Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods

I was doing some research at the Library of Congress, going through crime films of the 1940s for an article on that distinctive American genre, the film noir. This was still the era of the great studios, which could simulate virtually anything on the back lot. But a few producers set out to find authentic locations to give these films a documentary look. I was only a few minutes into Mark Hellinger’s famous 1948 movie The Naked City when I began to feel like Proust munching on the madeleine. These crowded streets of the Lower East Side, with their grimy tenements and narrow sidewalks, their tiny candy stores, pushcart peddlers, and slope-backed cars, gave me back some vivid images from my childhood. Here was Columbia Street, where my father grew up and his brothers lived; wide Delancey Street, with its grand movie palace and innumerable lanes of traffic leading onto the Williamsburg Bridge on which the film’s brilliant climactic chase takes place. Here was the city itself as it appeared in the 1940s, the real protagonist of the movie, with Mark Hellinger on the sound track saying, “There are eight million stories in the naked city.” Mine was one of them.

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Lima