Friday, September 11, 2009

New: Survival Of The Streets

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM DEPT., SEPT. 11 - My film essay, "Survival Of The Streets", is now online at Vice magazine. If you've ever wanted to read 9,000 words about Escape From New York and the Cro-Mags, this would be your opportunity. The illustrations - appropriately enough for a piece about a vast island prison - were done by Superjail creator Christy Karacas. It is an entirely bitchin' article.

Writing about Bad New York ('66-'90) is the kind of task that has no logical endpoint. Every day I worked on this piece, I opened another door down another endless corridor of information: deinstitutionalization, the planned destruction of the Bronx, all the related westerns and vigilante flicks and obscure Italian sci-fi films I still need to watch. Are Beat Street, Klute, Marathon Man, or The New York Ripper relevant to my article? I don't know; after watching 100 films for the piece, I ran out of time and patience.

My limited experience with articles this size tells me that the last week of writing is generally spent dumping as much extraneous information as possible (I cut 25% - 3,000 words - from last January's Doc Dart profile).

I ditched a lot of things from this piece;

- All the varied wistful references to stickball that popped up in the cinema of the 70's. What was this game?

- An itemized list of references to the Attica Prison Riots, and Cuba hijackings, and fist-shaped afro-picks

- All the varied hints at the rock bottom morale of 70s/80s NYC, from dudes reading porn on the subway (Looking For Mr. Goodbar) to citizens rallying around a hapless bank robber (Dog Day Afternoon). Was it really this bad?

- A section on smoking in public places, including all the glorious cigarette billboards from 70's NYC films, and smoking cops from 70's NYC films, and these two sentences; Woody Allen lights up in the first five minutes of Manhattan, huddled with his buddies in the back of a congested restaurant. In Escape From New York, Kurt Russell chides his companion for lighting up in a coffee shop, but only because it might attract attention from rampaging cannibals just outside.

Earlier this year, I'd considered spending 2010 doing an EFNY blog (a week on Lee Van Cleef, a week on Ernest Borgnine, a week on John Carpenter's baffling late-inning career slump, etc.). But the human lifespan is only so long. In all likelihood, I will never again have the time to sit around and write about my favorite movie and favorite album. This was it.