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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, June 19, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 55

[55th of 100]. There is no one New York. Anthony Burgess once wrote that New York City is a metropolis completely made up of one's personal take on it: "The time came when New York displayed itself to me through literature, but a time later still showed how inadequate that literature was. No writer I know of has succeeded in exhibiting the whole panorama. Most writers on New York have found it easier to create a city of their own than to produce the reality." The first time I saw New York -- this was in 2010 -- my first impression disappointed me, although that was quickly reversed a day later and I fell in love with Broadway, with Fifth Avenue, with Central Park, with Washington Square, with Brooklyn, with the museums, with the crazy subways, with the easy to navigate grids of its streets. It was a beautiful autumn, and I walked everywhere. I wrote an entire short story ["All Blocks in New York Take a Minute," Philippines Graphic Magazine, 2012] of my brief flaneuring existence there. I'm glad that happened because my initial disappointment was startling, but it quickly made me realize that our conception of New York, sight unseen, borders on the mythical. For me, my own myth-making of this great, sleepless city more or less began with this Woody Allen 1979 classic. The movie burned into the retina of my brain, and since then I had carried that romantic expectations -- until I disembarked from my train into the stark, underwhelming realities of Penn Station. I laugh now at my naïveté -- but I get why the film holds such an allure. Filmmed in gorgeous black and white by Gordon Willis, the resulting cinemascape gives the film the immediacy and sheen of truth of an old documentary, and a sizeable dose of romantic myth-making because our minds fill in for us the colors they cannot behold, thus personalizing the experience of this celluloid New York. Plus, the film begins with three shrewdly placed devices: [1] an overture consisting of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which is the most New York of themes; [2] a comical voice-over narration by what we presume to be a writer writing and revising his troublesome opening chapter of a book set in New York, each revision a unique take on the place -- a great example of Burgess' thesis; and [3] overlaying all of that with black-and-white clips of New York in the stark glory of all its boroughs, but primarily Manhattan, giving us a kind of map of the place. And ending this magnificent opening sequence with Gershwin's crescendo partnered with fireworks exploding above the outlines of the city. It's all so grand -- and already we're hooked. What follows are the mundane lives of a bunch of New York intellectuals as they hop from theatre to cafe to museum to each other's beds as they search for love and life's meaning. This was all so heady for me when I first caught the film in Betamax sometime in the 1990s. The patter of conversation [I loved the tit-for-tat between Allen and Diane Keaton as they assess the various artworks at the MoMA] was what I imagined real grown-up life to be, and when it did show grown-up problems, I imagined I could survive all of that by just taking a humorous take on things, like the film does. [Haha.] And the romance of the city, of course! That iconic early morning shot of the bench overlooking the Queensboro Bridge as it slowly lights up -- that's one for the ages. Allen famously hated this film, calls it a wretched work of subpar filmmaking -- which gives me the ultimate reason to divorce art from the artist. What does he know? For me, the film meant something. Once it is "out there," a work of art does not really belong to its author anymore. It becomes ours. And just like the city itself, the film becomes a construction of our personal dreams reflected on a magic mirror. And it's mine. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich