My first trip to New York City happened in April 1980. It was a family trip in a new car, a dark-brown Datsun 210. Though we lived in Washington, DC, at the time, nothing had prepared me for the Big Apple. And it wasn't the height and abundance of the city's buildings that astounded me. Nor was it the crowds going up and down Broadway. It was just one person in one span of time that lasted maybe one minute.
There was a sudden downpour. It was heavy and hard and loud. I was in the back seat looking out the window at all of this water when the car, driven by my father, stopped on a corner not far from 42nd Street. And then it happened: A black man with pink hair ran into a red phone booth to escape the rain.
Or maybe it wasn't a man? It was not a man. It was a woman. Was it a woman? She wore a gold lamé miniskirt. The rain messed with some of her hair and glittering eye shadow. I could not take my eyes off this ambient being. Nothing but a great city could create such a creature. I had never seen a trans person, or a nonbinary person, or even a person in drag before. The light turned green. The family in the Datsun began to move, and slowly the moment I first fell in love with New York City came to an end.
I bring all of this up because on February 8, my birthday, SIFF is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Oscilloscope, a film company that the late Beastie Boy rapper MCA cofounded, by screening three films it distributed. All of the films were made before Oscilloscope existed. And all are about the greatest city on earth, New York City.
The first film of the evening, Los Sures, was shot in 1984 and directed by Diego Echeverria, and it features a Williamsburg with no white hipsters. The neighborhood is Puerto Rican and Dominican. The star of the film is a car thief and a loving father. He is short, chill, and a criminal. His neighborhood is also in the process of launching the second major movement of hiphop: Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, Big Daddy Kane, Boogie Down Productions, LL Cool J. Black and brown kids breakdance on street corners.
The next film, Stations of the Elevated, was shot in 1977 by a Jew, Manfred Kirchheimer, who escaped Nazi Germany in 1936 with his parents. His film is just music and images of NYC trains, parks, buildings, and billboards. Though the world Kirchheimer captured is giving birth to hiphop, the soundtrack is jazz by Charles Mingus.
The last film, Dark Days, was directed by a Brit, Marc Singer. Dark Days, which unfortunately was scored by the Bay Area triphop producer DJ Shadow (it should have been the Bronx's Diamond D), is set in an abandoned section of the subway. The crack epidemic is in its 10th year, and many lives have been ruined by it. In one scene, a Latino man tells the director that he recently saw his ex-wife uptown. It was the middle of the day. He went to say hi. She recognized him and walked away without a word.
His is just one of eight million stories.