Monday, December 03, 2007

Greenwich Village 1960

As a kid the only thing the Village meant to me was a subway ride to West 4th Street with my mother. She would get shoes at a store on 6th Ave near the movie theater. I believe they were water buffalos. Who knew that the village would become just about the hippest place on the planet. Later my father was a frequent visitor to the art show. He always believed he had artistic talents whether it was singing, acting, or painting. He wasn't half bad with the first two, but painting..... He would very proud of my daughter Emma's acting. She has a big part in her high school's production of "David and Lisa" this week
Great scenes here of street play. From the film's description at the prelinger archives
In this film we follow a prim young woman in white gloves as she explores Greenwich Village on a Sunday afternoon. She walks off the Fifth Avenue bus at Washington Square and straight into a "hootenanny." This is a corny, but charming look at the Village in the early sixties in the transitional period between the "beat' generation and the rise of the later sixties counter-culture. The best scenes are when we actually hear the folksingers singing bluegrass tunes around the Washington Square fountain and the beat poet reading in a grubby coffeehouse. These scenes have real documentary value. The film's use of actors to try to create a story gives it an amateurish feeling, but that same amateurism is what also gives the film its charm. It was nice to see the old Italian Greenwich Village with the street market and the stickball and bocce players, who are now long gone. The Greenwich Village portrayed here looks like a shabby, tolerant place where ordinary people could afford to live. Alas, that is no more.

While I was on the prelinger archive site retrieving the third avenue el movie, I found a few other 1950 gems that touched upon life in KV. In this film there's just a very short glimpse of Knickerbocker Village (at 5:10). Here's a summary of the film:
This promotional film for New York's Circle Line cruise service was produced in 1955 [note the marquee for Anne Baxter's movie "Bedevilled" at :49 and the billboard for "Long John Silver" being erected on the movie theater at :55]. The production company behind this, "Paul Alley Productions", was headed by a former pioneer announcer for NBC-TV a decade before! "Douglas" Downs, the cameraman, also photographed Jackie Gleason's filmed "HONEYMOONERS" series in late '55.

The Waterfront of New York is highlighted in Philip Lopate's excellent book, "Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan" which has a chapter on Knickerbocker Village
Here's a summary of that book:
Unlike other great cities, as eminent essayist and New York devotee Lopate observes, "Manhattan is almost pathologically averse to letting you wander to the river's edge and get close enough to touch the water." In this loose circumnavigation, first up the West Side from the Battery to Washington Heights and then up the East Side from South Street Seaport to Highbridge Park, he takes the reader up close on an information-packed journey—dipping, as the particular location suggests, into memoir, history, current events, marine biology, city planning, literature, architecture, interviews, biography, films, ecology and more. Anyone who relishes the company of Whitman, Melville, both Cranes, even Sara Teasdale, among many other celebrants of the New York waterfront, will particularly enjoy the vicarious sojourn. The trek includes Chelsea Piers and the U.N., Gracie Mansion and the Brooklyn Bridge, Captain Kidd and the Gulf filling station on East 23rd Street. "Sewage and salsa," Lopate invokes in describing Riverbank State Park, and that mix of the problematic and the delightful pervades his account, "saturated with history," of the waterfront's metamorphosis from "a working port, to an abandoned, seedy no-man's-land, to a highly desirable zone of parks plus upscale retail/residential." This is a demanding book—formidable in some of its detail, complex in its broad approach. Tourists will find it enriching but only borderline useful. Its ideal reader, a New Yorker who cares as deeply as Lopate does about the waterfront as "the key to New York's destiny," will find it compelling as well as entertaining.

The Lopate piece on Knickerbocker can be found on Mr. Beller's Neighborhood (no relation)

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