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.