New York City: The big apple, the city that never sleeps and all that jazz. Yes, we all want to be part of it, New York, New York. It seems like we all feel a sense of kinship with this city, which for many – not least within urban hipster circles – is their most favourite place in the world. New York is different from the vulgar USA, it is far removed from the naive Texas, tawdry Las Vegas and superficial California. Despite the fact that a revolting, ostentatious catastrophe of a presidential candidate hails from Queens, New York remains the European America – and simultaneously unique. New York is a state of mind. New York is Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, The Factory and Velvet Underground. New York is Seinfeld, Girls, Sex & the City (that is –the TV-series before the films sullied its reputation), intellectual newspapers, clever talk shows, long-drinks, trendy neighbourhoods and tons of street cred. How amazing would it not be to be able to rap about a rough childhood spent in the Bronx or New Jersey? Or at the very least own a commuter flat in Williamsburg?
A home for you. It is presumably possible to detect that I may not be as enamoured with NYC as many others. To rephrase an old and probably wise Canadian, albeit with a certain risk of sounding contrary: I will take Berlin, London and Athens before I take Manhattan. But, I hate to admit that, as I as a 30-year old finally made it to New York City, I too felt a slight – but only slight! – vague and rational feeling of almost coming home. This city is undoubtedly ubiquitous in our culture, and mostly within the popular genre, with which I, as a film critic, am very involved. And, as the terror hit on September 11, 2001, it almost felt like an attack on all our culture, also on us here in Norway.
The approach is essayistic, fragmented and in parts dream-like, there is much poetry in the enthralling and very vibrant city images.
Lonely in the crowd. The reason for explaining my feelings about New York right here and now, is that I am meant to be writing about a film which depicts the city. 21 X New York by Polish film maker Piotr Stasik portrays NYC and some of its inhabitants, specifically 21 fairly different people, who are somehow linked through the city’s subway. The approach is essayistic, fragmented and in parts dream-like, there is much poetry in the enthralling and very vibrant city images – which are mainly shot during the night. We do not necessarily get that close to all the 21 people we see, and not least hear, but this does not seem to be the point. On the contrary, the film seems to want to depict the city’s more fleeting qualities, whereby the characters instead blend into one another. Not least does the film also portray what it means to be lonely in the middle of a million-strong crowd (At this point, it is tempting to point out that if hell really is the others, there is ample opportunities to locate it in a metropolis – but that is strictly speaking a misinterpretation of Sartre). This way, it seems suitable that we once in a while are given intimate and personal information about these people, without really getting to know them particularly well.
The film sweeps past Tinder and various other current digital dating tools, which also seem to reflect the city’s loneliness as well as its volatility.
Drawn to the tunnels. This angle resonates with one of the film’s other themes, which is rather «sex and the city» – the sexual encounters and the longing towards these in the modern city. The film sweeps past Tinder and various other current digital dating tools, which also seem to reflect the city’s loneliness as well as its volatility. Likewise, it is possible to consider the famous «subway» as a more or less appropriate metaphor, akin to a place where you are close to an overwhelming amount of people, who nevertheless remain distant. It is also possible to think about people’s possible draw towards tunnels, as per Aune Sand’s Dis. But, in the name of decency, I shall refrain from pursuing this particular thought any further, just to mention that in one of the film’s more entertaining sequences an adult man comments to a teenage boy that men take their lead from their penises – the younger and somewhat precocious guy acquiesces. In line with the film maker, there is a sense that Stasik in no way ridicules the film’s characters’ physical or emotional needs.
Filmatic cityscape. In some way, big cities and films have always belonged together. From the legendary silent movies Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (Walter Ruttman, 1927) and Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929), and probably even earlier, films have glorified or in other ways portrayed cities, whose neon-lit asphalt landscapes have always looked good on the big screen. In addition, one could also mention Woody Allen’s Manhattan or the TV-series Sex and the City based in the same location, or even Oslo, 31. August by Joachim Trier. 21 X New York’s expressions and moods are akin to those in Chris Marker’s experimental and essayistic Sans Soleil, whilst it also stands on the shoulders of many a giant, simply due to the choice of city – this iconic metropolis which more than any other is indelibly linked to film history.
This does not, however, make Piotr Stasik’s film essay superfluous, on the contrary. Whilst not making «a brand new start of it», as the song goes, by focusing on sex and a solitary city life, 21 X New York is far more than just a seductive reunion with the city we never tire from. At least not on film.
See the interview with the director.