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The most famous shot in Woody Allen’s Manhattan was photographed in the early light near the Queensboro Bridge, with Allen and Diane Keaton sitting on a bench in Sutton Place Park at East 58th Street. The bench occupies the far-right corner of Gordon Willis’ widescreen, black-and-white frame, with the bridge itself, illuminated by two sets of necklace lights, stretching from end to end. Folding this romantic moment into an unabashed love letter to the city itself, the shot was such a perfect distillation of the film’s spirit that it was used for the poster.
Two years later, on the same bench with the same view of the Queensboro Bridge, Thana, the mute heroine of Abel Ferrara’s rape/revenge exploitation movie Ms. 45, pulls a gun on another in a series of lowlifes she’s murdered in the wake of two sexual assaults in a single afternoon.
It’s easy to forget now that at the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic had taken hold of our consciousness, for a brief moment, High Fidelity was back. Not only did Nick Hornby’s debut novel and Stephen Frears’ film adaptation celebrate major milestones this year — 25th and 20th anniversaries, respectively — but a TV adaptation premiered on Hulu in February. In light of all of these arbitrary signposts, multiple thinkpieces and remembrances litigated Hornby’s original text on familiar, predictable grounds. Is the novel/film’s protagonist Rob actually an asshole? (Sure.) Does Hornby uphold his character’s callous attitudes towards women? (Not really.) Hasn’t the story’s gatekeeping, anti-poptimist approach to artistic taste culturally run its course? (Probably.) Why do we need to revisit this story about this person right now? (Fair question!)
It was 1972, and Lewis Rudin had a problem—specifically, a Johnny Carson problem. Rudin, a real estate developer and committed New Yorker, had founded the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), an organization dedicated to cleaning up the city’s image (and thus, its attractiveness to corporate clients) via aggressive campaigning and spit-shine marketing; the organization was, for example, instrumental in the development of the iconic I NY campaign.
But all the good work ABNY was doing, Rudin fumed to the organization’s executive director Mary Holloway, felt like pushing Sisyphus’ boulder when he switched on NBC late at night: “How can we change the image of New York when Johnny Carson’s opening monologue every night is about people getting mugged in Central Park?”