Book Review: The Monied Metropolis by Sven Beckert


Author: Sven Beckert
Title: The Monied Metropolis : New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896
Publication Info: Cambridge, UK ; New York, NY : Cambridge University Press, 2001
Summary/Review:

I read this book as a group project at my job since the people covered in this book are the types who are represented in many of our archive’s older manuscript collections.  The author uses the word “bourgeoisie” and is very repetitive in general.  I also think Beckert could’ve been better at showing rather than telling about the social changes in 19th century New York City.  Nevertheless, it does offer some interesting insight into “the story of the consolidation of a self-concision upper class in New York City in the second half of the nineteenth century.” (Beckert, 2).

The main theme of the book is the conflict between the established merchant class and the nouveau-riche industrialists.  The conflict also manifests itself in those who are sympathetic to slaveholders in the South because it provides them financial gain (generally the merchants) and those who are anti-slavery, mainly because it threatens to compete with their own sources of labor, but also for moral and religious reasons (typically the industrialists).  Even during the Civil War there were elites who favored ending the war swiftly and going easy on the slaveowners.

New York City grows massively in population during this time as well as in wealth.  And the new bourgeoisie find ways to consolidate that wealth into a handful of families that intermarry akin to medieval aristocrats.  The elite unite to quash labor movements and increasingly use their strength to squash political organizing of the poor out of fear that the working class will be radicalized.  The elite even take on the roles of government, such as building castle-like armories and training as National Guard units to prevent proletarian uprising.

It’s hard not to read this book and not come away with the impression that the 19th-century New York City elite were pretty awful people.  Even in a charitable act such the Christmas Feeding at Madison Square Garden, the rich would gather in the stands to watch as lines of poor people processed through to receive gifts of food, adding an extra layer of humiliation to their plight.  In addition to acting against labor, the NYC elite also consolidated around antisemitism, anti-Black prejudice, and anti-immigrant sentiment.  By the end of the century they were using terms such as “businessman,” “capitalist,” and “taxpayer.” Their legacy has many echoes in the present day.

Favorite Passages:

“Mystifying the laws of the market into laws of nature allowed upper class New Yorkers to account for their own exalted position.” – 281

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Fourteen (2020)


TitleFourteen
Release Date: May 15, 2020
Director: Dan Sallitt
Production Company: Static Productions
Summary/Review:

I watched Fourteen through a virtual screening for the Brattle Theatre, in Cambridge, MA. The movie focuses on two women in their twenties who have been friends since junior high school and retain that friendship as they set out on their individual life paths in Brooklyn.  Mara (Tallie Medel) is a  quietly competent and driven type working as a teacher’s assistant, studying for a graduate degree, and writing a novel in her spare time.  Jo (Norma Kuhling) appears more relaxed, has an acerbic wit, and works as social worker.  It becomes clear early on that Mara is a caretaker, doing things like making sure that Jo isn’t chronically late for work, while Jo makes Mara push her own boundaries.

The movie is impressionist in style, showing short scenes of the two women alone and together over a decade or so.  They cycle through boyfriends, jobs, and apartments with some cathartic moments thrown into the mundanity of everyday life.  Over time, the two women grow apart albeit with no great precipitating event although the challenges to their relationship are evident from the start.  Jo also begins a downward spiral into depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Fourteen is a very honest and realistic depiction of life and relationships done with excellent writing, direction, editing, and acting.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Taxi Driver (1976)


TitleTaxi Driver
Release Date: February 8, 1976
Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Company: Bill/Phillips Productions | Italo/Judeo Productions
Summary/Review:

Taxi Driver is one of those movies constantly marinating in the ether of popular culture, but another one I’d never watched before.  It wasn’t quite what expected, at least the first half of the movie had some surprises.  I knew that Robert DeNiro starred as a taxi driver named Travis Bickle who becomes obsessed with protecting a child prostitute, Iris, played by Jodie Foster.  I also knew that in the twisted mind of John Hinkley, this movie played a part in his plan to assassinate Ronald Reagan.

I didn’t know that this movie also starred Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks, and Peter Boyle.  Shepherd plays Betsy who is a campaign worker for a presidential candidate, and Brooks is her very funny co-worker.  Bickle initially becomes obsessed with Betsy and the first half of the movie shows his extremely awkward and uncomfortable attempts to date her. Boyle plays Wizard, a fellow cab driver who attempts to mentor Bickle but fails to have any influence.

It’s only after being rejected by Betsy that Bickle begins his obsession with Iris, and Jody Foster only appears in a small part of the movie (albeit a brilliant acting performance, especially for a 12-year-old). Bickle stocks up on weapons and trains to both assassinate the presidential candidate and kill Iris’ pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel).  It’s extremely disturbing and the final scenes where Bickle goes on a murderous rampage are gory but glamorized violence. The movie reflects the white moral panic of the 1970s when the victims of disinvestment and poverty in cities like New York were blamed for the degeneracy.  It also foreshadows the rise of MRA/incel ideologies with Bickle the prototype of men who feel that rejection by women gives them license to carry out unspeakable murder.

There is nothing technically wrong with this movie.  The acting, especially by DeNiro and Foster, is terrific.  The cinematography is stunning with many shots that are instantly iconic.  The musical score by Bernard Herrmann is both brilliant and disconcerting.  I can even admit that this movie depicts accurately the way a person like Bickle acts and thinks.  Nevertheless, I absolutely hate this movie and never want to watch it again.

Rating: *** (to be honest I don’t know how I can rate this movie at all, so I’m just giving it the standard ***)

Movie Review: Quick Change (1990) #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

TitleQuick Change
Release Date: July 13, 1990
Director: Howard Franklin and Bill Murray
Production Company: Devoted Productions
Synopsis:

There are not a lot of Q movies out there, much less ones I want to watch again, but here’s one I enjoyed 30 years ago.

Dressed as a clown, Grimm (Bill Murray) robs a midtown Manhattan bank, holding the staff and customers hostage in the vault.  While negotiating with police Chief Walt Rotzinger (Jason Robards), Grimm makes ludicrous demands in exchange for hostages.  As the demands are fulfilled he releases his lifelong friend Loomis (Randy Quaid) and girlfriend Phyllis (Geena Davis), as well as himself (sans clown costume).  While the police are distracted by the seeming ongoing hostage situation in the bank, the trio slip off with cash taped beneath their clothing.

The heist goes without a hitch, but their efforts to get to the airport to fly out of the country are met with increasingly ludicrous obstacles.  They get lost in Queens, get robbed by a Yuppie conman, lose their car, ride in a cab with a driver who knows no English, accidentally walk in on a Mafia operation, and deal with an anal bus driver who gets them within walking distance of the airport.  They finally make their flight, but Rotzinger boards to make an arrest, only to take away an obnoxious passenger who is a notorious Mafia boss.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

I saw this with my sister when it first came out, probably because we both like Bill Murray.  I remember thing it was outrageously funny and surprised that the movie seemed to vanish from the theaters and no one else I knew saw it.

What Did I Remember?:

I remember the clown bank robbery and Geena Davis wiping off a bit of white makeup that Bill Murray missed, getting lost in Queens, the Latin people jousting on bicycles, and the eerie empty streets they walk through near the airport before boarding the baggage train.

What Did I Forget?:

I forgot about the whole mafia subplot, the visit to Phyllis’ old apartment where they run into Phil Hartman, the cab driver, and the bus ride.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

There are moments of inspired comedy in this film, with Bill Murray robbing the bank and negotiating for hostages being the part that holds up the best.  It’s also very funny when Murray talks himself through the encounter with the mafia, and even makes up with some more money.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

This movie is cynical and angry and built around the idea that New York City is an awful place, something I’ve never believed in, so I don’t know why I thought it was so funny 30 years ago.  A lot of what the characters hate about New York seems to involve people with darker skin and different accents, which is more than a little bit racist.  A lot of the gags fall flat.  The relationship between Murray and Davis is not believable and they have no chemistry.  And Quaid’s character, despite his best efforts, is a one-note “dumb guy” that ceases to be funny after too much repetition.

Is It a Classic?:

No, not at all.

Rating: **1/2

One other all-time favorite movie starting with Q:

  1. Quest: A Portrait of an American Family (2017)

What is your favorite movie starting with the letter Q?  What is your guess for my movie starting with R (Hint: The film score is by the same composer as another of my favorite R movies, The Right Stuff)?  Let me know in the comments!

Movie Review: King Kong (1933) #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: King Kong
Release Date: April 7, 1933
Director: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Production Company: Radio Pictures
Synopsis:

Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is a Hollywood filmmaker who films on location in remote wilderness settings. He’s been told by his producers he needs to cast a woman in his next picture but no casting agent will allow any of their actresses to go on a long, possibly dangerous journey.  The night before setting sail, Denham finds the down-on-her-luck Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and decides she will be perfect for the film.  On their ship journey halfway around the world, Ann develops a romance with the first mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot).

Denham leads the ship to a unchartered island near Sumatra he’d heard of from a Norwegian captain. On the island they interrupt the indigenous people carrying out a ceremonial sacrifice of a young woman as “bride of Kong.” The chief is intrigued by Ann but she and the crew return to the ship.  Later the native people abduct Ann and sacrifice her to Kong, a giant gorilla.

Denham, Driscoll, and many sailors follow in pursuit. Kong kills off most of the men while also defending Ann from various dinosaurs and a pterodactyl.  Eventually Driscoll is able to bring Ann to safety while Denham subdues Kong with gas bombs.  Denham decides to bring Kong to display in New York, promising everyone they will be millionaires.

A few months later, Kong debuts on Broadway, and pretty much immediately escapes into the city.  He once again takes Ann and fights off various people who try to stop him (and perhaps his only real jerk-move is derailing an elevated train for no apparent reason).  He climbs to the top of the Empire State Building for safety, but there he is shot down by army biplanes and falls to his death.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

Kong and I go way back.  One day when I was a toddler, I wanted to go shopping with my mother and grandmother, but they made me stay home with my father.  I fell asleep mid-tantrum.  Meanwhile, my mother felt guilty and decided to bring home a gift – a foot high, plastic, King Kong piggy bank.  She placed it right near my head so I would see it when I woke up, expecting delight, but instead hearing my terrified screams!

Nevertheless, that King Kong would be one of my favorite toys for years to come.  Whenever I built New York City’s skyscrapers with my wooden blocks, I placed King Kong on the Empire State Building.  I also remember a giant, inflatable King Kong on the real Empire State Building in 1983 for the movie’s 50th anniversary. I can’t remember the first time I watched the original King Kong, but I know I saw the 1976 remake first, on tv sometime in the early 80s.

WOR in New York had a tradition of showing King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young on Thanksgiving afternoon and we watched them all for several years running.  In 2005, I enjoyed a two-theater, two-city double feature where I watched the original King Kong (1933) at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge and then hopped on my bike and rode to the Somerville Theater in Davis Square and saw Peter Jackson’s new remake of King Kong .

What Did I Remember?:

This movie has the simplest of plots so it’s hard to forget much.

What Did I Forget?:

Nevertheless, I forgot how much of the movie is on Skull Island.  Only the last 20 minutes take place in New York.  I think the remakes have conditioned me to have a greater balance of the locations.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie was a technical marvel when it was released, and even if the special effects look “unrealistic” by today’s standards, you have to admire the imagination and artistry that went into them. The final scene where Kong bats at biplanes from his perch at the top of the Empire State Building is still breathtaking.  And it is heartbreaking when Kong is shot and falls to his death.

I have always hated the final line, “It was beauty who killed the beast!” No, Denham, you jerk, it was you who took this animal from its home, chained him up and put it on display, and then called on airplanes to shoot it down when he got away.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Where do we start?  The movie is full of racial stereotypes from the Chinese ship cook to the “natives” on Skull Island.  And why is an island in the Southeast Asia or Oceania region populated with people who look African?  The depiction of gender isn’t any better.  Sure you can say that the patriarchal behavior of the men in the film is an accurate depiction of men of the time, but the scriptwriter also decided that most of Fay Wray’s dialogue would be “Aaah!” Finally, there’s a lot of cruelty to (imaginary) animals in this film.  It’s no wonder that King Kong remakes have made Kong more sympathetic and the women stronger characters.

Is It a Classic?:

As a pure adventure/horror film with iconic moments, it is clearly a classic, but be ready for all the baggage that comes with it.

Rating: ****

I don’t have any other K movies to recommend unless you want to watch King Kong (1976) and King Kong (2005). Get your guesses in for my movie starting with L in the comments. (Hint: it is based on a romantic debut novel that became a huge bestseller).

Documentary Movie Review: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “J” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Other “J” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Jane and Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Title: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
Release Date: July 21, 2010
Director: Tamra Davis
Production Company: Curiously Bright Entertainment | LM Media GmbH | Fortissimo Films
Summary/Review:

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts recently opened an exhibit on the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, but since no one will be visiting any museums for some time, I decided to learn about Basquiat through this movie.  The movie includes archival film and photographs from Basquiat’s life (including a never-before-seen interview filmed by a close friend) as well as interviews with friends and art experts.  Basquiat, who was a handsome young man with a disarming smile, grew up in Brooklyn but left home in the late 1970s at the age of 18 to join the large circle of fine artists, musicians, dancers, performers, and filmmakers who lived, worked, and played in the (then affordable) Lower Manhattan.

Basquiat first attracts attention for his graffiti tags which include social commentary in poetic language. Within two years of arriving in Lower Manhattan, Basquiat had his own studio and gained considerable fame and money for his art.  Basquiat is presented as a polymath who draws on many influences from Davinci to Bebop to whatever is on tv.  He’s also a very disciplined in working on his art and is ambitious to be recognized as the greatest living artist.  He forms a close friendship with Andy Warhol and is something of a successor to Warhol.

Unfortunately, sudden fame and wealth come with its costs.  Basquiat has to deal with many hangers-on and the paranoia and loneliness that come from not being able to trust anyone.  He begins using hard drugs.  And despite the recognition he does get, Basquiat is frustrated that highest echelons of the art world racistly dismiss him as a “primative” artists.

I found a lot of parrellels in Basquait’s life to Amy Winehouse in the documentary Amy (although this documentary is more well-done than Amy).  And like Amy Winehouse, Jean-Michel Basquiat died at the age of 27, leaving behind a mindboggling body of work (1000+ paintings and 1000+ drawings) for his few years. I didn’t know anything about Basquiat before watching this movie, but I was glad to get the opportunity to learn about him and his thought-provoking art.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Heaven Help Us (1985) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Heaven Help Us
Release Date: February 8, 1985
Director: Michael Dinner
Production Company: HBO Pictures | Silver Screen Partners
Synopsis:

After the death of his parents, teenager Michael Dunn (Andrew McCarthy) is sent to live with his grandparents in Brooklyn.  He’s enrolled at an all-boys Catholic high school, St. Basil’s, run by an order of monks (his grandmother hopes he will go into the priesthood).  He falls into a crowd of oddballs including Caesar (Malcolm Danare), a nerd who is dismissive of everyone else’s lower intelligence, and Ed Rooney (Kevin Dillon), a bully who is repeating the year at school. Michael is shocked by the severe strictness of the school, especially Brother Constance (Jay Patterson), a teacher who routinely uses corporal punishment and humiliation on the students.

Michael also meets Danni (Mary Stuart Masterson), a girl who has dropped out of public school to run her father’s soda shop across the street from St. Basil’s.  It’s revealed over the course of the movie that her father is suffering from severe mental health issues and unable to run it himself.  Michael and Danni start off awkwardly but begin to date in one of the sweetest teen romances ever depicted on screen.

Over the course of a few months of the school year, Michael, Caesar, Rooney and others (including the weird kid who can’t stop masturbating) play pranks, go to confession, see Pope Paul VI’s procession in Manhattan, have a dance with students from the girls’ school (after a lecture on lust by a priest played by Wallace Shawn in a hilarious bit part), and they repeatedly get in trouble.  Things come to a head in a violent confrontation with Brother Constance and a surprise twist at the finale.

Three characters I haven’t mentioned in this synopsis add flavor to the story.  First is Michael’s little sister Boo (Jennifer Dundas) who is obsessed with death and burial.  She seems quirky at first but in a really touching scene with Michael she expresses her fear of losing him the way they lost their parents. It’s a small but beautiful scene that shows how children internalize trauma.  The next is Brother Timothy (John Heard), a new teacher who joins the staff at the same time Michael arrives and is a “cool” young monk, who smokes and trades baseball cards with the kids, and acts as an adviser to Michael.  He’s kind of the personification of Vatican II reforms in the movie.  Finally, there’s Donald Sutherland in a terrific performance as Brother Thadeus, the strict but ultimately fair headmaster of St. Basil’s

When Did I First See This Movie?:

I watched this movie when it was shown on cable tv in the mid-1980s. Growing up Catholic in a New York City suburb with parents who were teenagers in New York at the time this movie is set it was a no-brainer that I would watch and enjoy this movie.  It was fun to get a look back at the “bad old days” of the Catholic church with Latin masses and corporal punishment.

In retrospect, the 20 years between the time the movie is set and the time it was released doesn’t seem all that long.  In fact, the first English mass was held in the United States in late 1964, so this movie isn’t even set during the Latin mass period.  Still, both New York City and the Catholic church seemed to change quite a bit in those 20 short years.

What Did I Remember?:

I hadn’t watched this movie since the 1980s but it was surprisingly fresh in my mind.

What Did I Forget?:

I didn’t forget things so much as see them in a different light from an adult perspective.  For example, that kid who masturbates is a funny gag when you’re a kid, but as an adult it seems like a serious problem that should be addressed before he commits a sex offense on someone.  Similarly, Brother Constance was always a mean teacher, but now I see him as a total monster who’s comeuppance should’ve had more severe legal repercussions.  The movie also takes on a different feel in the aftermath of clergy sex abuse revelations that were allowed to persist due to many of the same factors of a corrupt system of power that we see in the film.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

If you break it down to its essence, Heaven Help Us is a series of vignettes soaked in Baby Boomer nostalgia.  But it is so much better than that. I think the strong cast of actors really makes all these characters feel real rather than archetypes.  A lot of the younger actors would go on to longer careers so you’re really seeing them come into their own here.  Also, as I noted above with the scene of Michael and Boo, there are a number of great, well-directed and well-written scenes that economically capture moments of great humanity.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Rooney is a bully and sexually aggressive with women and initially an antagonist to Michael, but eventually they become friends.  I think Dillon does a good job of giving Rooney some depth, but overall I think the movie wants to think of his behavior as funny and overlook how harmful it is.

Also, at the end of the movie, there’s an American Graffiti style epilogue where Rooney narrates what happened to all the characters.  It feels out of tune with the rest of the movie and ultimately unnecessary.

Is It a Classic?:

Objectively this movie falls short of being a movie classic, but subjectively it will always be one of my favorites.

Rating: ****

Five more all-time favorite movies starting with H:

  1. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
  2. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)
  3. High Fidelity (2000)
  4. Hoop Dreams (1994)
  5. Hope and Glory (1987)

What is your favorite movie starting with H? What do you guess will be my movie for I? (Hint: it has characters named Bert and Ernie).  Let me know in the comments!

Documentary Movie Review: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “D” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “D” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Dark DaysThe Day the Series StoppedThe Day the Series StoppedDecoding Desire, Dear Mr. WattersonDolphinsand Don’t You Forget About Me.

Title: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson 
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Director: David France
Production Company: Public Square Films
Summary/Review:

Marsha P. Johnson was a New York City entertainer and activist, who, among other things, participated in the Stonewall Uprising, was a member of the Gay Liberation Front, co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), modeled for Andy Warhol, and participated in ACT-UP.  Through her life she is identified as a drag queen, transvestite, or transgender person and even her family use female and male pronouns interchangeably.  Her charm and easygoing nature made her a beloved figure in New York’s LGBTQ community and earned her the nickname “Mayor of Christopher Street.”  Shortly after the Pride festival in 1992, her body was found in the Hudson River.

The police declared her death a suicide and quickly closed the case, but many in the LGBTQ did not believe Marsha was suicidal and suspected she was murdered. As the movie documents, transgender people are murdered at an inordinate rate, even to this day,  with the police failing to investigate the crimes and when someone is actually charged with the offense they receive light sentences. The main focus of this movie is activist Victoria Cruz of the Anti-Violence Project carrying out her own investigation of this cold case 25 years after Marsha’s death.

The story of Marsha P. Johnson is a story that parallels the Gay Liberation movement in New York.  Key figures who feature prominently in the movie are Randy Wicker and Sylvia Rivera. Wicker is a gay activist and writer who was Johnson’s housemate for many years. His opposition to a Pride street festival run by the Mafia has contribute to a theory that Martha was killed by the mob. Rivera co-founded STAR with Johnson in 1970 to provide support for homeless drag queens, gay youth, and trans women. She was outspoken against the gay rights movement being dominated by white, cisgender men who left out transgender people and people of color in order to assimilate with mainstream society.  In the documentary we learn she left New York City after speaking out at a 1973 rally, but returned after Marsha Johnson’s death.  In archival footage, Sylvia Rivera is interviewed while living in a homeless encampment on the Hudson River in the 1990s and suffering from alcoholism.  She is able to go cold turkey with the help of friends, and returns to activism, receiving global recognition for being in the vanguard of LGBTQ equality.

I like that I learned a lot about important activists like Cruz, Rivera, and Wicker and others in this movie. It is a bit disappointing that there isn’t as much about Marsha P. Johnson in the movie.  But then, I guess that reflects reality. Johnson was taken from this world at a young age and is not here to tell her story.  This is a movie that like many a good documentary will make you a little bit smarter, but also a little bit sadder.

Rating: ***1/2

Documentary Movie Review: Bill Cunningham New York (2011) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “B” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “B” documentaries I’ve reviewed are BabiesBallerinaBarbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry,  Being Elmo, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and Boredom.

Title: Bill Cunningham New York
Release Date: March 16, 2011
Director: Richard Press
Production Company: First Thought Films
Summary/Review:

The movie starts with a man photographing passing pedestrians on a street corner in Midtown Manhattan.  It’s a bit creepy, and not too far into the movie a pair of women yell at him to stop. We learn the man is a fashion photographer for the New York Times who publishes collages of street fashion as well from fundraising soirees and models strutting down the catwalk.  But as we get to know the humble man behind the camera, all the preconceived notions of fashion photographer.

Cunningham is not at all fashionable himself, consistently wearing the same blue jacket as he bikes around Manhattan with his camera. He lives modestly in a studio apartment within Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets of his photographs (part of the movie documents Carnegie Hall management evicting Cunningham and other aging artists to make more room for revenue-producing office space).  He never accepts payment or even food and drink at the events he covers.  He does try to photograph celebrities, but focuses on photographing fashionable clothing that captures his eye.  And he never mocks the everyday people he photographs, instead celebrating their fashion sense. Indeed he’s something of an anthropologist documenting fashion trends that emerge from the populist.

Every Blogging A to Z Challenge I’ve done on documentary movies has included one on a street photographer – previously Finding Vivian Maier and Zimbelism – and they’re all complex and a bit odd people. I’m not terribly interested in fashion photography but do feel I learned to appreciate something about it through Bill Cunningham’s unique life story.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Midnight Cowboy (1969)


TitleMidnight Cowboy
Release Date: May 25, 1969
Director: John Schlesinger
Production Company: Jerome Hellman Productions
Summary/Review:

Midnight Cowboy is a just plain weird movie.  Jon Voight stars as Joe Buck (no, not the sports announcer people love to hate), a Texan who leaves for New York City believing his natural charm to women will make him a successful prostitute.  There he meets Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a con man with a limp who nevertheless takes Buck in as a roommate in the derelict apartment where he squats.  Buck is a stereotypical Texan and Rizzo is a stereotypical New Yorker, but due to the acting talents of Voight and Hoffman they are stereotypes that are nevertheless fully-realized human beings. Their story as two outsiders suffering increasing poverty while finding friendship in one another is a good one.

Unfortunately, Midnight Cowboy also wants to go all-in on exposing the lurid underbelly of New York.  Again and again, it depicts sex acts in movie theaters, hypocritical Christian fanatics, a countercultural party with some of Andy Warhol’s hangers-on, and lots of gratuitous violence.  These scenes are also stereotypes, a Hollywood image of New York City decrepitude that would be repeated in B-movies for the next three decades.  Maybe they were new on-screen in 1969, but unlike Voight and Hoffman’s performances, there’s nothing particularly interesting about this rubbernecking at bad old New York.

I can see why Midnight Cowboy made the impression it did upon release, and it’s definitely a clinic for acting technique, but it’s many flaws make it a good film for me but not a greatest of all time.

Rating: ***