Aug 18, 2020

Book Review--Cinematic Cities: New York, The Big Apple on the Big Screen

Cinematic Cities: New York, The Big Apple on the Big Screen
Christian Blauvelt
Running Press/TCM, 2019

In a recent frenzy of pandemic purging and organizing, I was delighted to find a copy of TCM’s Cinematic Cities: New York, The Big Apple on the Big Screen, written by IndieWire managing editor Christian Blauvelt. I’d gotten it in my media bag for the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival, but as inviting as it looked, I was too busy to read it then. But now? It’s the perfect time to indulge in some armchair travel.

I suppose New York had to be the first choice for the series. It’s by far the most cinematically represented city in the United States, and maybe the world. A lot of the locations included here are to be expected too: The Empire State Building, Times Square, and The Statue of Liberty among them. When it comes to the films though, there’s a lot of material to draw from and Blauvelt chooses wisely, achieving a good balance of the popular and lesser known.

Most of the book focuses on the most popular NYC filming location: the many neighborhoods of Manhattan. The other boroughs are grouped into a section that makes up the final quarter of the book. Blauvelt looks at the city in a variety of ways: via its hotels, restaurants, tourist sites, and institutions. A map at the end of each section provided basic orientation for film fans interested in touring the locations discussed.

It would be outrageous to omit the cheerful, catchy opening number of On The Town (1949) in which Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin dance through the great landmarks of the city. It was an ideal opening for the book, but I loved how some of the entries got more obscure.

The Hotel Chelsea section alone touches on a silent film about the Titanic which starred an actress who survived the disaster, the Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen scandal, and 2001: A Space Odyssey author Arthur C. Clarke. An especially fruitful passage that begins with Andy Warhol and his superstars touches on avant garde filmmaker Marie Menken, speculation as to the inspiration for Elizabeth Taylor’s character in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?(1966), and even contains a reference to the brief affair Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin had there. A bustling scenario, just like the city.

I liked the concept for this book, and I thought it was well-executed. It's mostly for fans of the mainstream and definitely contains lots of expected material, but it satisfies more esoteric tastes as well.

Many thanks to TCM for providing a copy of the book for review.

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