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The Big Apple on the Big Screen

Experiencing old-time New York in present-day Chicago has never been easier. Now on view in Galleries 1–4, Film and Photo in New York combines street photographs and rarely seen films made from the 1920s through the 1950s to give the viewer a dynamic view of the Big Apple at a time when it was becoming the most populous and industrially advanced city in the world.

More than half of the photos on display—all of them drawn from the museum's permanent collection— have never been displayed before. But the films are a must-see, particularly for movie buffs, as short experimental films of this sort are so rarely screened.

Pull My Daisy (1959) serves as the quintessential beatnik film, adapted from a play by Jack Kerouac into the eponymous poem that serves as the narration. The poem was written by Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and Kerouac, who also serves as the narrator. He reportedly improvised parts of the narration, imbuing the voice-over with a feeling of spontaneity. The film also features artist Larry Rivers and Alice Neel, among other luminaries of the literary and art world.

Morris Engel’s Academy Award-nominated Little Fugitive (1953) is arguably the most important film on view in the exhibition for its influential use of nonprofessional actors and real-life New York locations. Engel’s independent style of production had a huge impact on young French film critics like Francois Truffaut, who went on to make his first film 400 Blows (1959) in much the same style. Little Fugitive revolves around a cruel joke played on seven-year-old Joey Norton, tricked by his friends into thinking he shot and killed his brother with a cap gun. He flees to Coney Island where he spends the day wandering around the beach and riding amusement rides.

Also worthy of note is Paul Strand’s Manhatta, a short film often credited as the first “city symphony” film, a popular genre among avant-garde filmmakers of the 1920s.

See these rare films while they’re still on view. Film and Photo in New York closes November 25.

Image: Louis Faurer. Times Square USA, 1950 (printed 1981). Gift of Lucia Woods Lindley and Daniel S. Lindley, Jr.