Oi Polloi

Films and Things: New York City

Published: Thu Mar 29 2018

To spare an overlong introduction, New York is a city in the United States of America that I've never been to. However, I've always been entranced by how it's portrayed in cinema. The boundless vast chaos of the concrete jungle is something that has always set my eyes ablaze with wonder - sort of like how a dog's eyes go when the Pedigree is cracked out.

So without further gibbering, here's some films I like set in New York.


First up: Bobby De Niro, back in his gritty, method-acting hey-day, before he got a taste for doing horrendous, painfully unfunny comedies, in the Martin Scorsese-directed Taxi Driver.

For those who for some reason haven’t seen this, it’s the story of Travis Bickle (De Niro), a mentally unstable Vietnam veteran, working as a night-time cab driver in the Big Apple. While working, he's exposed to the very worst of what the city has to offer, and, in turn, fantasises about inflicting violence upon it.

In the 50s and 60s, N.Y.C. was viewed by many as a 'utopian urban metropolis'. By the 70s, that image had been fully decimated. The city was notorious for its high rates of extremely violent crime, as well of being the sex and drug trafficking capital of the United States. Not exactly the type of place you'd be aching to book an Airbnb.

Taxi Driver explores the dark underbelly of New York. Travis views the city with violent contempt, which pushes him further into insanity.

Do you think 'ar kid Travis ever wore an 'I LOVE NEW YORK!' t-shirt? Probably not.


Next up, we've got a fresh-faced Spike Lee and a stack of pizzas in his incendiary masterpiece Do the Right Thing.

This film concerns itself with Mookie (Spike Lee), a pizza delivery man, who observes a Brooklyn neighbourhood's rapidly-boiling racial tension, which comes to a head and culminates in a tragedy on the hottest day of the year.

The 80s in New York came to be known as a time of ‘restrained optimism’, thanks to the boom on Wall Street and fall in unemployment. However, due to mayor Ed Koch's gentrification schemes, racial tensions grew significantly. While some parts of the city were blessed with new employment opportunities due to investments from the city, many were forgotten, or simply ignored, and left to fend for themselves.

All this doesn't make the film sound very funny, but I can assure you it is. It's even listed as a 'drama/comedy' on Google. I'm not lying, promise!


Here's a film you should probably never watch with your grandmother present – Larry Clark's Kids.

Kids is centred on a day in the life of a group of teenagers in New York during the AIDS epidemic of the mid-90s, exploring their hedonistic behaviour, including but not limited to underage sex, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and battering people with skateboards.

When it was released, Kids attracted massive controversy; many questioned film's artistic merit and more denounced the film as ‘pornographic filth’. However, the film has also been championed as a magnifying glass for dark social issues, showing audiences how 'kids' really were – how they acted, how they talked and their various attitudes to things considered taboo by their elders. Its depiction of AIDS ruffled a few feathers as well, considering at the time of Kids' release, the fear of it was at an all-time high.

But don't let that stop you – if granny is into raw, unflinching depictions of sex, violence and drug use, feel free to show her Kids.


Here's a film that takes place in the 60s, but for the sake of chronology, I've put it second to last – Joel and Ethan Coen' s Inside Llewyn Davis.

Set in 1961, Inside Llewyn Davis follows one week in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a folk singer struggling to achieve musical success all while trying his darnedest not to ruin his personal life.

The 60s defined how New York would come to be viewed in the minds of many. It's hard to think the of the Big Apple without images of smoke-filled cafes, Madison Avenue, underground bars, poetry, hot dog vendors and dishevelled folk troubadours coming to mind.

But, due to the infamous blackouts and rising unemployment, the economic boom of the post-war years was fading and the 60s became a time of great strife. The anxieties and worries of the fragile decade are reflected through Llewyn's transient and uncertain lifestyle – a lifestyle that can quite easily collapse at any moment.

And for the sake of those who’ve not been paying attention to the films above… it did.


Most people have probably seen the films listed above, so to restore my credentials as someone who knows about films, let's end this instalment with one not many have seen – Alex Ross Perry's masterful Listen Up Philip.

This film stars Jason Schwartzman as acclaimed writer and exemplary narcissist Philip Lewis Friedman as he's taken on as a protégé by his idol Ike Zimmerman, an old and bitter author.

Due to a script that recalls the works of Woody Allen and 16mm cinematography, Listen Up Philip feels like it could be a classic 70s 'New York' film. However, the film is imbued with a mezze of reprehensible, unlikable characters (including the 'protagonist') to show us how stuffy and self-absorbed the New York intellectual scene has become.

Less pastrami on rye, more smashed avocado on sour dough... if that makes any sense.


So, there you have it – films about psychopaths, racial tensions, naughty kids, dying dreams and narcissists that all take place in N.Y.C. Book your trip today!