How the Media Movies and TV Shows Affects to the NYC and Tourist Term Paper

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The Effect of Movies on the Public's Perception of New York City

Over the years, New York City has served as a backdrop for some of the more memorable efforts of renowned filmmakers such as Spike Lee, Woody Allen, and Martin Scorsese. As a large audience around the world views these films, the question then becomes: What effect do these films have on the public's perception of the type of place New York City is? As this paper will show from the exploration of three particular examples - Scorsese's Mean Streets, Lee's Do the Right Thing, and Allen's Annie Hall - the popular imagination has been infused with the idea of New York as a melting pot of people from all over the world. This mix does not always produce a positive outcome, and the films chosen here are noteworthy for refusing to idealize the city in their depictions of its inner violence and cultural contradictions.

Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets

Martin Scorsese's breakthrough film Mean Streets is today regarded as one of the hallmarks of New Hollywood Cinema. While Mean Streets may not be Scorsese's most famous film, it is nevertheless one of the first films of the 1970s to show a realistic, non-romanticized version of New York City.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on How the Media Movies and TV Shows Affects to the NYC and Tourist Assignment

On a superficial level, Mean Streets is about gangsters in New York's Little Italy neighborhood. Going deeper, however, one realizes that Mean Streets is actually a film about living in a state of sin. Whatever Charlie (Harvey Keitel) does throughout the film, we are constantly aware that he is living in a state that he is unable to escape from, even as he tries to help the seemingly helpless Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro.) the plot of the film involves Charlie's difficult attempts at reconciling all of the conflicting worlds he involves himself in. Charlie works for Giovanni, a restaurant owner and Mafioso. Charlie shows promise in the underworld and is being groomed to take over the restaurant, but Giovanni does not like his association with Johnny Boy, a troubled figure that Charlie feels it is his Christian duty to help and protect. Johnny Boy owes money to another character, Michael, who is growing restless over Johnny Boy's ongoing failure to pay it back.

The documentary impulse structures the narrative style of the film, which is elliptical to the point of occasionally being obscure; some have criticized the film as being "all style, no substance," claiming that Scorsese devoted more of his energies to honing the technical side of the film to the detriment of the development of his characters (see, for instance, Cannon.) at the same time, the fact that there appears to be little mediation, in the proper filmic sense, gives viewers a more realistic view of what life in New York's Little Italy neighborhood was like in the 1970s. It also forces the viewer to play a more active role in understanding the characters' behavior.

As critics over the years have noted, Mean Streets is essentially a film about the spiritual conflict experienced by the main character. What makes Charlie unique, however, is the context in which he is undergoing this crisis. Scorsese himself has admitted that this was very much his departure point when writing the script:

The first version of the script of Mean Streets was steeped very much in the religious conflict. See, the whole idea was to make a story of a modern saint, a saint in his own society, but his society happens to be gangsters. It should be interesting to see how a guy does the right thing - that's the old phrase they use, "the right thing" - in that world. Somebody does something wrong, you've got to break his head or shoot him. it's as simple as that (Scorsese, quoted in Kelly 71).

Keitel does an admirable job of animating these guilt-ridden aspects of Charlie in his portrayal of what would come to be seen as a quintessentially New York Italian man caught up in the underworld. The dynamic set up between Keitel's character and Johnny Boy, played with a frustrating - yet ultimately convincing - recklessness by Robert De Niro, merely cements the formation of this Judas-Jesus relationship. De Niro's performance emphasizes the fact that Johnny Boy is holy fool: a smiling jokester with no sense of time or money, and a streak of self-destruction. The first time we see him in the film, he blows up a corner mailbox. Why? No reason. De Niro and Keitel have a scene in the bar's back room that displays the rapport these two actors would carry through many movies. Charlie is earnest, frightened, telling Johnny he has to pay the money. Johnny launches on a rambling, improvised cock-and-bull story about a poker game, a police raid, a fight - finally even losing the thread himself (Ebert).

Charlie, of course, is meant to be Judas (Kael 507). In his struggle to become a saint, he winds up becoming the enabler - and hence, the betrayer. His main flaw in his character lies in his constant procrastination. He wants to do "the right thing," but his action comes too late - and at too great a cost.

As Friedman notes in his biographical study of Scorsese's work, the climax of Mean Streets is both ambivalent and inevitable. The foreshadowing that Scorsese masterfully integrates in to the plot of the film gives us several clues as to how the sordid affair will wind up for all involved:

Even the specific wounds are foreshadowed in Charlie's many hand-to-neck gestures, not to mention his habit of holding his hand to the flames. And Uncle Giovanni, avatar of the gangster code that triggers the shooting, watches a television film of an injured woman being rescued from a car wreck, a preview of Teresa's being led away from Charlie's smashed car. Several times Giovanni had warned Charlie not to get involved with Johnny Boy, and Michael had once threatened to "break his [Johnny's] legs." [...] the sense of foreboding is intensified by Scorsese's manipulation of film noir standbys such as rain-slicked streets and shadowy alleys (Friedman 36).

The film's climax, which is played out in a car chase sequence at night, infuses the film with a sense of adventure and daring. While New Yorkers might not experience such excitement in their daily lives, the tension underlying the main character's conflict is no doubt exacerbated by the setting in which he finds himself.

Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing

For years, New York has been perceived as a site of ethnic tension. It is, among other things, the birthplace of hip-hop music and culture, but also the site of clashes between the super rich and the impoverished. Many of the former happen to be white Americans, while the latter tend to be African-Americans, Latin Americans, and other disadvantaged minorities. This latter group tends to dwell in "ghettos" - a term that is constantly used in error by mainstream America, as not every predominately ethnic working-class neighborhood is necessarily dangerous. But under advanced capitalism, it is difficult for denizens of poorer areas to improve their lot, owing to the proliferation of social inequalities. As Jane Jacobs has noted, "there is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served" (Jacobs 25). Of course, this quality cannot be upheld forever; something has to break, and the next film I will discuss shows the process of that breaking.

Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing is a film about inequality in a predominately African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, Bedstuy. While Mean Streets symbolized the plight of an Italian-American man seeking salvation in the underworld, Do the Right Thing features more of an ensemble cast of characters, each of whom navigates the waters of social inequality in the course of a single twenty-four hour period. For the sake of space, then, I will limit my analysis to one of these characters, whose death leads to the film's stunning climax - Radio Raheem, played by Bill Nunn.

We first meet Radio Raheem early on in the film, carrying his huge boom box, which blasts the Public Enemy song "Fight the Power" - a song that will become Radio Raheem's trademark throughout the course of the movie. He also wears the same outfit, including a Bedstuy t-shirt, throughout the course of the film. Despite the fact that no one seems to know much about Radio Raheem, he is clearly respected by the community he lives in. In this sense, he is something of a warrior figure. In the film's famous fire hydrant scene, in which some of the neighborhood teenagers, driven crazy by the heat, open a fire hydrant on the street and begin spraying some of the residents with water, until they are eventually stopped by the racist white police officers. Radio Raheem makes an appearance walking… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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