UPPER WEST SIDE TIME CAPSULE;1971

Here’s a few minutes of ghostly, black and white silent footage of the area around Broadway and 88th/89th streets in 1971. Nothing of any interest happens–which is what makes it oddly fascinating (to me at least). The everydayness of this portrait gives it an unintended weight–it achieves gravitas through its simplicity. We are simply seeing the world as it existed on late autumn afternoon fifty years ago in a very different New York City. Though is it really? This particular slice of the uptown west looks basically the same and still has the people sitting on the benches in the traffic islands in the middle of Broadway. (I sat on one last week and eavesdropped on a conversation between two elderly women who clearly had been meeting at this bench in the middle of Broadway in the afternoons for decades). The New Yorker theater is gone now–they appear to be having a Pudovkin festival on this particular day–and so is the very first place I ever worked, Gryphon Books which was then on Broadway and 89th street. (It’s not visible in this footage as the entrance was on West 89th). The footage ends with a moment on the corner of West End Avenue and 89th–perhaps this was where the photographer lived and he chose to rollout his film before going back inside his building? For whatever reason the film is slowed down which gives it a pleasantly hallucinatory effect, but if you’d prefer to see it at ‘real’ speed go to the settings tab at the bottom of the frame and adjust the playback speed to 1.25. Finally, what’s the biggest thing we notice is missing when looking at these old street scenes? The usual answer is cell phones and that’s certainly correct. But what I find even more conspicuously absent are SUV’s. The view of the urban landscape is articulated in a very different way when all the cars are no taller than humans. It’s as if the air rights had been given back to the city and taken away from the selfish, environmentally-unconcerned, self-involved SUV drivers. And I’m an SUV driver. So there!

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