A filmed travelogue of New York City, from Columbus Circle to Central Park, Times Square to the Luna Park water-slide--and on to Chinatown and the slums--and then the Metropolitan Life and Flatiron buildings. The entire city, it seems, "east side, west side, all around the town." Intended for an overseas (German) audience, the film wants to sweep every visitor along, the great city expanding as we watch, as if being built out-of-frame moments before the camera turns to the next mass of humanity or brick.
But why does my attention wander to the periphery? Why do I notice the advertisement that reads, "Morgan tires are good tires"--and smile at the modest encouragement--"Well, that's a relief; I certainly wouldn't want to purchase bad tires"? Why does my gaze linger on what appear to be tourists--three groups of them--passing us by, actual visitors glancing toward their invisible, inconsequential counterparts in the theater? Why does the silly thing that is Coney Island--"the place for a lark"--with its flying carousel and zooming bathers capture my attention? I recall the camera tilting, the water-slide patrons coming at the camera, the abrupt transitions from scene to scene--but these technical matters do not hold me like the small details glimpsed off to the side.
I am growing more comfortable with the cinema, allowing it to show me what it pleases, while I linger at the periphery--unless, of course, that is the intent, the picture's frame providing the freedom to roam within it, the distinction between "foreground" and "background" seemingly re-imagined at will by the viewer--but in reality encouraged by the cut and tilt of the film and camera. And I am happy to be manipulated--and desire more of this, and as subtly as can be managed, so that I do not even notice, and can praise my own eyes for having seen so much.
It may be a false innocence to claim such freedom as I watch--all the while the film-makers guiding my gaze where they will--but I kindly refuse to entertain ulterior motives; instead, I prefer that we be "boys and girls together," "tripping the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York"--or the Wild West, or the farmyard, or wherever the camera points. I wonder if the German cinema-tourists will feel this, will surrender to Morgan tires and carousels--but maybe they will simply be like the tourists I spotted in the film, dutifully impressed visitors, storing away details for hearth-side souvenirs back home. But I feel at home already, warm in my passive observation of minutiae--disingenuous, I will admit, as I continue to sharpen that gaze, seeing more, jumping and sliding with the camera--part staring infant, part camera-operator.