Photo of Lower East Side circa 1926 via Prelinger Archives
The New York Times recently wrote an article on archivist Rick Prelinger’s new film Lost Landscapes of New York, presented by the Museum of the Moving Image at the NYU Skirball Center just a few days ago. Pieced together from archival footage, Prelinger resurrects a New York that is alien, eerie and comforting, yet familiar to us, and of course, incredibly fascinating. Jumping from shots of long gone structures like the Third Avenue El to the Flatiron Building still standing today, it’s a reminder of the city’s constant evolution.
Rick Prelinger is an archivist, a historian through motion picture and home video, that runs the popular Prelinger Archive. His archive houses everything from family vacation footage to 1950s educational videos about not eating too fast that is sure to evoke nostalgia even in those of us who were but mere twinkles in our (grand)parents’ eyes at the time of its release. Prelinger’s new work is more than a simple collection, however – it’s a magnificent showcase of New York’s 20th century history.
New York skyline by Dudley Pictures Corporation via Perlinger Archives
Watching Lost Landscapes of New York is like watching a meticulously curated museum piece. Prelinger weaves through New York’s past not chronologically, but thematically as he moves swiftly from the 1920s to the 1940s and then back to ’30s before jumping all the way to ’60s, and yet the audience never experiences whiplash.
Every cut makes sense and every transition feels smooth and natural, producing a vision of New York that is perhaps one of its most honest. Prelinger understands that New York is not a singular moment in history – it cannot be traced by movements or decades. To Prelinger, New York is alive, it is the right now and the back then all at once, a feeling any New Yorker can identify with. Evoking the feeling of walking through the city streets, the film presents pre-war brownstones intermixed with nouveau riche realestate creating a New York that is both present and historical.
In lieu of a soundtrack, Prelinger has placed a title card that reads, “You are the soundtrack,” encouraging the audience to be apart of New York’s history. Although all of his films were eventually made available online in an interview with The Essay Review, Perlinger stated that his films are “meant to be seen live with an active audience. And it’s possible that some viewers come to join in the event more than they come to watch.” Perlinger wants you to be a part of the film and a part of history. He wants you to be the tour guide, the laugh track, and the everyday New Yorker.
Tickets to the original showing at the NYU Skirball Center have sold out, but due to popular demand, there will be encore showings this February in 2018. For a chance to see this film the way it was meant to be seen, head to the Museum of the Moving Image website where tickets are now on sale.
Of course, if this article has got you all fired up about New York’s history check out 10 Surprising Photographs of Broadway by Untapped Cities founder Michelle Young, and purchase the book below for a look at street’s unique history.