A Film Honoring Films Made in New York

On May 8, while the New York Film Festival was winding down in lower Manhattan, a short film shown a few blocks to the north demonstrated the degree to which the city itself has developed its own cinematic presence. The occasion was MOVE, a conference sponsored by the New York chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). Initiating the proceedings—presentations of motion graphics for film and television by such studios as Duotone, Psyop, Motion Theory, and Troika—was a short film by Rafael Esquer of Radical Media.

In 2003, Esquer had worked with Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, to create the “Made in New York” logo that now identifies all movies made in the city; the short film that he made for the AIGA conference used the same title to record the city’s own cinematic history.

A collage of opening sequences and title typography, the two-minute-and-45-second film takes chronological measure of the city’s life on the screen, cataloging some 50 titles that have the words “New York” or “Manhattan” in them. The short starts with Manhattan Madness in 1916 and ends with more recent movies such as Manhattan Murder Mystery, The Muppets Take New York, and Gangs of New York. (Some of the older films Esquer had hoped to use couldn’t be digitized with decent quality, so were not included.)

This sequencing makes us realize that, in the movies at least, the city stays in character. Yet in the manner in which one title takes us to another, Esquer also quietly invites us to imagine the Muppets encountering Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Robert De Niro on Daniel Day Lewis’s turf, and Jennifer Lopez stumbling from her Maid in Manhattan bed chamber into Christopher Walken’s King of New York empire, headquartered in the Plaza Hotel. The clips all serve to remind us that New York is all about characters wandering out of one movie and into another.

Despite its brevity, Esquer’s film manages to say something about both the resonance and mutability of place. In its few minutes, it conveys the multiplicity of urban experience; we may know that the urban landscape has numerous personas, but rarely have they been collected in one place like this. And though we all may already know that the life in New York tends to be composed of disparate visual sequences, this film spells that out with visual eloquence.

Although Made in New York was intended just for the AIGA conference, Oliver has since determined its broader value: the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting plans to include it in a forthcoming promotional package about filming opportunities in New York.

Categories: Cities