Why was the fascinating footage posted above shot? Hard to say, but I’m glad it was. It consists of three fragments of documentary street footage photographed at three different locations on 5th Avenue in 1929. In the first, two women enter the middle of a crowd (many of whom are looking directly at the camera thus spoiling the shot) wearing strange garments. They proudly if amateurishly, announce that they’re ‘pajama dresses’ and are ‘the smartest new women’s apparel.’ A bossy man (the director?) orders them to say it again and then the camera angle changes to a tighter view. Was this coverage for a version that was planned to be edited like a ‘real’ movie? Next we see a view of stifling crowds on Fifth Avenue on what was apparently a stifling day, as many straw hats are in evidence and some men actually are going jacket-free, a shock to the eyes of city denizens in that era. The two women continue their strange perp walk and the crowd continues smiling, staring and waving at the camera, thus continuing to spoil the shot.
But things get even stranger at 2:34 when none other than Raymond Duncan, Isidore Duncan’s very peculiar artist brother, takes a walk on a different section of Fifth wearing a Toga. He seems to have attracted a crowd of his own as he swans through the city streets, serenely unconcerned with the weirdness of his own costume. Was this a movie about strange pajama and toga get-ups? The third section is supposedly shot on Fifth and Seventy-third Street but it bears no resemblance to the corner that I know so well. (Perhaps there’s another 5th and 73rd in Queens?) A black street vendor plays a strange whistle and a group of confused people gather around him. Perhaps he’s playing the part of Pan in this increasingly weird epic. Weirder still, he seems to be playing ‘That’s Amore’…which was composed twenty-four years after this footage was shot.