This video is likely to be the closest thing we’ll ever have to a time machine thanks to a very skillful history buff and Youtube artist who calls themselves NASS. The footage shows three views of Fifth Avenue from the back of a moving vehicle. Each view runs from 60th street up to 79th Street but from three perspectives; directly out the back window, angled left at the buildings on Fifth (3:35) and angled right toward Central Park (7:03). This suggests to me that the footage was shoot for use on a rear projection screen when photographing actors driving a car. (Camera mounts and tow-vehicles with camera’s placed upon them–‘process trailers’–were not yet in use). The year appears to be 1937 as the newest cars I can see are a 1937 Chrysler and a ’37 Hudson Terraplane. By slowing the footage down, colorizing it and adding a very clever sound-bed of period traffic noise, Nass has taken us to the heart of what the city looked like eighty-five years ago (at least the tony district). It appears to be the late winter/early spring of the year as the trees in the park are still leaf-free but people are dressed nice and snuggly and warm.

I find these ten minutes of old stock footage riveting, though some might disagree. Indeed this might be one of those things that divides people squarely into two camps–those who find it riveting and those who think its like watching paint dry or taking a forced four-hour tour of their own living room. If you’re not sure which camp you belong in, try to make the effort to belong to the former as it’s by far the more rewarding. To do this simply stare at the footage with no other intent for ten minutes–no phone, no other media on in the background, no conversation. Within those ten minutes you’ll learn a surprising number of things such as:

1)Fifth Avenue used to be a two way street (it now only runs south). 2) Buses used to be double-deckers. 3) Parking was allowed on both sides of the street but very few people bothered to drive, it seems, as there are plenty of spaces. 4) There were no trees on the east side of Fifth. How was that possible? And from the look of the views we get on the double-wide streets (like 72nd) there are no trees on the side streets either! I wonder when the ‘plant a tree’ movement began in the city–it’s incredible that the place was barren. 5) People used to dress very nicely and carefully and didn’t walk around staring at a small rectangularly shaped device in their palm. 6) A good deal more of the grand private houses on Fifth were still in existence than I thought–I always assumed all but the few that survive came down in the 20s during the apartment building boom. But there are ominous empty corner lots where clearly a private house had recently been bulldozed. 7) Movie cameras have always fascinated people. Just go to 6:02 where the camera car stops at a light and watch the man in the sanitation worker outfit stare, seemingly dumbstruck, at the camera. When the car begins to drive we get a glimpse of a guy below him doing something with a manhole cover. He’s staring too…


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