1970s New York City

I’m interested in 1970s New York. Can anyone suggest memoirs, documentaries, novels, photography books or films that capture the spirit of the place? On the film front I’ve already got *Taxi Driver, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three *and Dog Day Afternoon.

Gee, better get Death Wish & Escape from New York, too. :rolleyes:

NYC is a big place, it’s not all (& wasn’t all) dystopia. Though the Bronx burning kind of bent people’s minds that way for a while.

Hey now, this is why I’m asking for other perspectives - no need for the rolleyes.

Are you looking for anything specific? In general the city was very different by the end of the decade than it had been in 1970. There was an ongoing financial crisis which led to a chronic feeling of malaise. But there were whole segments of the city that just continued as usual. I don’t think you’ll get much from the films you mentioned.

I wanted to get a whole range of viewpoints, really although now you mention it, I guess I was perhaps thinking of the mid-late 70’s rather than the beginning of the decade. I presumed experience of the city would indeed be very different depending on the peoples’ economic circumstances, where they lived and worked, what job they did and their personal backgrounds and I’m interested in all of them. Although I suppose I’m more interested in the micro rather than the macro, so more slice-of-life personal perspectives rather than say, economic analyses.

I guess stuff on the social/ artistic growth of the Disco movement is especially appealing. (I forgot to mention it but I’d read Anthony Haden-Guest’s book on Studio 54). But really, anything interests me. For instance, Brooklyn in *Dog Day Afternoon *is made to seem so vibrant and alive! Every time I see the film, I wonder how close to reality that was.

PS: I’m also very interested in hearing about living in 1970’s New York from Dopers who were there at the time - personal impressions, memories, thoughts about the time and place if anyone wants to share.

I lived in New York City in the 1970s (Coney Island, then Upper West Side, the Village, UWS again, then Brooklyn Heights) and remember a lot. My memories would fill a book or two, which I’m working on: is there something specific you’d like to know? I was a high school student, then a college student, and then a magazine editor and writer.

I’d be very interested in buying your book when it’s finished. I hope you announce when it’s ready.

Also, wow, you’ve lived in some interesting places :slight_smile: How was Coney Island? I’d vaguely heard that it got pretty grim during the '70s with a high crime rate and a lot of drug/ gang violence. Is that impression overblown? Overlooking some positives that get left out of the telling? I always thought there was something kind of tragic about a place built for people to have fun declining so starkly (if indeed you think it did).

What do you think the biggest changes have been in, say, the Upper West Side then as compared to today? What do you think has then biggest improvements and what do you think has most been lost? When you think back to the Village and Brooklyn what’s the first thing that comes to mind about those places?

Do you think any of the films or television shows either made during the 70s or set there accurately captured the time/place you lived?

Coney Island in the early 70s was a slum. The white people lived behind a fence, literally, in the comfortable enclave on Sea Gate, and some lived in middle class housing (like the Trump buildings) but most blacks lived in the run down areas between them. There were fights and other violence in my high school along racial lines daily. But still enjoyed the boardwalk, Nathan’s. Garguilo’s, the beach etc.

I wish I’d had the money (and the stability and foresight) to buy some of the places I’d rented as a struggling young writer/editor–my rent, or my share of the rent, was just a few hundred per month. Now the same apartments go for thousands, and are worth millions. But the UWS was pretty safe. More so for Brooklyn Heights. I thought I was living in heaven most of the time. The Heights and Village were really hopping, socially, not nearly Yuppified yet. There were areas of both that had really poor people, even the now chi-chi West Village, which was to a degree still an ethnic area, with quirky, non-touristy businesses (like Ottomanell’s butcher shop with all sorts of weird game hanging in the windows). Now these places are like Disneyland, all sanitized and Yuppified.

No specific reference materials to point to, but some topics that might be of interest include the blackout of '77 and the Son of Sam murders. Both will wind providing supporting information for the era.

That’s a tall order, because New York had so many parts. Look at all the films set in NYC. Look at news reports and books and magazines. Flip through back issues of New York magazine. One film that hasn’t been mentioned is the off-beat Godspell. It was filmed entirely on Manhattan (or in the water around it), so you can see how the place looked. But, except for the opening and closing scenes, you don’t see anyone but the main performers. This required a lot of clever angles, crowd barriers, and filming on Sundays.
One thing that stands out in my mind was midtown Manhattan. It was my Gateway to the City, because I came in via the Port Authority Bus Terminal (or, more rarely, Penn Station), so it was the first and last thing I saw in the city.
– Times Square hadn’t been “cleaned up” yet. 42nd Street from 8th Avenue to Times Square was a block crammed with Adult Movies, Peepshows, Adult stores, and Stripper joints. There were also legitimate movie theaters that I would never even think of going into.

– Times Square still was the big advertising shrine it still is, but it was mostly billboards. The old “moving headline” sequenced lights were still going around what had been the Time-Life building (that had once, long ago, been the Times Building, and was later the Allied Chemical Building), with the “LIFE” logo still in one side. The Timex animated display was still going, and New York saw its first computer-controlled “TV Screen” on that building. It wasn’t real TV, as the screens are today, but animated pixellation. They used it for the opening credits of Saturday Night Live for its second year.

–Broadway shows were more numerous and popular, because they were cheap. I used to go in and see shows like 1776 at matinees for $20. That’s the regular price – not a “twofer”. When I saw The Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of Sherlock Holmes on Broadway in 1975 it cost me (admittedly for SRO tickets)

[spoiler] $2.50
Let me repeat that, in words. Two Dollars and Fifty Cents.
I also saw a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center for $1.50.

The theaters were for everyone back then.[/spoiler]

And to illustrate specifically–in both the Heights and the village in the mid-1970s I lived amid SRO apartments (Single Resident Occupancy, not standing room only, though both terms would apply), which meant that the occupants were on welfare. Now it to laugh at the thought of welfare “bums” living elbow to elbow with young urban professionals. I found my apartments in those days by wandering likely neighborhood and asking “supers” if they had an apartment on the market–nowadays you’d spend a few grand to a real estate broker to find you a place, and be glad to find one after a few weeks of looking. Back then, it was an afternoon or two of asking around.

Yeah, to Cal Meacham’s point, I bought tickets to the Mets-Reds playoff game in 1973, and I paid something like 3 or 4 bucks–and felt that I was getting ripped off.

Rent The Warriors.

Then watch season 3 and 4 of Barney Miller, I went to Parsons School Of Design for a semester in 1978 and that pretty much sums it up.

Woody Allen prominently displays the city in a couple of his 1970s films.

1977 Annie Hall
1979 Manhattan

When I read about, or see photo essays on, 1970s NYC I can’t help but think that the Spider-Man movies would have been pretty awesome if they were shot as 70s period pieces in that setting. It would be worth it just to see a pimp slapped around, or Spidey vs a Frank Lucas type. Instead, Spider-Man’s NYC looked and felt as Dangerous as the check out lane in the Disney Store.

Oh, yeah - see American Gangster. And maybe Shaft.

Since I didn’t live in New York in the 70’s, I don’t know how well it captures the spirit of the time, but I can recommend a great documentary that takes place there called Man on Wire. It’s about a tightrope walker that decided to walk in between the two towers of the World Trade Center. It’s available on Netflix Watch Instantly, if that helps.

Not the 1970s, but at 1969 close enough, Midnight Cowboy.

The book “Ladies and Gentleman the Bronx is Burning” did a good job a describing that time period.

The wonderful novel Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann uses that walk as its set piece. It’s a little slice of the 70s in NYC.

A couple of movies that showcase NYC in all its’ gritty 70s glamour:

A seminal one - Saturday Night Fever - one that gets dismissed as a teenybop disco movie, but is a surprisingly dark look at the lives of working-class Italians in the Bensonhurst/ Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. What surprised me most about this film (apart from the fact that it’s actually a good movie) is that it is really kind of anti- disco, or at least has a dim view of the type of people who go to discos.

Fame! - Another movie that tends to get dismissed as a fluffy musical (perhaps because of the TV show it ‘inspired’), but is actually quite gritty. It tracks the lives of several students in a fictionalized version of a performing arts academy in Manhattan. I remember actually being a little shocked when one of the students admitted to being gay in his acting class (OK, I was 10 when I fist saw it.) The scene where Irene Cara’s character “screen tests” for a role is really squirm-inducing. It depicts Times Square in all its’ late-70s seedy squalor.

A slightly silly film is Godspell - a film about the Gospel of Matthew (?), but performed by NYC actors in & around the city. The conceit of the film is that a number of ordinary, modern day people (circa 1971) fall under a spell and re-enact the gospel, with lots of parallels to hippie drop-outs. It’s more interesting than it sounds, believe me. The use of locations is quite inventive and extensive. Quite ironically, one of the song & dance that talks about getting “closer to God” takes place on one of the twin towers which were still under construction at the time. (Added bonus - the incomparable, late Lynne Thigpen appears as one of Christs’ followers.)

For books, you might want to read Please Kill Me - a book about the punk rock scene that originated at CBGB’s on the lower east side of Manhattan.