Architect Sanders, who collaborated with documentarist Ric Burns on New York: An Illustrated History (not reviewed), goes solo with this opulent tribute to Hollywood’s Big Apple.
New York, he notes, has always been incontestably “the city for Hollywood.” Yet although film production began in Astoria and Menlo Park at the turn of the last century, it was not until the 1930s, when the talkies drew Gotham writers by the score to a California diaspora, that the absent city began to assume the glamorously mythic proportions that have alternated ever since with demythologizing reports from its lower depths as location shooting has periodically returned (following the 1948 success of The Naked City) and receded (in the wake of a 1990 studio boycott of union rules and pay scales). Sanders’s true subject, in fact, is the dialectic of realism and fantasy in the creation of Hollywood’s New York. Leaping as agilely as King Kong from Metropolis to Dead End, from Holiday to Smoke, from Rear Window (“the most sophisticated and complex exploration of the movie city”) to On the Waterfront (“the most ambitious attempt ever to orchestrate the elements of an urban locale into a unified filmic setting”), and among the four filmmakers most closely associated with New York—Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee—he observes that identifiable landmarks play a less important role in New York movies than public spaces like streets and plazas, traces the alienating influence of the International Style on The Apartment, and examines the decline of civic order in such urban-jungle thrillers as Fort Apache, the Bronx. Most readers, however, dazzled by the interspersed 330 photos, will be hard-pressed to keep their eyes on the text.
Though the World Trade Center makes only a cameo appearance here, Sanders’s valentine to New York provides a tonic reminder of the power of its mythic images to outlast their own roots in reality.