last seen @ Celebrate Brooklyn, Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn NY
As often as I hang out in Brooklyn, I don't go to Prospect Park that often, though I try to whenever I can. It's a wonderful park, with all sorts of attractions in and around it - Grand Army Plaza, the library, the museum and the botanical gardens are all within its vicinity; the Bandshell and the Zoo are among its major highlights, and downtown Brooklyn is only minutes away. Since I never grew up in Brooklyn or went to school there, though, I guess it's never been as special to me as Central Park. Still, it's one of the best places to go to in all of New York.
In the past few years, Prospect Park has become notable for other things. On the west side of the park, radiating out from Grand Army Plaza and overlooking Park Slope, the city's transportation department recently installed a two-way bike lane, protected by parked cars. I've ridden it. It's a beautiful stretch of real estate that not only has attracted numerous bikers from throughout the region, but by taking out a single lane of traffic (and a few parking spaces), it has significantly slowed down traffic on this one-way street, making it safer to cross and reducing the number of accidents. Sounds awesome, right?
Depends on who you ask. The city is currently dealing with a lawsuit brought against it by a small group of affluent, politically-connected Park Slope residents who are absolutely convinced that not only is the bike lane unnecessary, but that the city lied about how safe it is. Unfortunately, their suit fails to take into account certain irrefutable facts, such as that the local community board requested this bike lane, and that the Department of Transportation was completely upfront about how it measured the lane's safety.
This may seem like a story of local interest only, but it actually has much wider implications. For one thing, it has gotten international attention - the UK newspaper The Guardian has written about the bike lane battle. More importantly, with federal and state support for public transportation being questionable at best, more people have re-discovered biking, and many cities around the country have taken steps to re-orient their streets to accommodate its resurgence in popularity, New York included. The degree to which these changes are accepted by the greater populace, many of whom not only drive cars, but subscribe to the poisonous mentality that that cars are king - a mentality that has led to numerous unnecessary, preventable deaths - will determine the future of transportation in America.
But none of this changes the beauty of Prospect Park itself, or its propensity for hosting exciting events, like last night's screening of the restored version of Metropolis. Celebrate Brooklyn is an annual, summer-long series of outdoor shows and performances held at the Prospect Park Bandshell. It's usually concerts featuring musicians from around the world as well as local ones (I saw The Swell Season here), but they also show old movies here (earlier this summer they had a West Side Story sing-along night).
The Bandshell is a lovely outdoor venue that includes concession stands with beer and affordable gourmet food, though I brought a hero sandwich and chips with me. Those who don't sit in the seating area in the front camp out on the grassy knoll towards the back. I brought a blanket with me, expecting to do the same, but to my surprise, I made it early enough that I could sit up front. There was an opening act before the movie; a local cellist named Marika Hughes, along with her band. They were alright.
Metropolis was scored live by a remarkable three-man band called the Alloy Orchestra, who make a very good living at scoring silent films and have played at Celebrate Brooklyn for many years. In a fortuitous bit of timing, Raquelle from Out of the Past just posted an interview with a silent film composer, Jeff Rapsis, who talks about how one composes music for silent films. In this interview, he mentions how he'll cobble together certain melodies for certain characters and scenes while watching a film on his own first, and then expand on those melodies improvisationally when it's time to perform live. I kept that in mind last night, and indeed, there were certain key melodies repeated at important intervals.
I wish I could convey to you how exciting AO's score was. It ran the gamut from bombastic to gentle, stately and solemn to funky and danceable, and it enhanced the movie to a degree unlike anything I'd seen or heard before. If these guys come to your town to score a silent movie, make sure you go see them! I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it's one thing to see a movie on a computer or television monitor, but it's another thing altogether to see it on a great big screen with an enthusiastic crowd. I feel like I hadn't really seen it until last night - and not just because of the restored footage. This too, was one of the best movie experiences of the year so far for me.