Pan the camera away and we're back to an urban landscape catering to the affluent and hip. Everybody seems lives in a spacious pad decorated with designer appointments, with a sweeping view of course. (However, not all who've lived recently in the city share this opinion. The comedian Emo Philips says that whenever he misses New York, he simply fills his humidifier with urine.) What jumps at me from movies like The French Connection and especially Taxi Driver is the unremitting grime and seediness. Garbage piled the streets. In TD, Robert De Niro lived in a squalid apartment that today is probably a million-dollar condo. His surroundings were filthy, his kitchen cabinet was a battered milk crate nailed to the wall, clothes hung from extension cords strung about the place. Even fancy destinations in the city were gilded in plastic tawdriness. In today's New York, everyone aspires to a bite of the succulent big apple and its promise of opulence and fortune. In the 70s New York, the decay sank everyone to the same filthy level. Mostly you wanted to survive without getting too dirty.

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