By Joy Bergmann
What’s changed and what hasn’t?
A new year always prompts reflection. But this time around, I’m looking in a different rearview mirror, stretching back 53 years instead of 365 days: “Summer in the City,” a slice-of-life documentary shot in 1968 on the Upper West Side.
Here’s the trailer at Vimeo-on-Demand, where the film rents for $2.99:
Made for German television by directors Christian Blackwood and Robert Leacock, “Summer in the City” offers an outsider-insider’s perspective on the neighborhood.
Christian and his producer brother Michael Blackwood were born in Berlin before moving to the UWS in 1949, says Ben Blackwood, Michael’s son and current CEO of Michael Blackwood Productions. [Their original surname, Schwarzwald, appears in the credits.] Uwe Johnson, a distinguished German writer who lived on the UWS for several years while working as a textbook editor, wrote the narration once the film was edited.
Before viewing, a bit of historical context.
Housing was, as always, a pivotal concern. By 1968, tenements in the San Juan Hill neighborhood had been razed as part of Robert Moses’s “urban renewal” plans, making way for Lincoln Center and Lincoln Towers. Meanwhile, public housing developments like Frederick Douglass Houses welcomed thousands of new tenants.
The Vietnam War raged, as did heroin use. Pollution left the city sooty, the Hudson devoid of fish. And racial inequality was, as now, painfully evident.
But “Summer in the City” isn’t some negative newsreel; it’s a revelation.
Mixed in with the strife are ebullient scenes of everyday life. Children play stickball and in hydrants. Their parents dance and sing at block parties. Seniors dine. Lovers make out in Central Park. Youth compete in a drag “ball.” Lives start; lives end.
I spent a few enjoyable hours trying to decipher the film’s locations, and hope WSR readers can improve my list below.
What do you remember? What’s different and what’s enduring about the Upper West Side? Where do we go from here?
[Note: Parental discretion advised. The film contains graphic drug use, violence at protests and some nudity. Hat-tip to The New Yorker for alerting me to its existence. ]
SUMMER IN THE CITY: Location Hunt
0:10 Block party; seems like Riverside to West End, but where?
2:58 Aerial view 96th and Amsterdam; Holy Name of Jesus and St. Gregory’s Church
3:50 Bench sitters, Verdi Square 72nd and Amsterdam?
4:30 Riverside Park
7:00 330 West End Avenue, senior hotel
10:16 Central Park
13:53 Street dance, rally with Peace & Freedom party, 81st St just west of Columbus
17:11 Chico’s apartment
18:53 Businesses near Amsterdam & 82nd
39:10 24th Precinct roll call
39:53 Subway voyage from 81st St
50:58 Jeanette Washington apartment
56:11 24th Precinct commander discusses UWS
59:09 Family walking near 95th/96th and Broadway
1:01:43 Family apartment
1:06:00 Hydrant near school, Amsterdam & 84th
1:06:40 Christian singers on corner
1:07:50 Schoolyard 84th & Amsterdam
1:08:09 Grace Methodist Church on 104th Street?
1:08:16 Guitarist singing in street
1:09:23 Street gathering; domino game
1:11:28 EMS transport man called Peter from street
1:13:53 Youth apartment; 42 W. something
1:18:17 Drag competition at ballroom venue 253-267 W. something
1:24:23 Wedding – Holy Name St. Gregory’s church?