Feb 7, 2010

New York City in the rear view mirror

I just caught The French Connection on TV again and found myself drinking in all those long hand-held takes out the car window of Manhattan Bridge, China town, Little Italy. The tenements look amazingly sooty, the advertising hoardings barely legible, everything suffused in that bleary 6am blue light that makes you feel tired in your bones. One of the strange things about seeing New York on film, though, is not how much has changed, but how little: everything scrubs up nicely on the surface but the underlying structures are instantly recognisable. Seeing New York on film always fills me with a sense of just passing through — taking the city over from the last generation before handing it over to the next, but never really taking possession of the place. No other city makes me feel that way. London's landmarks don't instill such mortal pangs, and nor do Paris's, even though those cities are a lot older. Maybe that's just it: New York is the only city that seems to get younger, not older, and the movies are there to prove it, a vanity mirror recording everything in reverse, like Dorian Grey's portrait.

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