In 1960 a filmmaker named Stewart Wilensky spent the summer shooting footage of New York’s Greenwich Village which he turned into a twelve minute doc called ‘Village Sunday’ which was completed in 1961. If you were watching the film back then then you’d likely see it as a sort of homespun advert for the charming antique neighborhood. From our perspective though, it’s an invaluable time capsule of a very specific time in that very specific place. It runs twelve minutes and is narrated by Jean Shepherd, the WOR radio personality who is probably best remembered as the author and narrator of the film ‘A Christmas Story’. Shepherd’s radio shows are quite brilliant and frankly more interesting to me than the above mentioned, overplayed Christmas movie. A ton of his shows are available online–simply click here. He had a marvelous (if somewhat exhausting) monologists gift for spinning stories that appeared to go nowhere in a very amusing way until the last few minutes when he improbably tied up the loose ends into what is usually a hilariously breathless climax.
So who was Stewart Wilensky? He’s a bit of a mystery–the internet is stubbornly close-mouthed about him. He appears to have directed two other docs, ‘Around My Way’ (1965) and ‘There Must Be A Catch’, but there is little to nothing about them online, save for the fact that the former is in the New York Public Library’s film collection and was screened as part of a New York-On-Film series in 2018. (Actually I just found out that its set in PS 41 and features children’s crayon drawings to a Bill Evans/Chuck Israels soundtrack, but there seems to be no further information online about it. Damn does it sound interesting!).
This restored copy of ‘Village Sunday’ was posted by his son Adam Wilensky. If he’s out there maybe he’ll give me a shout. Stewart Wilensky died in 1984 at the age of 57. Sometimes it’s not the quantity of one’s output that matters and this is certainly true in Wilensky’s case. Leaving behind this charming and important document of the Village in the early 60s is more than enough to insure his place in documentary-making history.