Postcard from New York: Lights, camera, dissatisfaction

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Of All The demoralising aspects of a being New Yorker, the most keenly felt - all the more acutely because it awakens so little pity or fellow-feeling in out-of-towners - is that every time a New Yorker plops down his wages to buy a seat in a cinema, intending to skip out of the city's malodorous, tar-bubbling summer fug for two hours of air-conditioned distraction, what comes up on the screen but... NYC. Aah, that tell-tale skyline. Could that be the Chrysler Building? Zowie! And is that a Greek diner paper coffee cup, and a genuine yellow cab? Now that's not something you see every day. Except, of course, that it is.

There were 200 films shot in New York last year, not including numberless riveting television series, and scores more have already clogged city streets this year. On Lafayette Street, office girls must thread their way past an obstacle course of snack tables outside makeshift studios, as movie flacks honk, "Leftovers of the stars! Up for grabs, the pasta salad of the stars!" Massive power trucks and floodlights hover above narrow streets, parks and vital arteries, no mom-and-pop cigar shop being considered too drab to excite interest and earn a police cordon and traffic shut-down. Trot down Second Avenue and you will see a woman who looks like one of the Supremes yukking it up as she rests on a hospital stretcher, surrounded by a mirthful throng of actors in navy uniforms and bouncing billy clubs. Lights, camera, action! and she begins quaking in post-traumatic shock as the coppers wheel her about.

Far from trying to protect his citizens from this appalling usurpation of their leisure hours, the Mayor of New York has proven an unrepentant patsy for the Hollywood set. Former administrations showed some conscience, issuing film permits like papal dispensations, subjecting candidates to a rigorous grilling. But now the mean streets of NYC are a free-for-all. Indeed, the Mayor's office has an office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, posted on the internet, no less, which boasts, "New production and development offices open daily!" and gushes that films and TV shows made here last year generated a "spectacular $5.1 billion in economic activity".

Even the vogue for overseas movies, it seems, brings no relief. UK- based director Stanley Kubrick has instructed his daughter's room-mate to parcel up chunks of Manhattan cityscape and ship them to London, so that he can build a Greenwich Village within shouting distance of Ealing for his refreshing Manhattan- themed film, Eyes Wide Shut.

In the past weeks, subtle directors, sensing civic ressentiment, began publicising casting calls for extras, hoping to wheedle residents out of their wrath by making them feel a part of the action. Woody Allen led the charge, calling out extras to participate in the important action of walking past theatres. Then Steven Spielberg rustled them up for the more bracing activity of fleeing a massive meteorite headed for Times Square. The thousands who herded to Grant Wilfley Casting were soon enough met by taped-on signs that shrilled with typical New York charm, "Don't even think of knocking here. All spots filled." Instructions to extras read, "A meteorite is coming to hit the earth. If you are chosen to work in the film, you will be looking at the sky to see the meteorite and/or running to get out of town."

It is a soothing thought: a meteorite, whatever its disadvantages, might prove a strong enough dissuasion to shake directors from their relentless pursuit of this city. One can only hope.

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