Partisan film review

June 14, 2015

This film review of “Partisan” appeared in the Australian Jewish News on June 4, 2015 (Melbourne edition) and June 11, 2015 (Sydney edition)

Directed by Ariel Kleiman
Written by Ariel Kleiman and Sarah Cyngler
Starring Vincent Cassel, Nigel Barber, Jeremy Chabriel and Florence Mezzara

I have no doubt that if Australian-Jewish director Ariel Kleiman’s film “Partisan” was produced in a central or eastern European language such as Russian, Ukrainian or Georgian rather than English, it would be touted as a hot prospect for Best Foreign Language film at next year’s Academy Awards. It’s that good.

Shot partly in Melbourne (at a Mount Eliza winery) and partly in Georgia – yes, the country of Georgia, located between Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, “Partisan” is set in a mythical “middle Europe”. It features a multicultural cast headed by French actor Vincent Cassel, whose breakthrough role was the rage-filled Jewish character of “Vinz” in Mathieu Kassovitz’s “La Haine”. Here he plays Gregori, the charismatic leader of a cult-like sect where he is the alpha (and only adult) male, part Pied Piper, part saviour and part unquestioned intimidating master to a number of needy and vulnerable women and their children, who he both protects and preys upon.

The film looks and feels vaguely eastern European, although shot in English with a range of different accents. The result is much more accessible for we English speakers, but the loss of cultural verisimilitude may put off some viewers. (How ironic that I criticise an Australian film for including an occasional Australian accent.)

If viewers are put off by the language, it would be a shame, for Kleiman has created one of this year’s most haunting and disturbing films, one that starts slowly and gradually accretes to create a picture of emotional horror. With its creeping sense of dread, “Partisan” has much in common with “Ex_Machina” (currently screening), Alex Garland’s Frankenstein-like meditation on the potential horror of artificial intelligence. This is not classic horror like last year’s acclaimed “Babadook”, but something that – for me at least – operates far more effectively.

Part of the power of “Partisan” is in our experiencing much of the story through the increasingly less innocent eyes of a young boy, Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel). This perspective operates in the same way that we viewed the world through the eyes of Kodi Smit-McPhee’s character in “The Road” (also by an Australian director, John Hillcoat), a film that haunted me for months afterwards. Gregori has raised Alexander from birth, and the tension in “Partisan” arises when Alexander begins to question his upbringing and role. Because here is the catch (minor spoiler alert): Gregori has trained his young charges for a particular mission: to conduct assassinations, reminiscent of the film “Hanna”.

“Partisan” falls squarely in the category of films about cults; its closest recent neighbours are “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “The Master”. Because I lived in California during the times of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple massacre and the Charles Manson murders, I find any strong evocation of cults particularly chilling. “Partisan” captures this claustrophobia.

The beauty of “Partisan” – and it is physically stunning, shot by Germain McMicking, who won a special award for cinematography for this work on “Partisan” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, also lies in its ability to illustrate its emotions through simple visuals.

Director Kleiman – at the tender age of 30 and working with his co-writing partner Sarah Cyngler – has full control of all the elements of his film. Aside from the cinematography, he even commissioned three original songs for karaoke sequences in the film. The film’s themes are universal – parenting, mentoring, human need – but “Partisan” has a dark core that will not appeal to everyone: it is rated MA15+ “for strong themes and violence”, for good reason. Kleiman is a director to watch, an assured auteur with a powerful imagination whose future accomplishments are likely to be many.

Partisan

(photo above:  Vincent Cassel in “Partisan”)

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Jersey Boys – just not New Jersey enough

August 8, 2014

The main problem with Clint Eastwood’s cinema adaptation of the stage musical “Jersey Boys” about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, as far as I can see, is that it is not sufficiently “New Jersey”.

The characters all say that they are from New Jersey, and there are a couple of shots with (supposedly) New York City across the Hudson River (Jersey City?).

But the real indicator is an odd shot when the Frankie Valli and the other members of the “Four Seasons” all travel to home of their Mafia-like protector Gyp DeCarlo (a delightful Christopher Walken), who lives in a suburban mansion. The original band manager Tommy (Vincent Piazza) has taken them all into terrible debt to a loanshark, and the meeting there is to sort it out; it’s an important scene where effectively the group splits up (whoops – spoiler alert).

Presumably this scene takes place in “north” Jersey, and we all know that there are a few “mountains” nearby (unlike south Jersey, with its flat sandy plains) – hey, there are the Kittatinny Mountains, along with its foothills – the Pohchuck, Wawayanda, Bearfort, and Ramapo Ridges. And there are the Watchungs – consisting of Orange Ridge, Preakness Ridge, and Long Hill Ridge. But look carefully at this scene: was it really shot in New Jersey? The mountain behind the house seems way too steep to be in New Jersey and the vegetation looked pretty California-like to me.

I am a great fan of Clint Eastwood, and love most of his films of the last twenty years. But he’s a westerner, a former mayor of Carmel, California. He “does” San Francisco well, extraordinarily well: he was born there and had years of “Dirty Harry” characters, as well as directing “Blood Work” and others. He grew up playing westerns. (“The Good, The Bad, the Ugly”, which I once went to for a long-ago birthday present, was long one of my favourites). “Mystic River” – Boston, okay Clint you have me there. You did it once, but that was partly great casting, with Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and more. But how about “The Bridges of Madison County” (upper Midwest) and “Unforgiven” (cowboy country) – that’s the west, to be sure, where I suggest you best know your stuff.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with filming in California and calling it New York. Hey, “Friends” was notably shot in Los Angeles, but that never felt very “New York” either, did it? By contrast, didn’t “Sex and the City” just ooze New York? It should, it was actually shot there.

It takes something else to portray those dense, multicultural east coast spaces of the USA. Martin Scorsese has it, in spades. Woody Allen has been criticised for only showing part of what the east coast is all about (he has usually preferred upper middle class, upper east side Jews … I love them, really), but he knows what it was like to grow up in New York City and has created some of the best screen romantic moments of that city. Barry Levinson, a Baltimore native, gets it. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck both get it, and their “Good Will Hunting” (Boston) director Gus Van Sant has been able to “do” both coasts (think “Milk”). The late Sidney Lumet was New York through and through. You want east coast films? Think Spike Lee, Sydney Pollack, Nora Ephron, Noah Baumbach – or the new wave of Lena Dunham and her contemporaries.

But Clint, Clint you never convinced me that I was, indeed, with you in New Jersey. Sure the houses were there and some accents. But a “New Jersey handshake” instead of a contract? Really? Go west, Clint, go west.

Below – character of Tommy on a street in New Jersey:

Jersey Boys Tommy on street

Below – the set of “Friends”, taken at the Warner Brothers studio lot, October 2011:

29Oct2011 NY LA-1 349


Book review of Studying the Event Film: The Lord of the Rings

July 12, 2014

This book review of Studying the Event Film: The Lord of the Rings, edited by Harriet Margolis, Sean Cubitt, Barry King & Thierry Jutel. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 2008 (358 pages), originally appeared in Metro Magazine, issue 165, July 2010, pp. 142-143.  I am reprinting it here to make it more accessible.

*****

Although the term ‘blockbuster’ has been in use since the 1920s – describing queues of patrons that extended beyond a city block – it is widely accepted that the films The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) and the first Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) ushered in the modern age of blockbuster films.  These also were ‘film events’, creating a whole new way of reaching audiences quickly and, not coincidentally, making loads of money.  Thomas Elsaesser points out how blockbuster films in North America have now even become miraculous phenomena in that they ‘rival nature, by dividing the year and ringing the changes of the seasons.  The movies now colonize the holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, and they announce the summer vacation or the start of fall’ (see reference below).

A prime example of this phenomenon is the Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy (2001, 2002 and 2003).  According to the Box Office Mojo film website, as of September 2009 the trilogy had grossed more than US$2.9 billion in cinemas, and is one of the most successful film franchises of all time, rivalling James Bond, Harry Potter, Shrek and Spider-Man.  Between them, the three films won seventeen out of the thirty Academy Awards they were nominated for, and – using box office figures unadjusted for inflation – sit as the second, ninth and sixteenth highest grossing films worldwide.

In her introductory chapter to the new book Studying the Event Film: The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), Harriet Margolis notes the numerous ways we have attempted to describe this phenomenon, including the terms ‘experience film’, ‘dispersible film’, ‘megapic’, ‘popcorn film’, ‘tentpole film’ and ‘franchise film’.  It is clear that our own language is struggling to catch up with rapid changes in film marketing, distribution and the widely shared cultural spectacle the biggest films have now become.

Studying the Event Film: The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) is an edited collection which ‘sets out not to study LOTR itself so much as to use the trilogy as an acceptable example of a significant development in the history of filmmaking’. Although it is generally well-known that the films were all produced in New Zealand in a project that lasted more than eight years, the economic, social, cultural and tourism impact on New Zealand was profound in a way that few films have so influenced one country.  In their chapter entitled “Dossier: economics”, Sean Cubitt and Barry King point out that the films’ production budget was close to NZ$500 million and ‘was directly responsible for 23,000 film industry jobs’.  Again and again, this book makes the unique nature of these films clear.

Studying the Event Film is loaded with this sort of fascinating information, and students of non-Hollywood film production will be engrossed in the details.  What this book also shows is that the production of the Lord of the Rings trilogy had – and still has – profound meaning to New Zealand, almost a decade after the filming took place, easily outstripping the importance of the James Bond or Harry Potter films to the United Kingdom, or any equivalents to Australia or Canada.

This book has twenty-three contributors, nineteen of whom teach in New Zealand universities, and almost all of them also attempt to deal with what makes the LOTR trilogy particularly New Zealand-ish.  As a result, this particularly ambitious book deals not only with event films, but also the process of film study itself, Peter Jackson the film-maker, New Zealand filmmaking, and the development, production, marketing, distribution and reception of LOTR.  It is a rich brew.

The book has twenty-eight chapters divided into seven sections entitled ‘A gathering of materials’, ‘Creative industries/national heroes’, ‘Stardom and the event film’, ‘Making a film trilogy’, ‘Reading for meaning: The Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth and Aotearoa New Zealand’, ‘There, back again, and beyond: production infrastructures and extended exploitation and ‘The Lord of the Rings: credits, awards, reviews’.

Studying the Event Film is unashamedly a detailed academic collection, clearly intended more as a reference book on LOTR and event films, and will be of great value for students of film marketing and especially New Zealand film history.  In common with many academic collections, it does suffer from ‘time lag’, but unusually so in this instance. Most of the research for the collection was completed by early 2005, but the book was only published in 2008.  As a result, no recent literature has been included or reviewed, a distinct drawback in what is otherwise a high-quality set of references and bibliography.  For a book with such a wealth of detail, the index is also needlessly brief and not well-structured, making it difficult for the casual reader or researcher to access the riches it contains.

Studying the Event Film is filled with information, although has an odd structure: the first three chapters are about DVDs followed soon after by LOTR reception in Germany (why only Germany?).  These chapters are all well-written to be sure, but this is not a strong start to a book about film ‘events’ where you would expect to examine the nature of such events before delving into such post-release reception detail.  It is also delightfully quirky, making connections that surprise and delight.  For instance, Danny Butt’s chapter is entitled ‘Creative industries in Hobbit economies: wealth creation, intellectual property regimes, and transnational production’.  Brett Nichols’ chapter on the trilogy’s integration with the game and film industries is also notable.

But in fact all of the chapters are good without exception.  Although a bit messy in structure, and somewhat outdated even prior to publication, Studying the Event Film: The Lord of the Rings is an unusual approach to a phenomenon many of us are attempting to understand.  This book’s scope gives much to ponder and savour.

Reference:  Thomas Elsaesser, ‘The Blockbuster: Everything Connects, but Not Everything Goes’, in Jon Lewis (ed) The End of Cinema as We Know It: American Film in the Nineties, New York University Press, New York, 2001, p. 21.


What I learned about life from the movies in 2013

February 10, 2014

I am sometimes accused of seeing life through the prism of the movies.  But don’t we all see it that way?

Well, I have seen a lot of movies in 2013 and learned a whole lot about life.  Here, in short, is what I learned from going to the movies in 2013:

In outer space, no one can hear you scream.

Heterosexuals get AIDS too.

Tom Hanks is a mensch.

Hobbits are native to New Zealand.

Kevin Costner is a mensch.

Athletic women shooting arrows are sexy and spark revolutions.

The next war will be fought by 12 year old videogamers.

Magicians make the best bank robbers.

There is no colour in the state of Nebraska.

The White House and Capitol buildings in Washington DC are very vulnerable to attack.

Older uneducated white guys who are salesmen know more than young tech heads about life and business.

San Francisco and New York at nice places to live if you’re rich.

Chasing volcanoes is next cool thing.

Love conquers all.

Richard Nixon was a bigot.

The American political system in the 20th century was built on the backs of uncomplaining black men.

It’s hard to kill a zombie.

The intellectual centre of the universe is Brooklyn.

Mary Poppins was Australian.

Jews were persecuted by the Nazis, but life was tough for little German girls too.

Walt Disney had extraordinary emotional intelligence and counselling skills.

Slavery was hell.

The Japanese mistreated Allied prisoners of war during World War II.

Cocaine users make lots of money and have loads of fun.

Some of the best music comes from dreary and depressing movies.

Complicated comb-overs are sexy.

The Catholic Church mistreated young mothers.

Some of the best American actors aren’t actually American at all.

All romantic relationships, no matter how amazing they are at the beginning, devolve into petty bickering.

I am not the only person in the world who loves my computer’s operating system.

When driving from Long Island to New York City, you pass through an industrial part of Rozelle, in Sydney’s Inner West.

Sound Stage 2, Warner Brothers studio


Woody Allen going strong at age 77

September 7, 2013

(This article appeared in the print edition of The Australian Jewish News in a somewhat different version on 5 September 2013, with the title “Oscar Winning Form for Woody Allen”, and online with the title “Woody’s Oscar-winning form”.)

Pop quiz.  Who are the most Oscar-nominated American film directors actively making movies today?  Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg each have seven directing nominations, with Spielberg winning twice and Scorsese once.

He is not nearly as flashy a director, but Woody Allen ties Spielberg and Scorsese.  His seven “Best Director” Oscar nominations include one win, for “Annie Hall”, in 1977.  Only William Wyler (12 nominations) and Billy Wilder (with eight) beat these three.  And of living/working film directors, only Clint Eastwood, Ang Lee, Milos Forman and Oliver Stone have two directing wins.  This is pretty elite company.

But Allen also holds more Academy Award nominations for “Best Original Screenplay” (15) and wins (three) than any other writer in history.  His writing Oscars (for “Midnight in Paris”, “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Annie Hall”) place him ahead of Billy Wilder and Paddy Chayefsky (both Jewish), as well as Quentin Tarantino and Charles Brackett, all of whom have received two screenplay Oscars.  Frederico Fellini sits a distant second in nominations with six, but no wins.

Mark it partly to longevity.  At age 77, Woody has directed an average of one film per year since his film career commenced in 1965 with “What’s New Pussycat?”

With next week’s Australian release of “Blue Jasmine”, Allen’s drama set in San Francisco and starring Cate Blanchett in the starring role, this tireless Jewish film-maker is back in the news.

And Blanchett’s role as “Jasmine”, a down on her luck former socialite forced to seek refuge with her working class sister (played by British actress Sally Hawkins), is one of the biggest acting triumphs this year.

Allen is already well-known for writing memorable film characters.  His actors have gained 15 Oscar nominations, with five wins:  Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Christina Barcelona”), Dianne Wiest (twice, for “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Bullets Over Broadway”), Diane Keaton (“Annie Hall”) and Michael Caine (“Hannah and Her Sisters”).  Others Allen nominations include Mariel Hemingway (“Manhattan”), Sean Penn and Samantha Morton (both for “Sweet and Lowdown”), Mira Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite”), Martin Landau (“Crimes and Misdemeanors”), Jennifer Tilly and Chazz Palminteri (both for “Bullets Over Broadway”), Judy Davis (“Husbands and Wives”), and Geraldine Page and Maureen Stapleton – both for “Interiors”.

Of these 15 acting Oscar nominations, 12 have been for female characters. The pattern is clear:  despite Allen’s notorious personal history with former partner Mia Farrow – having an affair with and then marrying her adopted child, Soon-Yi Previn – he writes and directs great female screen roles.  Blanchett’s character continues this pattern, and gives her an early tipping for another Oscar nomination:  she already has five, including a win for playing Katherine Hepburn in Scorsese’s “The Aviator”.

“Blue Jasmine” also marks another milestone:  it is only Woody Allen’s second film set in the USA since “Melinda and Melinda” in 2004 (“Whatever Works” in 2009 was the other).  He effectively “moved” to Europe for a quartet of films shot in London:  “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”, “Match Point”, “Scoop” and “Cassandra’s Dream”.  He hopped to Spain for “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and to Paris for “Midnight in Paris” and finally to Rome for last year’s “To Rome with Love”.  The French, Italians and Spaniards love him.  In fact “To Rome with Love” was financed by Italians, with the only condition being that he shoot the film in Rome.  Two thirds of the total ticket sales from “Midnight in Paris” came from outside North America, particularly Europe.  Its popularity there boosted that film to become Allen’s top theatrical grosser, although with price inflation, the ticket sales were roughly equal to his classic New York films “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan”.

The San Francisco setting of “Blue Jasmine” is unusual for life-long New York resident Allen. His first film as director – “Take the Money and Run”, in which he played a small-time and incompetent crook, was also shot there, with prison scenes actually filmed inside the nearby high security San Quentin.  Allen already knew that city well from his early days as a touring comic. Locals still remember the early 1960s when Allen was the opening act for Barbra Streisand at “the hungry i” nightclub.

Although Allen’s original stage play for “Play It Again, Sam” was located in New York City, the 1971 film version moved to San Francisco.   Although he did not direct the film (Herbert Ross did), Allen wrote and starred as a nerdy film critic haunted by a determined and tough Humphrey Bogart fantasy mentor.  Many notable San Francisco area landmarks appear in the film:  Allen’s character lives in North Beach, rides the cable car ride with actress Diane Keaton, and travels across the Bay to eat at a waterfront restaurant in Sausalito and holiday at Stinson Beach.

Woody Allen Diane Keaton SF cablecar(Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in “Play It Again, Sam”, riding a San Francisco cablecar)

In “Blue Jasmine”, Allen again uses San Francisco locations:  Jasmine’s sister lives on South Van Ness Avenue in a seedy section of the Mission District.  A number of scenes are shot near the Golden Gate Bridge, and the scenic water-side Marin County suburbs of Tiburon, Larkspur and Belvedere all feature prominently.

Will there be a Woody Allen film in 2014?  Yes.  His “untitled project” started production in the south of France in early July of this year, and stars Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver.  Will he still keep going into his ninth decade?  Wait and see.


New Jersey film – Admission opens in US cinemas on March 22nd

March 9, 2013

In a post I wrote in August 2012 about American Ivy League colleges, I wrote admiringly about Admission, a book by Jean Hanff Korelitz.  This novel tells the story of a Princeton University admissions officer who develops an uncommon fascination with an applicant, an event which leads her to change her life in unexpected ways.  It’s a thriller (of sorts) and a romance (of course).  It’s also, in its own way, a love valentine to small Ivy League colleges – Princeton and Dartmouth, which Korelitz attended. (Here are links to an interview with Korelitz in the March/April 2013 issue Dartmouth Alumni Magazine and the February 22, 2013 issue of The Dartmouth.  For those who are wondering, the chapter that takes place at Dartmouth was, sadly, cut from the film.)

In two weeks (22 March), the film version of the book – also called “Admission” – will be released in North America (Australian opening uncertain at this point), starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd in the top-billed roles, along with Michael Sheen (one of the British actors “du jour”), Lily Tomlin and Wallace Shawn (who can pass up a film with the elf-like and ever-charming Shawn?).  Paul Weitz (About a Boy) directed, and Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses) co-scripted.

Loved the book, can’t wait for the  movie to make it down under.

The film was partially shot on the Princeton campus in New Jersey, placing this film one of our “New Jersey film all stars“.  Click here to read a preview in the Daily Princetonian.  And here is an article from NJ.com about the Princeton filming, which took place in early July 2012.

Admission movie poster

A number of other films have been shot on the Princeton campus and surrounds in recent years, including Transformers 2, IQ (about Albert Einstein), Beautiful Mind, Across the Universe and The Happening.


Images of New York City in the Movies

December 1, 2012

Surely one reason why New York City has a lock on our imagination is that we have seen it on the big screen so many times.  Yes, Los Angeles also does this (often, however, on a “back lot” of manufactured place), but for pure energy and distinctiveness, New York City wins hands down every time.  LA became LA and a major movie headquarters (ironically, taking over from New York) in the early 20th century in part because of the weather, in part because it was away from the old guard and in part because it could stand in for just about anywhere.  Some things have not changed much.

A number of books capture different elements of New York and film.  One of my favourites is Murray Pomerance’s edited collection City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination (Rutgers University Press, 2007).  Pomerance points out that there are so many ways to view New York:  as a geographic entity; a “cultural production with a history and power structure”; a “political residue”, with reference to Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, the classic book about Robert Moses; a place where politics plays out (Boss Tweed, Fiorello L Guardia, Robert Moses, Robert Wagner, John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump – and add to that Ed Koch, David Dinkins and everyone else); or even an urbanisation case study which profound world impacts.

For Pomerance, New York City is a “dream and not a place”, and he identifies not one but three different New Yorks on film.  The first is the classic, older New York, which is:

tough minded and (where) aggressive explorers work their way through an urbanised jungle that is flooded with beams of arc light, flickering with neon or with the luminescence of fast-moving traffic at night or in a shadowy constant twilight – all this raised up as far as the eye can see with monuments to a sleek and arching modernism, vast avenues, countless eager windows and vitrines … where multitudes always seem to be scrambling …, where elevators seem always to be whisking the dignified and the stylish to private aeries halfway to the clouds … where big business everywhere accelerates zeal, pressure, movement and rhythm, where endless riveting is piously undertaken to make endless miles of skyscrapers, and where a burgeoning traffic wafts up and down the proud rivers moving the spirit of the place outward, over the ocean, until it meets the world.

Films in this New York include Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Philadelphia Story (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), The Fountainhead (1949), Grand Hotel (1932), Spellbound (1945), North by Northwest (1959), The Band Wagon (1953), Living it Up (1954) and even recent films such as Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005).

He identifies a second New York, one of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, a “serious” New York, the city of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Wall Street (1987), All That Jazz (1979), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) and even the comedies Barefoot in the Park (1967), Plaza Suite (1971) and – my all-time favourite – Annie Hall (1977).

Finally, his third New York is the “contemporary” or “anxious” New York, one of “close up experience and diffuse stress”, with “fashionable clothing, witty talk, and psychological neuroses of people trying to get through the day in what seems an interminable and indefinable war”.  Think of Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Marathon Man (1976) and the 1980s and 1990s work of Woody Allen, On page 9, Pomerance writes, “There is no place like New York that is also not in fact New York.  New York City, then, is a true personality of the silver screen, even more than a star.”

There are other wonderful books about New York and film, notably the fabulous guidebook New York: The Movie Lover’s Guide – the Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie New York by Richard Alleman (Broadway Books, 2005) and the lavishly illustrated Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies by James Sanders (Bloomsbury, 2001; check out the book’s fascinating website here).  More on these two engaging books at another time.  (And here is a link to a nice bibliography.)  Also try Sanders’ later Scenes From the City: Filmmaking in New York (Rizzoli, 2006).

In the two months I spent living in New York City last year, I spent many hours each week wandering the streets  – not quite aimlessly, but not quite purposefully either.  Part of the fun was looking for the tell-tale posted signs announcing a film shoot – usually with a generic title that tries not to give away too much (and thereby avoid the inevitable crowds, if, for instance, one was labelled “Godfather, Part 4”).

Unlike Gertrude Stein’s (in)famous dictum about Oakland, California – in which she pronounced “There’s no there there”, New York is well and truly “there” and in fact has so many “theres” that it sometimes is in danger of being overwhelmed by its powerful sense of place.  Maybe that’s why I can feel suffocated in New York, but maybe that’s just me, the suburban New Jersey-born guy who was never fully, 100%, completely at home in the “city”, as much as it fascinates, thrills and excites my imagination.  So with that said, here are some “theres” that are well and truly lodged in my imagination, in part because they have appeared on film so many times and in so many different stories over so many years that they have taken on a certain life of their own.

So here, as a beginning, are some of my favourite New York City landmarks which appear on film.  That there are so many is a testament to how rich New York is with iconic images and to their power to plant themselves in our imagination, even when we (sometimes) have never seen the real place.

The Brooklyn Bridge – I first walked over the Brooklyn Bridge just over a year ago, the “right” way – from Brooklyn to Manhattan – the more exciting way to watch the skyscrapers of Manhattan loom in front.  Movies include The Siege, Enchanted, Godzilla.

The Plaza Hotel (Fifth Avenue), for its romance and setting (across from Central Park), and which has featured in The Way We Were, Barefoot in the Park, Plaza Suite (of course), Bride Wars, Home Alone 2, Crocodile Dundee, Big Business and The First Wives Club.

The Plaza Hotel, New York, street view

The Plaza Hotel, New York, street view

The Plaza Hotel, New York view from Central Park

The Plaza Hotel, New York view from Central Park

Katz’s Delicatessen (Houston Street) – When Harry Met Sally, Enchanted, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Across the Universe.  Yes, this is the one with “THE SCENE”, where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm (to Billy Crystal’s intense embarrassment) and Estelle Reiner (mother of director Rob Reiner), sitting nearby, says the classic movie line “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue, between 42nd and 40th Streets) – In the film The Day After Tomorrow, a group of characters survive a terrible ice storm by – horror! – burning the library’s books to keep warm; a true advertisement for the printed word – I don’t think that computer disks will warm in the same way in an emergency.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (When Harry Met Sally, Keeping the Faith, The Nanny Diaries, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps)

Tiffany and Co:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s of course – and of course all of Fifth Avenue as seen in Tootsie (a personal favourite), Crocodile Dundee, Ghost Town, Gentleman’s Agreement … I could go on.

Washington Square Park – and the “Arch” (When Harry Met Sally, I Am Legend, Searching for Bobby Fischer)

Empire State Building (An Affair to Remember, King Kong x 2, Sleepless in Seattle)

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

Empire State Building classic poster

Empire State Building classic poster

New Yorker cover 19Nov2012 Empire State Bldg

Flatiron Building (I Am Legend, Spiderman)

Grand Central Station, still a marker of the “old” New York, and featured in North by Northwest, I am Legend, the Gossip Girl television series, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Revolutionary Road, Duplicity, The Fisher King, Superman, Madagascar and the list goes on.

***

Interested in reading more?  Check out the “On the Set of New York” website top forty locations an unbeatable website resource.