Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cinematic City Corner

Not long ago I rented a movie called “The Boys in the Band." It’s considered a groundbreaking movie, from 1970, about gay men and gay culture. By today’s standards it’s overwrought and it reinforces some undesirable stereotypes, but it was hugely progressive at a time when gay men were still considered inherently mentally ill.

Anyway, there’s a short outdoor scene with one of the characters standing on a street corner holding a casserole, trading dirty looks with a large woman. Behind them is a small park. The Empire State Building looms in the background. I paused the movie and tried to figure out where that scene could have been shot. And then I realized -- it’s on my street!

The scene was filmed on the northwest corner of E. 29th Street and Second Avenue. I live a block further west, at E. 29th Street and Third Avenue. Above is what the corner looks like today. Below are two blurry screen caps from the movie.

As you can see in my photo, there’s been quite a bit of construction in 40 years. The view of the Empire State Building is now blocked by that red brick building on the right -- the tip of the ESB's spire is just barely visible to the left of the water tower on the brick structure's roof. That tall beige monstrosity in the background (which is right next to my building) came later, too.

The mural behind the two characters in the movie was the real giveaway. A matching companion mural remained on one of the park’s walls until last year, when it was covered over with beige paint. Here’s a shot of it from 2006:

Cinematic history in my neighborhood!

If you're really interested and you'd like to watch the clip, it's here. The corner shot appears at 4:08.


  1. "Well if that isn't the pot calling the kettle beige."
    One of those funny/Sad movies, for sure. Definatly worth a rent. Thanks for reminding me of this one!

  2. Didn't you feel just a little weird standing on that corner after seeing the movie -- almost as if the cameras were still rolling? The good news is that much of society has thrown away those old stereotypes. Great post!

  3. Why do people paint over murals? Pah!
    There's something so exciting about recognising a location shot from a movie and knowing that it's somewhere you know well.

  4. How cool that moment of realization must have been.

  5. nice capture. when i first saw it, i thought it was astor place. used to be a similar mural there. 1970s or 60s i guess.

  6. How cool!

    I remember that film. Everyone suffers so much by being gay. It really shows you how much things have changed. These days you can suffer if you'd like to, but it's not required. In fact in San Francisco, people don't think much in terms of whether they're gay or not. They date/sleep/mate with whomever they want. Gender is not the definitive aspect of romantic love.

    Thank God!

  7. great find! so much has changed in such a short period of time.