Once ubiquitous in bustling metropolises like New York City, payphones have been cast aside as relics of a tethered time. In the rare instances that we walk past one, we don’t even bat an eye. We barely look up from the sleeker, shinier devices that made them obsolete.
And, well, payphones have something to say about that. “You don’t want to use us anymore? Fine. But do you even see us anymore?”
That comes from “Dead Ringer,” a four-minute film by directors Alex Kliment, Dana O’Keefe, and Michael Tucker that premiered earlier this month at the Tribeca Film Festival and was featured online Tuesday by the New Yorker. Against the backdrop of a somber, jazzy tune, one of New York City’s four remaining phone booths narrates its disdain for how invisible payphones have become, despite everything they’ve done for society.
You can watch the short film here.
From the New York Times, a story of the mafia’s decline:
After he had helped pull off one of the biggest cash robberies in American history — the Lufthansa heist of 1978 — and stashed millions of dollars, along with burlap sacks of gold chains, crates of watches, and diamonds and emeralds, in his cousin’s basement, Vincent Asaro thought first about the code: Protect the family.
“He says, ‘We got to be real careful now,’” his cousin testified. “‘Don’t spend anything. Don’t buy anything major.’”
He kept quiet, but another part of Mr. Asaro, a Mafia yeoman working his way up through New York’s Bonanno crime family, could not resist. He bought a Bill Blass-model Lincoln and a Formula speedboat — symbols of a man who wanted to belong.
Mr. Asaro did not realize his world was vanishing.
Some photographers know how to make you feel alive, even when the moments they capture are long gone by the time you see them. I love the work of Janet Delaney, and I encourage you to seek out more of her photographs, and to buy prints from her website.
After listening to ‘Philip Glass: Taxi Driver’ the other night I came across another tale of another man driving a cab in New York during the same 1970s period (in fact Glass gets a brief cameo). Broadcaster and author Michael Goldfarb recalls his days trying to make it as an actor while working shifts and shifting gears across five brilliant episode of Trip Sheets. At the time of writing you can hear the first in the series here. This is from the Guardian’s review:
We began with the thrill of his moving to New York to become an actor, the grubby glamour of him driving a cab in a New York that was just about to create Taxi Driver and Taxi (the last written by a cab driver who drove for the same firm as Goldfarb). In the first two episodes of Trip Sheets we met Philip Roth, Philip Glass, Peter Brook, Harvey Keitel… But as Goldfarb’s youthful innocence and self-belief changed, so did the essays, moving from “I had that Warhol in the back of my cab once, I did” anecdotes into more difficult areas. Goldfarb drove a young woman and her newborn child to a burnt-out Bronx and wondered how and, more importantly, why it got like that.
The final episode was on how New York, and New York cabbing, has changed. “If all else fails, I can always move back to New York and drive a cab,” he thinks, but instead goes over and sits in the back as a passenger. “The city is just too different,” he concludes.
As an added bonus, below is the trailer for Taxi Driver, which never gets old even though the world it depicts is long gone.
At a moment when the once beautifully entangled fabric of New York life seems to be unravelling thread by thread—bookstore by bookstore, restaurant by restaurant, and now even toy store by toy store—it might be time to spare a thought or two for the Chelsea Hotel. At the hotel on Twenty-third Street, famously rundown and louche—the Last Bohemia for the Final Beatniks, our own Chateau Marmont, where Dylan Thomas drank and Bob Dylan wrote “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and Leonard Cohen wore (or didn’t; people argue) his famous blue raincoat, and Sid Vicious killed (or didn’t; they argue that, too) Nancy Spungen—the renovators and gentrifiers have arrived. The plastic sheeting is everywhere, the saws buzz and the dust rises. In a short time, the last outpost of New York bohemia will become one more boutique hotel.
I need to watch this documentary asap. From Wired:
BEING A STREET photographer is a bit like conducting a drunk symphony: You must make order of chaos. Only a few photographers do it well, and many of them appear in Cheryl Dunn’s film, Everybody Street, which chronicles the street photography of New York City.
Dunn chose New York because it always has been at the center of the genre. Many a shooter has made a career documenting the city’s colorful characters, and many of street photography’s most iconic photographs were shot in one of its boroughs.
“If you want to get a really broad slice of humanity, you can find it in New York,” Dunn says. “Every kind of person is out there and I think that’s what’s attracted all these photographers.”