The Big Apple is no stranger to the big screen, and a film series opening this week will highlight many of its starring roles. In conjunction with the Museum of the City of New York’s (MCNY) centennial exhibition, Manhattan’s Film Forum presents The City: Real and Imagined, showcasing over 60 New York City-based, critically acclaimed films throughout the decades since the MCNY was founded in 1923. 

From film noir and horror to documentary and comedy, the diverse array of films selected for the series illustrates New York’s indefinable, ever-evolving nature. Whereas works like The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Taxi Driver (1976), and Do The Right Thing (1989) paint a stylized portrait of the city and its communities, documentaries such as Los Sures (1984), focused on the primarily Puerto Rican and Dominican neighborhood in South Williamsburg, chronicle the real stories of New York residents.

The series also includes NYC Treasures from the Archives and NYC Treasures from the New York Public Library — programs that present rare and restored archival footage of the city from the Library of Congress and the NYPL collections. And in collaboration with the Tenement Museum, there are screenings of Uncle Moses (1932), Hester Street (1975), and The Sturgeon Queens (2014) that explore stories of different generations of Jewish immigrants living and working in New York. For younger audiences, The City also includes screenings of The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) and Newsies (1992). 

“This is by no means our first film festival with New York as a theme, but it is the most comprehensive, including actual footage of the city from as early as 1898 and every decade of the 20th century up until the 1990s,” Film Forum Repertory Programmer Bruce Goldstein told Hyperallergic.

Still from The Little Fugitive (1953)

The City runs from May 12 through June 8 and features a variety of special events in addition to the film viewings including guest speakers, short film screenings, post-film question-and-answer sessions, and discussions. Screenings of The Crowd (1928) and Speedy (1928) on May 15 and May 28 will be accompanied by live piano performances by Steve Sterner.

The series kicks off this Friday afternoon with the docu-fiction film On The Bowery (1956) screening at 12:15pm, followed by Shadows (1959), an independent drama about race relations and identity in the Beat Generation, and the avant-garde documentary News From Home (1977). Later in the evening, audiences can see Sweet Smell of Success (1957), a noir drama about a newspaper columnist who hires a crooked press agent to break up his sister’s romance, and the crime drama Superfly (1972). The latter is a noteworthy example of “blaxploitation,” a genre of movies made by Black filmmakers for Black audiences that gained popularity in the ’70s. Shaft (1971), another well-known example, is also featured in the series. 

MCNY Chief Curator and Interim Director Sarah M. Henry, who will introduce Sweet Smell of Success (1957) later this week, described the film as a “twist” on the noir of post-war New York, focusing on “a super-charged midtown infused with glamour, intrigue, and a ruthless quest for power.”

“In some ways, it’s the epitome of the post-war films shot-on-location in the city — providing a compelling though, of course, an exaggerated sense of New York at a moment in time,” Henry said.

In addition to Film Forum’s The City series, MCNY is also presenting two other film-related events, including “You Are Here” — a 16-screen immersive film experience that features footage from over 400 New York-based films — as well as New York on Film: Decade by Decade — a year-long film series curated by Jessica Green that is being shown at the museum that begins in June.

A full schedule of the films being screened as part of The City: Real and Imagined is available online.

Maya Pontone (she/her) is a Staff News Writer at Hyperallergic. Originally from Northern New Jersey, she currently resides in Brooklyn, where she covers daily news, both within and outside New York City....