Sunday, February 1, 2015

Seedy Film Footage from Times Square in the early 1980s

from Dangerous Minds


Everyone agrees that the changes that occurred in Times Square during the early 1990s were emblematic for the city, regardless of what you make of it. For tourists and the local suburbanites, cleaning up Times Square was a prerequisite to visit. For many Manhattanites, the signs portended a neutered, sterile city geared to the wealthy and lacking all noteworthy spark or grit. The best treatment of the changes in Times Square is most likely Samuel Delany’s 1999 meditation Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, a book that my friend Lawrence Daniel Caswell has urged me to read but I haven’t gotten around to yet. (Do check out Caswell’s account, told in comix format, of the meaning of Delany’s book as applied to Cleveland, courtesy of that city’s Scene alt-weekly a couple weeks ago.)



Those who are old enough will remember the enchantingly seedy—and dangerous—Time Square of the Mayor Koch years (ahem, that’s the 1980s in case you didn’t know). I barely caught the tail end of it, starting to hang out in Manhattan in a serious way in 1988, when I was a teenager. But college and travels abroad intervened, and by the time I came back for another look, it was 1995 and Times Square was very, very different. (The vast majority of the shuttering of the smut shops and sex cinemas took place in a matter of months—with movie marquees that had once advertised Cannibal Holocaust and Inside Seka turned over to artist Jenny Holzer for her brand of signature sloganeering. It was not a long drawn-out process.)


Doin’ Time in Times Square, which we found courtesy of Gothamist, is an artful montage of footage that movie director Charlie Ahearn took from his apartment building on 43rd Street. This footage was shot between 1981 and 1983, the exact period during which Ahearn was working on the groundbreaking hip-hop classic Wild Style featuring Fab Five Freddy, Lady Pink, the Rock Steady Crew, and so on. In between the surreptitiously recorded scenes of religious freaks, cops, and a handful of epic, er, disagreements of a physical nature, Ahearn throws in some moments from inside the apartment as his family members celebrate birthdays and the like. A godforsaken New Year’s Eve gets its due as well, no worries.

Doin’ Time in Times Square has been dubbed “the home video from hell” for a reason. It appeared at the New York Film Festival in 1992, and you can get it on DVD here.



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