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Street Smart

Street Smart: The New York of Lumet, Allen, Scorsese, and Lee

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Street Smart
    Book Description:

    New York has appeared in more movies than Michael Caine, and the resulting overfamiliarity to moviegoers poses a problem for critics and filmmakers alike. Audiences often mistake the New York image of skyscrapers and bright lights for the real thing, when in fact the City is a network of clearly defined villages, each with a unique personality. Standard film depictions of New Yorkers as a rush-hour mass of undifferentiated humanity obscure the connections formed between people and places in the City's diverse neighborhoods.

    Street Smartexamines the cultural influences of New York's neighborhoods on the work of four quintessentially New York filmmakers: Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee. The City's heterogeneous economic and ethnic districts, where people live, work, shop, worship, and go to school, often bear little relation to the image of New York City created by the movies. To these directors, their home city is as tangible as the smell of fried onions in the stairwell of an apartment building, and it is this New York, not the bustling, glittery illusion portrayed in earlier films, that shapes their sensibilities and receives expression in their films.

    Richard A. Blake shows how the Jewish enclaves on Manhattan's Lower East Side profoundly influence Sidney Lumet's most noted characters as they struggle to form and maintain their identities under challenging circumstances. Both Woody Allen's light comedies and his more serious cinematic fare reflect the director's origins in the Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn and the displacement he felt after relocating to Manhattan. Martin Scorsese's upbringing on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan's Little Italy resonates in his gritty portraits of urban modernity.

    Blake also looks at the films of Spike Lee, whose adolescence in Fort Greene, a socioeconomically diverse Brooklyn neighborhood, exposed him to widely ranging views that add depth to his complicated treatises on power, culture, and race. Lumet, Allen, Scorsese, and Lee's individual identities were shaped by their neighborhoods, and in turn, their life experiences have shaped their artistic vision. InStreet Smart, Richard A. Blake examines the critical influence of "place" on the films of four of America's most accomplished contemporary filmmakers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5738-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    Over a week had passed since the collapse of the World Trade Center. The afternoon of September 11, I managed to contact a cousin who lives in our old neighborhood in Brooklyn but works near Ground Zero. (I’ll call her Jean, even though it isn’t her name.) She was safe. In fact, while running a bit late that morning, she heard a confused news bulletin on the radio about a fire in the area and further postponed her departure to avoid the possible inconvenience of a subway delay. Within minutes of the initial news flash, television pictures began to reveal...

  5. Cinema City: All Around the Town
    (pp. 1-38)

    Common wisdom, an articulation of the obvious, may not be all it’s cracked up to be. One might presume, for example, that a fish would be the world s greatest expert on water, but Marshall McLuhan, that highly perceptive but enigmatic media theorist of the 1960s, challenged this common belief. Instead, he thought that a fish would be the worst possible source of information on the topic.¹ The fish lacks perspective. As far as the fish is concerned, water is simply there, a part of its natural environment that cannot be questioned or explained. No decent fish would ever take...

  6. Lower East Side: Sidney Lumet
    (pp. 41-98)

    “I was born in Philadelphia and had the good sense to leave when I was four,” Sidney Lumet once said in a television interview.¹ How New York! Brash, arrogant, caustic, and totally oblivious about how his remark would play in the vast wilderness beyond the Hudson! Despite his immigrant status, Lumet is the quintessential New York director, both in his own estimation and in the minds of his critics and biographers. He sets his films in the City with the native’s unfailing sense of locale. He knows which architecture or neighborhood fits the atmosphere. Walls and lampposts work as silent...

  7. Flatbush: Woody Allen
    (pp. 101-150)

    Allan Stewart Konigsberg drew his initial breath of Brooklyn air on the first day of December in 1935. A social scientist would look at his birth certificate and dump him into the same demographic caldron as Sidney Lumet, born a few miles away into another Jewish family a mere eleven years earlier. A film critic would look at their films and conclude that they had been born on separate planets. Any native New Yorker, comparing biographical notes on the two artists, would immediately side with the film critics. In New York, as everyone knows, the melting pot is a slow...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. Little Italy: Martin Scorsese
    (pp. 153-206)

    Martin Scorsese is far more Italian than he has any right to be. He was born in New York, as were both his parents, but as we have seen, culturally, “New York” means nothing and the neighborhood means everything. In the case of the Scorsese family, home was the Sicilian community that settled around Elizabeth Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, only a few blocks away from the Jewish section where Sidney Lumet grew up. Culturally, it was another country, and it ensured the Scorseses’ Italianness through a third generation. In an interview with James Lipton on the...

  10. Fort Greene: Spike Lee
    (pp. 209-280)

    Shelton Jackson Lee took his own sweet time to get to the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, left it for both high school and college, and eventually moved over to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but his childhood neighborhood has left its mark on the artist and the films. In the summer of 2004, he still maintains his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule, on DeKalb Avenue and has been active in trying to turn a vacant lot into a Little League baseball field in the neighborhood, despite the desires of the present gentrified residents to create a...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 281-288)

    For a native New Yorker, returning to the homeland after a lengthy absence provokes many conflicting responses. Much depends on the point of entry. A driver coming across the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to connect to the West Side Highway or the Cross-Bronx Expressway can look out the right window of the car, and depending on weather conditions, can see the skyline of Manhattan to the south. The last time I made this trip, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were still clearly visible in the distance, and surely I’d notice the sickening void...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 289-302)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 303-306)
  14. Index
    (pp. 307-336)