Monday, September 29, 2008

MAD MEN

Who is Don Draper?

That's the mystery at the heart of "Mad Men", the hottest show on TV right now. It was created by Matthew Weiner, one of the writers of "The Sopranos", and it just won the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series.

If you haven't seen "Mad Men", it's about an advertising agency called Sterling Cooper in early 1960s New York. Kennedy is President. Wagner is Mayor. Marilyn Monroe is about to OD. Beatlemania, the civil rights movement, and Vietnam are just around the corner. And New York is still an affordable place to live.

It was a simpler, more laid back time. In those days, men wore suspenders under double breasted suits and the women were encased in incredibly tight fitting skirts. Everyone drank and smoked all day and managed to do very little actual work. Most of the women in the office are secretaries looking to get married, all of the men are married but trying to sleep with the secretaries, homosexuals and black people live very much in the shadows, and a high paying salary is $100 a week.

In the middle of this lost America is a lost man named Donald Draper -- a high flying, unhappily married, perpetually adulterous ad exec. He's dying inside but we don't exactly know why. In fact, he's not actually Don Draper ... so who is he?

Obviously I'm much too young to know what 1960s NYC was like but I'd like to think it was like it is on "Mad Men." It may have been a more conformist, socially repressive time and it's probably good that a lot of the mores of that time have changed. But it also feels like it was a time where manners and respectability -- class -- was still important. And it's sad that we've lost that.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wang Hui



The lady friend and I just saw a great exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art about the Chinese artist Wang Hui. He was a painter who worked for the Qing emperors (the last dynasty before the revolution in 1911) during the late 17th/early 18th centuries. He created some of the most incredible landscape paintings and scrolls ever seen. Some of these scrolls are literally yards long and they show off the majestic physical beauty of China. The paintings are simple yet highly detailed and, even though they are hundreds of years old, there is something wonderfully fresh and contemporary about them.

I'll admit that I don't next to nothing about Chinese art or art in general but what amazed me about Hui's paintings, and some other similar Chinese paintings included in this exhibit, is that Chinese artists
as far back as the 13th and 14th century were experimenting with impressionist art long before the Europeans. You could almost say that Chinese artists like Hui were the real fathers of Impressionism (they Chinese were also created and were eating pasta long before the Italians but that's another story).

I strongly recommend seeing this exhibit if you're in the mood for something different.

Wang Hui

Nasty Weather

The last three days in NYC have been hot, humid, and vile. The rain keeps coming and going, and the air is so thick you can hardly breath. The streets have been like some kind of tropical island or Turkish bath. Worse, it's the kind of gross, yucky weather that impacts your mind and body. You know what I'm talking about, right? It gets under your skin and makes you feel irritable. Your constantly wiping sweat off your brow and your skin feels perpetually dirty no matter how much you wash. Worse, it gives you the Sunday night blues -- all day, every day -- and it's even been giving me a headache. Ouch.

Has anyone else been affected by this weather? It's supposed to stay with us through Tuesday and I'll be most grateful when it ends.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman RIP

He was one of the greatest actors in movie history and his career lasted more than 50 years.

Paul Newman made countless classic movies like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, HUD, The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, The Color of Money (his only Oscar), and Nobody's Fool. Beyond that, he was a canny businessman (everyone has bought his salad dressing at least once) and also a great humanitarian.

Like so many of the great actors of his generation, Newman got his start at the Actor's Studio here in NYC. He will be missed.

Paul Newman, a Magnetic Titan of Hollywood, Is Dead at 83

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Remembering New York Icon George Plimpton


Five years ago today, George Plimpton died at the much-too-young age of 76. Who was he? He was a modern day Renaissance man, someone of many talents and interests who wanted to do -- and did -- just about everything. Above all, he married highbrow culture with popular tastes, and he was someone who made you feel good about being alive.

A native New Yorker, George Plimpton was a blue-blooded, Harvard and Cambridge University educated Knickerbocker. He lived on the Upper East Side for almost his entire life and was prominent on the New York social circuit. Plimpton founded the still-running literary magazine The Paris Review in 1953 and edited it until he died in 2003. Among some of the writers he helped discover were Terry Southern and Philip Roth, and he even interviewed Ernest Hemingway. He also wrote books, including one on Truman Capote. In literary circles, he was a star-maker.

But Plimpton was not just some ivory-tower elitist. Far from it. He was a man of action. He fought in World War II. He was with Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles on the night of his assassination in 1968, and helped wrestle Sirhan Sirhan to the ground. And he did something most of us would only dream of: he got to pitch in a National League Baseball game, box against Sugar Ray Robinson, golf on the PGA Tour with Jack Nicklaus, and play with the Detroit Lions football team. He wrote about these experiences in Sports Illustrated and other magazines, and he wrote about his football experiences in the book Paper Lion that became a movie with Alan Alda.

Talking about movies, Plimpton appeared in them too, including as an extra in Lawrence of Arabia and small parts in Reds, Volunteers, and Good Will Hunting among others. He appeared on TV as well, as himself on The Simpsons and also in a small recurring part as Carter's grandfather on ER.

Plimpton was also the New York City Fireworks Commissioner for over thirty years, first "appointed" by Mayor Lindsay and holding that "job" until he died.

I had the pleasure of seeing George Plimpton in person several years ago at the 92nd Street Y. He was appearing with Norman Mailer and Mailer's wife where the three of them read letters by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. A very tall man with an aristocratic voice and bearing, Plimpton was funny, charming, and a great reader. It was a real honor to have seen him and I only regret not learning about who he was much sooner.

George Plimpton was one of those people who brought joy to just about everyone who ever encountered him. I remember right after he died, James Lipton of Inside the Actor's Studio appeared on Charlie Rose and he said of his friend's passing, "What are we going to do now?"

My guess is George Plimpton would say, "Go on living -- and enjoy it!" He was a true original, someone who blazed his own path, a real New York icon.

George Plimpton: Man of Letters, Man of Action

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Suzanne Vega - Tom's Diner


How did Suzanne Vega write "Tom's Diner"? Find out here.

It's quite a long essay by Ms. Vega and she tells you anything and everything you'd ever want to know about how this classic NYC song came into existence.

It's scary but true: this song is over 20 years old -- but it's still great. If there was ever a song that encapsulated this town, it's "Tom's Diner."

Just a few interesting facts about this song:

1. The real Tom's Diner is actually Tom's Restaurant on 112th and Broadway. And yes, it's the same one as on "Seinfeld." I actually grew up very near restaurant and went there often in my misspent youth. The food is okay but they have GREAT milkshakes.

2. The story about the actor who died while drinking is, as confirmed by Ms. Vega here, William Holden.

3. The "bells of the Cathedral" refers to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

4. This is the first song on Suzanne Vega's hit 1987 album "Solitude Standing" -- the same one as her other big hit song, "Luka."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gotta Love New Yorkers

Picture this: a man with a beautiful black cat sitting on his head standing outside the Winter Garden Theater, home to Mama Mia!, with no one paying it any attention.

Where else are you going to see something like this?

Sarah Comes to Town


The esteemed Governor of Alaska and Republican nominee for Vice-President is in town today. She's going to the U.N. to meet foreign leaders and then get tutorials in foreign policy with the likes of Henry Kissinger (shudder). This is a woman who didn't have a passport until last year and said she didn't pay any attention to the Iraq war for the last five years -- and a year from now she may be a heartbeat away from formulating American's foreign policy. You can't make this stuff up.

Palin in the City

Meanwhile, the usually gaseous conservative pundit has written a brilliant column about John McCain's nutty response to the financial crises. Will puts it perfectly: "Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy 40th Anniversary New York Magazine

New York magazine changed the publishing industry when it was founded by the late Clay Felker forty years ago. It was brash, funny, strange, and original. Home to the New Journalism of the 1960s, New York published a huge variety of authors including Tom Wolfe, Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin, and so many other great writers who are still around today.

More than any other publication before or since, New York was the city speaking to itself, encapsulating our urban neurosis, spotting every trend before it hit and predicting its demise before its fall, and keeping everyone up to date on what was going on in this town. New York was and is the "go-to" magazine for everyone who is anyone (or no one, like yours truly) in NYC and New Yorkers ignore it at their peril.

Check out New York's 40th Anniversary section and read some old stories that still read as fresh as if they were published today.


Last Game At Yankee Stadium - Final Inning

1923-2008

Goodbye, House that Ruth Built. You made this city proud more times than we can remember. Thank you.

Yankee Stadium closes after 85 years

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Found My Blog in The New York Times

Hurray!

Today marks an historic moment in the life of this blog. Mr NYC has now been added to the City Room Blogroll on The New York Times website.

That's right, this little corner of cyberspace has been deemed worthy by the paper of record of appearing on its website along with the likes of Gawker, Gothamist, and so many other great New York City blogs. Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Gail Collins et al. are now my electronic colleagues (okay, that's an outrageous stretch but a boy can dream can't he?).

Just go to City Room
and scroll down to the Blogroll. Mr NYC appears in the "People & Neighborhoods" section right after mcbrooklyn and right before My Private Coney.

Many thanks to The New York Times for this honor.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Candy's Music Club - Staten Island Public Access

Long before websites and blogs, New York City public access TV was probably the best place to find what we now call "user generated content." So often the weird and funny shows on public access were vastly more entertaining than those on regular TV.

Thus, in keeping up with the Staten Island theme for today, here's a clip from a cute show on Staten Island Public Access called Candy's Music Club. Enjoy!

Michael McMahon for Congress

With all of the heat the presidential election is generating, it's easy to forget that there are other important elections this year, including one for Congress in NYC. In the 13th Congressional District, the one currently held by the retiring Congressman Vito Fossella, the Democrats have a great opportunity to win the last remaining district held by a Republican.

City Councilman Michael McMahon is running a strong campaign and was just endorsed by Mayor Bloomberg. Better yet, McMahon was also endorsed by the Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro who is a Republican!

Mr NYC endorses Councilman McMahon for this Congressional seat and hopes he wins. He's been endorsed by just about everyone who is anyone in New York City and State and so, in my attempt to be a big shot, I thought I'd join the bandwagon. Good luck!

Michael McMahon for Congress

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New York By the Numbers

It's hard to take the pulse of a city as big and complex as NYC. Back in the day, Ed Koch used to just ask "How'm I doin'?" But in the 21st century, we've gotten a little more sophisticated.

There's really only one way to do it: metrics. Measure various things about the city -- big things like the crime rate, little things like the number of critters -- and see if what should be up is up and what should be down is down. According to an article in today Times, things are more or less going in the right direction. In the sea of bad news, we can be thankful for this.

Mayor’s Report Shows What Works and Doesn’t in New York, by the Numbers

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What Will the Financial Crises do to Dating in NYC?

Scoring chicks in this town has always been a cutthroat game -- and the switchblade most guys wield is money. New York City women like guys with money. Why shouldn't they? What woman dreams about shacking up with a poor guy? And the more money a guy has, the more hot women he can get. No romance without finance. It's as simple as that.

The reason guys work like dogs is so that they can makes lots of money in order to get chicks. Big surprise. But now, with the our city and nation's financial system in meltdown, with stocks and 401(K)s and IRAs and all sorts of financial portfolios hemorrhaging like crazy, lots of guys are losing lots of money ... and let's not be surprised if they start losing lots of hot chicks.

This isn't just some snarky though on my part. The Daily News has a wonderful article about this very phenomenon today.

Hard economic times hits the High End Girlfriend Index

Think about it: florists, jewelers, limo drivers, liquor stores -- the businesses that depend on guys like this, are going to take enormous hits. And that's who I feel really sorry for.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Reality!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wall Street Implodes


Wow! September 15, 2008. A day that will live in financial infamy.

It may top October 24, 1929, Black Thursday, the day that triggered the Great Depression.

Lehman Brothers is being liquidated. Merrill Lynch is getting sold to Bank of America. These two titans of the American financial sector will exist no more.

The insurer AIG is getting bailed out.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are no longer functional.

The Dow Jones fell by more than 500 points, its worst performance since September 11, 2001. The S&P 500, Nasdaq, and European stock markets are crashing too.

It's a big, huge, freakin' mess.

This is the kind of disaster that only people who are convinced that they're really, really, really smart -- sooooooo much smarter than your average, ordinary shlub -- this is the sort of catastrophe only arrogant fools like these could create.

But not to worry -- oh no! According to President Bush, Senator McCain, and Treasury Secretary Paulsen, the "fundamentals" of our economy are "strong." Please, don't panic. Everything will fine. Nothing to see here.

What the hell are the fundamentals of our economy anyway? And how are they strong? Somebody please enlighten me, I can't seem to figure it out.

This Wall Street meltdown will be disastrous for NYC. I don't see how it can't be. So much of the state and city economy depends on the taxes the financial sector produces (those big bonuses are vital to the city's well being). One can safely assume that tax revenues are going to plummet as a result of this.

This will mean huge, painful cuts to our city's services (schools, police, firefighters, hospitals, sanitation, etc). It'll probably mean even more painful tax increases to make up the revenue shortfalls. Don't be surprised if we find ourselves in a situation similar to the 1970s fiscal crises. It'll be a nightmare but I know New Yorkers will pull through it. After all, we'll survived much worse.

I can just see the headlines now: "McCain to City: Drop Dead."

To get a thumbnail sketch of this whole thing, check out the following:

Wall Street meltdown: your two-minute catch-up

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Is Rent Control a Scandal?

According to the Wall Street Journal it is.

Rent Control Is the Real New York Scandal

I'll leave this for you to decide. I just always find it amazing how programs and policies that help the poor and middle class are always seen as the "real cause of our problems" while programs and policies that help the already rich and powerful are viewed as good and beneficial to society as a whole. But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.


Classic Mr NYC

Last night HBO broadcast (re-broadcast?) Real Sex 32 which had a segment featuring Rachel Kramer Bussel, the sex and cupcake blogger/author/advice columnist. Last year, Ms. Bussel did an exclusive interview for Mr NYC. Read it here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Memo from NYC




For several decades, the late great Alastair Cooke broadcast his "Letter from America" on the BBC World Service, delivering his impressions about his adopted country to his native one and the world. Needless to say, like the man himself, Mr Cooke's "letters" were classy, smart, funny, and wise. In a varied homage to Mr. Cooke, I'm starting a new feature called "Memo from NYC", one New Yorker's message to the country and world in which he lives.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ever since America stepped into the 21st century I've wondered: is this real?

Let me put it this way.

Remember in Back to the Future Part II, when Old Biff from 2015 goes back in time to give Young Biff from 1955 that sports almanac? We learn that Biff goes on to win millions in horse race betting and, by 1985, is rich and powerful. He's had Marty's dad killed, is married to Marty's mom, sent Marty to boarding school, and has had Doc Brown committed. Biff controls a scary and awful Hill Valley, a place where the rich and powerful run everything for themselves and everyone else lives in misery and fear.

Today, America in the 21st century feels a lot like that alternate Hill Valley of 1985.
Truth is stranger than fiction, life imitates art, etc.

Sometimes I wonder if someone from the future came back in time to screw up our present so royally. We can't really have all done this to ourselves, can we?

We didn't really impeach a competent president over his sex life?


We didn't really then put a totally incompetent man into the presidency after a majority of Americans voted against him?


After we got horribly attacked, we didn't really give up on finding the person who organized those attacks and then invade a country that never attacked or threatened us?


We didn't really base this invasion on lies, did we?


And after invading that country, and committing ourselves to a long and expensive occupation, we didn't really cut taxes on the rich and explode the deficit at exactly the same time when the government needed more money to pay for that occupation?

We didn't really turn our nation's largest surplus into our largest deficit?

We don't really spy on Americans without warrants, torture people, and deny them due process of law, do we?

We didn't really elect this clearly incompetent president again, did we?


Aren't we upset that more and more people are falling into poverty, and that millions are going without heath care and are falling into debt and losing their homes when they get sick?


We don't really like the expanding gap between rich and poor, do we?

The price of gasoline can't really be $4 a gallon, can it?


We aren't seriously going to teach creationism in our public schools, are we?


We don't really think it should be any easier for criminals to get their hands on guns?

We don't really want to turn gay people into second class citizens, do we?

We didn't really politicize our justice system, did we?

We believe in some kind of social safety net, don't we?

And on and on and on and on and on.


I mean ... do we really like what America has become in the 21st century?

Most Americans say "no" but I just don't believe it any more. The real answer to this question, sadly, seems to be "yes."

Polls indicate that Americans are posed to elect a man as president who wants to maintain this status quo. Someone who wants to keep this American reality the same.


Thus I can only conclude that more Americans like the direction this country is going in than those who do not. This nightmarish America is, in fact, what most Americans seem to want their country to be. They prefer the Hill Valley of Back to the Future Part II to the Hill Valley of the other two movies.


Now some people will say that this is a stupid, unfair, outrageous, totally spurious comparison.
But then why did I think of it?

Now I'd like to believe that our nation's current travails -- this alternate-reality reality -- is just the work of one bad man, some Biff from the Back to the Future movies. Some of you might be thinking that our Biff is George W Bush or his soon to be successor John McCain.

But it isn't. It's us. We The People.

And we the people have really messed things up!

We
are the Martys of the world unwittingly giving the Biffs of the world the almanacs they need to wreck havoc on us. We are the ones who have created this reality. "We have met the enemy," said Pogo, "and he is us."


We were given choices -- and we made terrible ones. Why else would George W. Bush be president? John McCain leading in the polls? The economy in a shambles? The Iraq war lasting longer than WW2? "American Idol" the number 1 show on TV? We made these same grievous errors together.

And how do we deal with the consequences of these mistakes? Well ... we go on making them! Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, I guess we figure that if we keep making the same mistakes again and again then they'll no longer be mistakes. They'll be ... reality. And this insanity, this reality, can't be a mistake, can it?

The reality that shouldn't be ... is. The reality most of us say we don't like is the same reality we most fervently embrace.
Today's reality is like sweet desserts, drugs, and pornography: people are addicted to it. We don't want to like it but we do. We don't want to consume it but we can't stop. No matter how much we despair of it, we're addicted to our own reality!

I'd like to think that America can do so much better than this. For a while, it seemed like we were doing great. Just ten years ago, in the late 1990s, despite whatever problems we had then, overall it felt like America was only going to get better. We were at peace, the economy was booming, Clinton was president, and Seinfeld was on TV. The future seemed bright.

And then it fell apart.

The fiasco of the 2000 election resulting in the Bush Presidency; the tragic attacks of 9/11/2001; corporate scandals; the disastrous war in Iraq; the sputtering and stalled economy, and so on and so forth.

What happened? How did it all go so wrong? Will this nightmare ever end?

And why do so many Americans, despite what they might say to the contrary, seem to want it to continue?
We say all the time how lousy things are but we do nothing to change it. We the people doth protest too much.

Now if only I could find that exact point in time, that precise moment in the last few years where it all went so terribly wrong. Like Biff in Back to the Future Part II, I'd get a time machine and go back, only I'd go armed with a copy of today's newspaper and say to everyone I meet, "You see what we're doing in the future? Do the opposite of it!"

Then our present reality might change.


But I probably wouldn't be going back in time to the 2000 election. I might go back to 1995 and tell Clinton to stay away from the frisky intern. Better yet, I'd go back to the Garden of Eden and tell Eve not to eat that damn apple.

Term Limits Save Money ... Kinda

Mr NYC neither endorses nor opposes term limits for our city, state, or federal elected officials. (I'm Switzerland when it comes to this issue.) But The New York Times has an interesting story today about how term limits actually save the city money in pension and health benefits (you get nothing if you work for the city less than 10 years and city term limits usually mean just eight years on the government dime, unless these office holders had a previous city job).

Hidden Cost Seen for City if Term Limits Are Shelved

My guess is when most voters learn about this, the term limits law will be set in stone.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Twin Towers Tightrope Walk - Phillipe Petit

When we think of the Twin Towers, we can't help but think of tragedy. But once upon a time, it was a place for magic. And on this sad day, I thought it might be nice to remember this as well.

On August 7, 1974, America was in another kind of funk. The Watergate scandal was crippling America and, two days later, Richard Nixon would resign as president. Yet on this very day, an eccentric Frenchman named Phillipe Petit walked on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers. He didn't just walk -- he danced. He also lay down on the rope and rocked back and forth, as stunned New Yorkers watched from below. It was a surreal, unbelievable moment, something that could only happen here. Petite never repeated this feat and, looking back, it's hard to believe that anyone was ever able to do this.

So it helps to remember that, in the midst of all of the madness in the world, there can also be magic.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Astroland Commercial

And so ... another piece of what Pete Hamill might call the New York City alloy dies. Astroland Park in Coney Island shut down Sunday night and, according to the owners, it's for good. Thor Equities, who bought the park a little while, is planning to "transform" it into something bigger and more exciting. Who hoo! That probably means it'll be more expensive.

I went to Astroland last year for the final time. While it was dirty and overcrowded, it was still fun. There were lots of parents with kids, young couples, and older people having fun. I got the feeling that this was one of the dwindling number of places where middle class New Yorkers could go with their families and not have it cost a bloody fortune. And now that's gone too. It'll never be quite the same.

Here's a commercial for Astroland from, I assume from the sleazy corny music, the 1970s.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hanna Comes and Goes


Yesterday the local media got New Yorkers all crazy with the threat of Tropical Storm Hanna. They said it would pound us mercilessly, bringing up to eight inches of rain, and the flooding would be nasty.

Fortunately none of this came to pass. The rain dumped down for a few hours, then went away. Walking the streets today, I couldn't even tell that it had rained at all. We've lived through much worse, like the storms that shut down the subways last year, and then the media hadn't given us any real warning about that.

So the lesson, I guess, is to be prepared when the media says that a major storm is coming but also don't be surprised if it doesn't turn out to be that bad, just like Gustav, thank the Lord, didn't turn out to be anything like Katrina.

Brett Delivers

Favre Wins in Jets Debut

Today was the opening day of the NFL season and the New York Jets beat the Miami Dolphins 20-14.

Obviously it's only one game and no one can possibly gauge how the rest of the season will turn out but ... it's great way to start things off. At least for now, it shows that Brett Favre was wise not to retire and the Jets were wise to snap him up.

Let's hope the Jets, under Favre's leadership, can keep up this kind of momentum. Who knows, by the end of the season, maybe New York will have two championship teams.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Rent" Closes Tomorrow ...

... and so ends a piece of Broadway history.

Like Opera Inspiring It, ‘Rent’ Is Set to Endure

Dog Day Afternoon

The Best Outer Borough Movies




My previous post on Working Girl got me thinking about movies set in the boroughs outside of Manhattan. There are a number of films -- some old, some more recent, some great, some not -- set in places where the vast majority of New Yorkers actually live. Here are a few of the most memorable. Please let me know if I'm missing any really great ones. I'm sure there are some I missed that'll make me smack my head and shout "D'OH!"

The Bronx

Marty
(1955): A beautiful movie about a lonely butcher looking for love. Ernest Borgnine creates one of the greatest characters ever etched on film. It swept the 1955 Oscars, including Best Picture, Actor, Director and Original Screenplay.


A Bronx Tale (1993): Robert De Niro's directorial debut about a boy in the Bronx trying to live honestly in a world of crime.

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981): Cops in a war zone, led by Paul Newman. Very controversial at the time.

Awakenings (1991): One of De Niro's best performances about catatonic patients brought back (briefly) to life. Based on the story of Dr. Oliver Sacks.

Finding Forrester (2000): Not a great movie by any means but it does have Sean Connery saying "You're the man now dog!"

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990): Awful movie based on a great book. One of the great bombs of all times. It does, however, give you a very good idea of what the Bronx was like the late 1980s -- namely, scary.

Brooklyn

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944): A Cary Grant classic about old ladies in Brooklyn Heights who murder people. Ronald Reagan was actually considered for the Cary Grant part at one time.

The Squid and the Whale (2005): Very funny, very sad movie about a miserable family in Park Slope. The best performance Jeff Daniels has ever given.

Moonstruck (1987): Cher's Oscar (Olympia Dukakis got one to). A beautiful film about Italians, baking, opera, and the insanity of love. Classic lines: "Where are you taking me?" "To da' bed!"

Radio Days (1987): Perhaps Woody Allen's sweetest movie. A tribute to childhood in the 1940s, classic radio, and growing up Jewish.

Saturday Night Fever (1977): Gave us John Travolta, the Bee Gees, and polyester. Best line: "You know I work on my hair 'long time and he hits it ... he hits my hair!"

She's Gotta Have It (1986): Spike Lee's first movie.

Do The Right Thing (1989): Spike Lee's best movie.

Smoke/Blue in the Face (1995): Dual movies about the lives of people who frequent a smoke shop. Harvey Keitel was never so sweet.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975): "Attica! Attica! Attica!" Al Pacino's greatest performance ever. Based on a real bank robbery gone very wrong.

Queens

Goodfellas (1990): The life of Henry Hill, a great movie about a very bad man. The best mob movie ever, Scorsese's masterpiece, and the immortal lines, "Funny? Funny how? Like I'm a clown, I amuse you, I make you laugh?"

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006): Strange but touching little movie about life in lower-class Astoria in the 1980s. Robert Downey Jr. gives a lovely performance.

Queens Logic (1991): Never saw it, no one did apparently, but it's an ensemble piece about Queens and it should really help you with that "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game.

Coming to America (1988): Eddie Murphy's funniest movies about an African prince looking for a wife in, well ... Queens! His best comic performance ever.

The Wrong Man (1956): True story about an innocent man accused of murder. Alfred Hitchcock and Henry Fonda -- need I say more?

Staten Island

Working Girl (1988): A "goil" named Tess with big dreams who gets it all.

Sisters (1973): One of Brian De Palma's pre-Carrie movies. Before she was Lois Lane, Margot Kidder starred in this psychological thriller.

School of Rock (2003): Jack Black comedy about teaching kids how to rock. It was completely filmed in this borough.

Summary

It looks like Brooklyn's got most of the best movies made about it, followed by Queens, followed by The Bronx, followed by Staten Island. But who really cares about pecking order. These movies show that some of the most interesting New York characters in movie history were from the outer boroughs.

Next up -- the best outer borough novels and TV shows.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Robert Caro on the Shapers of New York




If you love not only New York City but its great history, the New-York Historical Society has something wonderful to offer you next year: three lectures called "The Shapers of New York" about the city by the brilliant historian Robert Caro, author of The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson books. Caro is a native New Yorker who is the preeminent authority on how this city developed in the 20th century. (If you're a dork like me you actually enjoy lectures, obviously depending on the topic; however, I'm not so much of a dork as not to understand that most people don't enjoy lectures on anything.) The lectures are:

The Mark of Robert Moses

Series: Robert A. Caro on the Shapers of New York
Date & Time: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 6:30PM

If you read my Power Broker review, you'll get an idea of what this lecture is probably about.

"What Must the Widow Feel?" -- The Compassion of Al Smith
Series: Robert A. Caro on the Shapers of New York
Date & Time: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 6:30PM

Al Smith was New York State Governor in the 1920s and is generally considered the greatest governor in this state's history. FDR once said that the New Deal was basically a federal imitation of everything Smith did as governor.

The Struggle for Power: La Guardia vs. Moses
Series: Robert A. Caro on the Shapers of New York
Date & Time: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 6:30PM

Fiorello La Guardia was this city's greatest mayor and Moses its greatest builder. They were titanic figures and power-hungry egomaniacs who did more to shape this city's destiny than any two people since. You can get tickets for these lectures now. I'll see you there!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Working Girl @ 20

It's hard to believe that Working Girl is twenty years but so it is. Along with The Big Chill, Fatal Attraction, Wall Street and a few others, this was one of those flicks that defined the 1980s. It has now become something of a quasi-feminist classic, with an empowering message to all women: girlfriend, you can have the great man and the great job! As Tess says, any smart, driven woman can have a "head for business and a bod for sin." Uh-HUH!

This is also a different sort of New York movie, one that actually takes place (or largely takes place) in one of the outer boroughs. This is easily the best movie ever made about Staten Island and the Staten Island ferry has been forever immortalized in it. Just take one trip on the Staten Island ferry and doubtless you'll hear someone say "This is just like Working Girl!"

Here's the original theatrical trailer. You might recognize the song that plays in it, "Let The River Run" by Carly Simon that won the Best Song Oscar for 1988.

P.S. It's also one of the first movies that shows a character using something that would become e-mail. Now it looks quaint but I'm sure in 1988 it was cutting edge.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Don't Forget to Vote on September 9th!


Everyone is so focused on the big presidential election this November that it becomes very easy to forget about the other down-ticket races, many for state and local offices, that will also be happening this year. Most of these elections are decided on primary day -- whoever wins the party primary will surely win the general election, case closed.

Sadly, most people don't vote in primaries and miss this opportunity to exercise their real power. The entrenched powers-that-be are happy about this because they are almost always guaranteed to win and therefore can be much less accountable in office.

Don't let this happen! Don't be one of these people! If you're registered in a particularly party, please be sure to vote in the upcoming primaries next week. You can find all of the information you need at the New York City Board of Elections.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Worst Writing About NYC


Most writers attempt to write well even if they don't (this blog is Exhibit A in the doesn't succeed buts tries hard department). But apparently there's a contest out there that celebrates bad writing: it's called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest that gives a "three-figure" prize "to the person who fashions the most wretched opening sentence to an imaginary novel."

This year it was for an imaginary novel about NYC. The winning line:

“Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped ‘Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.’ ”

I wish I had entered this contest, I might have been able to win. My atrocious fake opening line:

"He could not apologize enough to her, just like no amount of mustard could make a stale pastrami on rye palatable."

Awful, right? Can you top that?

BTW, Bulwer-Lytton was an English Baron poet/playwright/politician who coined some famous phrases we still use today.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Beautiful Mount Airy Lodge ...

Well here I go showing my age again. Do any of you remember seeing these ads for Mount Airy Lodge back in the 1980s? You might recall the refrain:

"All you have to bring is your love of everything ... beautiful Mount Airy Lodge ..."

I never went there myself but Mount Airy Lodge was a classic Poconos resort where middle class couples from the city used to go for long weekends and honeymoons. Apparently it was a rather kitchy romantic getaway with heart shaped tubs and ceilings above the bed and stuff like that. People like Bob Hope and Milton Berle used to headline there back in the glory days. Obviously those days are long, long past and places like Mount Airy Lodge are no longer economically viable.

Mount Airy Lodge closed in 2001 and it was literally stripped bare and its entire contents sold at auction. (People were actually making bids and taking home the heart shaped tubs!) Now it's some kind of casino. How dreary.


So here's my tribute to Mount Airy Lodge, a part of the old New York world that we never really appreciated until it was gone.