Books / Features

Gift Guide 2021: Fun City Cinema – New York City and the Movies that Made It by Jason Bailey [Review]

It’s that time of year again! If you’re seeking fresh ideas or hoping for inspiration – or even tantalising recommendations then… welcome! Scroll down to dive into this review, and if you want further gift ideas, just click here for the full range from my Critical Popcorn Christmas Gift Guide 2021!

New York City, not just The City you know you must visit one day, if you haven’t already, but what a city synonymous with filmmaking, with dream-weaving, fiction and reality-creating worlds that have stood the test of time both in the consensus of film, but also deep in the imagination and psyche of so many film-lovers.

Jason Bailey’s Fun City Cinema: New York City and the Movies that Made It takes us deep inside some of the finest ever-made films, right through the heart, taking us back to 1927’s The Jazz Singer and up to the likes of Frances Ha from 2012. With a foreword from Matt Zoller Seitz, the current Editor of Roger and film critic, he opens with a monologue of his insight and connections with The City itself, it’s a breath in the wintry air but slowed down and packed with facts, knowledge and a reminder that the book ahead is Bailey’s Ode to Joy; that being NYC and the stories sold from its tightly packed streets.

To me, New York is one of those world cities that comes with its own aura, whether you’re watching TV shows, classic films or just the news, it holds a constant magic and mystery, and it’s easy to see why you can write so many stories from its soul. Obviously, there are thousands of films that take their piece of New York and place it into the general consciousness, but it takes certain films that something special to indelibly create their own, unique history and that’s the types of films Bailey focuses on here.

This isn’t just one of those books you can flick through, even from the opening pages I was drawn into the atmosphere of what was to come. So take this as one of those actual coffee table books because, trust me, you’ll want to keep it near and seriously delve into the history of film, literally right back to 1896 when William Heise carried Thomas Edison’s motion picture camera out into the streets to shoot the first picture on the street of NY and you can find out more about that, and how people reacted, in the book itself.

Every little ounce of film history is catered for here, from Samson Raphaelson and his inspiration and connection to Al Jolson and The Jazz Singer, through those early days of the producing pictures, how quickly the industry shifted and developed, literally and figurately, the progression of the power of film and even the Warner brothers fighting up against MGM and Paramount, until the former discovered the eventual sound and vision amalgamation that would, in turn, into the early success of the Vitaphone – the beginning of everything we know now.

Bailey’s behemoth book then takes us from Manhatta (1920) up against Skyscraper Symphony (1929), which both take alternate looks at the literal height of the city to 1928’s Speedy, starring Harold Lloyd in his final silent film, which literally uses the streets as it’s settings and sounds exceptional as they pushed the boundaries of film and entertainment in ways that hadn’t even been considered. We can never forget the great depression and the crash of 1929 which saw the entire city eventually fall into major trouble with businesses closing, jobs lost and people losing their homes, and as Groucho Marx put it “the pigeons started feeding the people in Central Park.”

But, like anything creative, ideas still lingered and from the ashes of The Most Dangerous Game eventually came 1933’s King Kong, even out of even further dark times in New York, and this is important in the sense of everything that follows, in both the real world and on celluloid. New York City and the Movies That Made It then takes us through every decade along the way, it’s iconic natural and constructed worlds, the likes of Midnight Cowboy, Taxi Driver, Kids, Wall Street, The Lost Weekend, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Rosemary’s Baby, The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, Ghostbusters, Do The Right Thing, Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – to literally just name a selection of what’s included.

This is an expert collection of movies, within a city that never gives up, it’s what makes it unique and what makes its films even more delectable. Jason Bailey’s book celebrates, and reflects, on every moment in its iconic history.

Fun City Cinema: New York City and the Movies that Made It, by Jason Bailey, is out now


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