Friday, July 5, 2013

Across 110th Street

Across 110th Street
seen @ Mid-Manhattan Library, New York, NY

I don't get up to Harlem much. Manhattan is a huge island, with much to see, but eight years of high school and college in or near the midtown area kind of conditioned me to favor the lower half of Manhattan. So it's not just Harlem I don't visit much; I don't see Washington Heights or Inwood a whole lot either. (For those of you who've never been to NYC, these are neighborhoods at the far northern end of Manhattan.)

I've certainly spent time in Harlem, of course. I regret to say that I have yet to see a show at the World Famous Apollo Theater, though I hope to one day. There's a small but pleasant art museum on 125th Street worth seeing. There was a very good black book shop called Hue-Man Bookstore that I always visited whenever I went up to Harlem, but they recently went web-exclusive. Outside of a few cafes here and there, that's about the limit of my direct experience with the neighborhood. I had a friend who lived there for a long time, but I haven't seen him in years. Don't know if he still lives there.

Lately I've been reading about how the city wants to improve bus service along the 125th street corridor. This is an important issue because one of the buses that runs along this street provides a major link to LaGuardia Airport, across the river in Queens. LaGuardia is ill-served by public transit to begin with, and the buses on this stretch run much slower than they should, so hopefully some progress will be made here soon.

Harlem, of course, has a long and proud history of being a mecca of black culture, both here in New York and in America at large. Literature, sports, art, music; you name it, there was probably a movement of some kind for it in Harlem, especially during the renaissance period of the 1920s. In the movies, the neighborhood has been presented in many of the great (and not-so-great) blaxploitation films, like Shaft and Black Caesar, but there are also classics like The Pawnbroker, Lady Sings the Blues, and Malcolm X, as well as more recent material like American Gangster, The Great Debaters and the documentary A Great Day in Harlem. It's always been a special place for many generations of New Yorkers.

I'm not sure whether I'd consider Across 110th Street a blaxploitation film. In some ways it is, but in others it isn't. For one thing, it has a white star, Anthony Quinn. One would think that'd be enough for an immediate disqualification. However, it's set in Harlem and delves deeply into the lives of its mostly black supporting cast - and to be honest, it feels more like an ensemble movie than a star vehicle for Quinn, who also executive produced.

Quinn is a top cop who, along with Yaphet Kotto, is investigating a Mafia robbery in Harlem, in which cops were killed. The robbers are given plenty of story time, and we get to see them as people, the good and the bad in all of them. Violence? Oh, boy, does this film have it. This came out the year after The French Connection, so I wouldn't be surprised if that was an influence. Also, there's no overly-long, gratuitous sex scene, though there is some fleeting nudity and near-nudity.

I first saw this movie when it was lent to me by my old video store buddy Steve. He's not normally big on blaxploitation, yet he seemed to really dig this one. Perhaps it was the violence, perhaps it was the moral ambiguity of the characters. I could see either one appealing to him.

Once again, I saw this at the Mid-Manhattan Library. I sat further back in the room this time and as a result, the people coming and going outside the window was less of a distraction. However, there was this one really old guy who kept laughing at inappropriate moments during the film. Can't imagine what he got out of the experience. Also, the librarian who hosted the event kinda gave away a lot of the story in her introduction. No big deal, though.


  1. I once worked with a guy named Rich at a place called Video stop and loaned him a vhs to watch of this film! Small world!

    Interestingly, I tried watching this film a few years ago and did not really enjoy it as much as I once did. I think Anthony Franciosa's performance is actually the most interesting one in the film, there is a lot of conflict and emotional sub-textual turmoil well translated but not in an "overdone" manner. Another fine character actor we lost not long ago. I think a lot of the dialogue had a large influence on that creature, Tarantino, and his "work", but, then again, what didn't influence him ....?

  2. Well well well. Fancy meeting you here! Nice to know you're still around - I had thought you had dropped off the face of the earth or something!

    You're right about Anrhony Franciosa; I'm glad you mentioned him. I hadn't remembered his part in the film until seeing it again and he is quite good.

  3. ... haha ... yes, still around! Though, in all fairness and actuality, who knows, at this stage, how long any of us will be here for much longer, things seem on a convergence path to cataclysm in so many ways. I am no longer in the city, but upstate, not very far, however. Difficult, without a great deal of funds, to do much of anything one might want to do even in terms of changing even rudimentary & fundamental aspects of one's life these days, too.

    You have a lot of fun with your blog, clearly, and you personalize it to your own experience, which is more engaging and pure.

    Did you ever notice that Nick Pinkerton was writing film reviews for the Village Voice for a while? Then, some altercation of sorts occurred or other melodrama, not very clear to me and was difficult to get him to explain via e-mail, but the net result being that he quit there last February?

    I once ran into Anthony Quinn in 1993, on the upper east side, when going to look at some apartments with my ex-girlfriend from Austria, where I had just come back to NYC from and needed a new place to reside, we were trying to find our way through some dingy office building and ran into Quinn and a woman half his age, and he directed us to the suite we were seeking.

    Do you ever see Rich Weinstein or any other old SVA, KIM'S, or VIDEO STOP denizens?

  4. I once attended a screening of an old Peter Lorre film co-hosted by Nick. I talked to him briefly; he seemed more or less the same. While I don't know for sure, I suspect he may have been one more victim of the Village Voice's housecleaning.Don't know for sure.

    The only other person from the old gang who I still see is David. He got married and adopted a couple of kids.

  5. I do not doubt that, the whole culture, to use that dirty word, is being downsized and getting much worse.

    I have been getting more into sci-fi but more from a factual perspective, been researching alien races and their manipulations here for many centuries, stuff like that ...haha...

    Did you see, though I do not know if it was distributed in NYC yet, that alien disclosure themed SIRIUS documentary?

    We should catch a movie together in the city sometime this summer!

  6. Oh, have you become one of those Area 51 conspiracy-theory types? I can just picture it! No, I've never even heard of any doc called 'Sirius.' Must've came and went pretty quick.

    My e-mail's in the sidebar near the top. Let me know when you wanna hang out and I'll make the time.


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