March 4, 1910 [New York of Today]

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." The film wants to sweep us all 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, 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 don't hold me as closely as the small details glimpsed off to the side.

—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 blink 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—never at home, but I feel I am anyway, warm in my passive observation of minutiae, part staring infant, part camera-operator.


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