Thursday, November 6, 2014

2015 NYC doesn't look like 1940 NYC --- but 1940 movies still do !

From the time that I was ten until my mid fifties, I was consumed by visions of the Middle Canada 'new towns' , a vision that also once fired the general Canadian imagination, at least during that nation's short-lived 1950s Resource Boom.

I even attempted to write a book around that vision.

I abandoned that book not long after I took a long, long bus trip through much of the current - real - Middle Canada , circa 2004.

It was a wonderful trip, but by then the dramatic ethnic, religious and ideological cum cultural conflicts that had animated those mill towns from the 1910s till the 1980s had basically disappeared.

I simply couldn't hold onto my history fueled imaginary vision, not faced by today's more benign reality.

So I knew better than to spend too much time in 2006 NYC hoping to experience what it felt like to be back in 1926 ,1936, 1946 or 1956 NYC.

A fleeting but packed physical trip through as much of metro NYC as I could cram in in eight hours had to do it -  it confirmed my suspicion that today's real NYC does indeed look exactly like today's LAW AND ORDER external shots.

But to re-capture the period 1926-1946 and then again 1956, for my journal "Un-Super Heroes" , I would need to first consult the primary documents -- contemporary journalism and books, music, still images and movies.

But always to do so with the help of the endless amounts of secondary accounts, produced by historians, fictional/non-fictional authors and present day filmmakers.

Luckily New York is probably better covered by such combined media than any other place on Earth - besting even London, Paris or Rome.

Even in tiny and remote Halifax, gaining access to the 100 or so films generally considered to be the best movies to show off all sides of historic metro NYC are hardly hard to come by.

I , as a result , can find my way around NYC (ditto London) better than I can Vancouver,Victoria , Calgary, Toronto, Windsor, Ottawa, Montreal or Quebec City.

Yet those are all cities sharing my own national culture and ones that I either lived in for years or spent considerable periods traveling throughout, to attempt to capture their 'feel'.

In my sixty or so years of memories, I have been bombarded daily with images, words, sounds from and about New York (and to a lesser extent, London).

I feel I know as much about the metro New York City of 90 years ago as any living soul, be they in Astoria NYC or Perth Australia -- which is to say that we all must be content to know of it second hand today.

Compare this city to the Northern Ontario small town of Kapuskasing , the would-be model for virtually all my mill towns in my earlier planned book.

As an adult I had to search out still images of it, could find no movies or documentary films about it, and found only one (fascinating) sociological "Middletown" type study of it and one truly great sociological book covering all Canadian one industry towns of the 1950s.

But as an precociously alert child of the Canadian 1950s I was emotional engaged in all facets of our one industry towns, so this helped make up for the relative lack of primary or secondary evidence.

Bu contrast, I never grew up emotionally engaged by metro NYC in any shape or form - not in the way that I once was comfortably at home anywhere in metro London.

But the perennial Janus-like nature of NYC does definitely grab the dramatist side of me by the emotional short and curlies --- I see the story of the century in Dr Henry Dawson's NY City life and times.

I mean that literally : the story of (about) (defining) the 20th century,played out in his conflicts and successes.

I think I have an unique take on the period of change from Modernity to Postmodernity (to put it in big academic words) and I believe it happened first and best in Gotham , back in the early 1940s.

So I will gladly steal and borrow the insights of thousands of others who were much closer to the NYC of 1940 , but only as far as their insights helps support or critique my unique vision.

And I will watch and re-watch a lot of NYC movies....

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