Fun City Cinema

By Jason Bailey & Michael Hull

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Category: Film History

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“As you see, we’re flying over an island. A city. A particular city. And this is a story of a number of people, and a story also of the city itself.” That’s from the opening voice-over of the 1948 movie The Naked City, which was a very big deal when it was made, because it was a rare studio film that was shot entirely, lock stock and barrel, on the streets of New York City. You see, the American motion picture industry began in New York, at the end of the 19th century – Thomas Edison and other early innovators had their laboratories here, and shot their early films in and around Manhattan. But the movies moved to California in the 1910s, and rarely came back. Plenty of films were set in New York… but astonishingly few were shot here. Studios constructed fake New Yorks on their Hollywood backlots; maybe, if they couldn’t fake it, they’d shoot a scene or two in New York, or send a crew to shoot exteriors, or use stock footage. But that all changed with Executive Order No. 10, issued by Mayor John V. Lindsay on May 31, 1966. That document formed the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting—a one-stop shop intended to eliminate the red tape and copious permits of New York filmmaking, and to lure filmmakers East. It worked - perhaps too well. The problem was, the explosion of production that followed the establishment of the Mayor’s Office in the mid-1960s coincided directly with the beginning of the most troubled period of the city’s history… a quarter-century of rising crime, increasing debt, decreases in public service and servants, and general urban anarchy. And that period was captured over the course of the next two decades, vividly, in the likes of Midnight Cowboy; The French Connection; Death Wish; Dog Day Afternoon; Taxi Driver; The Taking of Pelham 123, The Warriors; Fort Apache, The Bronx; Do the Right Thing; and After Hours—portraits of a city’s decay and downfall, and ones that, ironically enough, might not have existed at all were it not for the incentives provided by the city itself. Now, from the safe distance of a Disney-fied and gentrified Manhattan, these films provide us with a window into a past that’s been razed and replaced by a safer present. 9/11 took a toll on The City… so did the rise of income inequality, rendering New York City, more than ever, a place solely by and for the rich. That shift, and the rapid suburbanization that accompanied it, has left New York nearly indistinguishable from other large American cities. And thus these movies…. become a valuable reminder of what once was. And what we’re witnessing, in the films made in New York, and set in the present, is a conversation of, of connections and reflections between the fictional lives in their foregrounds… and the real lives happening behind them. So in their own unique ways, every great New York movie is an accidental documentary of what The City was - at the precise point of its production, and not a moment longer. All of those movies, taken together, tell their own version of the history of New York. That’s the history we’re here to tell.

Episode Date
Lost in New York
We thought it would be fun to do a nice, light Christmas episode, focusing on one of the many beloved Gotham holiday movies. Just take it easy for an episode, right? Kinda phone it in?  So we settled on Chris Columbus and John Hughes’ 1992 smash "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" – and ended up talking about Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, “Broken Windows,” the Central Park Five, and 9/11, along with the film’s total geographical inconsistency and the spectacular tonal failure of its violence. Our guests are “Close-Ups: New York Movies” author Mark Asch, Pitchfork senior editor Jillian Mapes, “You’re Wrong About” co-host Sarah Marshall, and freelance film writer Anya Stanley. Happy holidays! Support this podcast
Dec 11, 2020
No Wave Women
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a combination of factors – including low rents in abandoned neighborhoods, new and more affordable technology, a cross-pollination of media, and a punk-influenced DIY spirit – collided on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to create a scene, commonly known as “No-Wave,” that dominated music, visual art, and film. And, unique among American independent cinema movements, there were just as many women in downtown NYC making movies as men.  What was it about this scene that made it possible for women filmmakers to not only thrive, but dominate? To find out, we talked to three of them: Susan Seidelman (“Smithereens”), Bette Gordon (“Variety”), and Lizzie Borden (“Born in Flames”), as well as contemporary film and fashion writer Abbey Bender.  Go to for more information. Support this podcast
Oct 30, 2020
Starring the NYPD
How the New York cop movies of the 1970s sculpted (and whitewashed) the public perception of the NYPD   The New York movie and the New York cop movie are inextricably intertwined – so much so that the first major studio picture of the talking era to be shot in New York, The Naked City, was a cop movie. But in the years following the protests and policing reforms of the 1960s, Gotham cop movies like The French Connection and The Seven-Ups focused on a specific kind of New York cop, who could only clean up the mean streets if he bent those pesky rules. This episode contrasts the NYPD of film and television to the real department – one that was, in the same era, rife with graft, corruption, and worse – and reexamines that messaging within the current national conversation about policing.   Our guests are MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, The Undefeated’s Soraya Nadia McDonald, and film writer Zach Vasquez, with a special appearance by Karina Longworth. Support this podcast
Sep 23, 2020
Fight the Power - B-side
We're pleased to present our very first bonus episode, in which we talk a bit about making "Fight the Power," expand on some of the themes within it, preview our next installment, and share our full, one-hour interview with author Brandon Harris ("Making Rent in Bed-Stuy").  These bonus episodes will only be available to Patreon subscribers starting next month, but we decided to drop one on the main feed so you get a sense of what's coming down the line. On that note, we tease our September bonus episode. You see, this spring, when Jason interviewed Martin Scorsese for the book, the filmmaker shared a sacred document: his list of 60+ essential New York movies. This is (as far as we can tell!) a Fun City Cinema exclusive. So we're going to walk through that list with you next month, with the help of film critic and historian Glenn Kenny, author of (Made Men: The Story of 'Goodfellas,') - which is also out next month, coincidentally enough (not coincidentally). So that's what's on the horizon. Here's the bonus episode. Hope you enjoy it. Support this podcast
Aug 31, 2020
Fight The Power
Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do the Right Thing,” shot on location in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, is now considered not only a classic of modern cinema, but a clarion call to social justice, frequently connected with current acts of racist violence.  But “Do the Right Thing” is inspired by specific historical events in New York City in the years before its release – and a general atmosphere of racial tension and police brutality, much of it empowered by the casual racism of Mayor Ed Koch. This episode connects the film to those incidents and to that atmosphere, and looks back at its initial (and fraught) reception. We also connect Lee’s iconic work to current events, and ask how we can carry its lessons into the current struggle. Our guests are “New York Times” culture / op-ed editor (Aisha Harris), “Making Rent in Bed-Stuy” author (Brandon Harris), indie film guru (and “Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes” author) (John Pierson), and “Rolling Stone” senior writer (Jamil Smith).  Check out our (website) for more information. Thanks for listening! Support this podcast
Jul 31, 2020
Sneak Peek: Fight the Power
Our first episode drops this week, so we wanted to give you a taste of what’s to come. “Fight the Power” tells the story of Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” now considered not only a classic of modern cinema, but a clarion call to social justice, frequently connected with current acts of racist violence.  But “Do the Right Thing” is inspired by specific historical events in New York City in the years before its release – and a general atmosphere of racial tension and police brutality, much of it empowered by the casual racism of Mayor Ed Koch.  For more information check out our website - Thanks for listening! Support this podcast
Jul 28, 2020
Introducing Fun City Cinema
New York City is one of the most important and recognizable locations in motion pictures – like a character itself, as countless films and filmmakers have tiresomely insisted. And though first American films were shot in New York at the end of the 19th century, the industry moved West in the 1910s and rarely came back.  And when, thanks the Herculean efforts of city government, filmmakers finally brought their cameras back to Gotham in the mid-1960s, they did so just in time to capture a city in crisis, a cesspool of crime, decay, and conflict.  So the movies that were shot in New York in those years aren’t just telling their stories. They’re telling the city’s story – and one that’s still being told.  Support this podcast
Jul 28, 2020