Man on Wire

November 30th, 2010

To me, the most striking part of “Man on Wire” was not the walk from tower to tower, but the preparation and feeling of, as the one summary put it, “a heist”.  Getting Philippe to the top of the tower was a complex and dangerous criminal operation.

When it comes down to it, there is walking two hundred feet across a tight rope at 1,300 feet isn’t any different than doing it from 700 feet.  Either way if you fall, you die.  As far as skill level is concerned, it is the same for 1,300 feet and 2 feet.  However, there is a huge difference between building a small tightrope in a field and sneaking into the World Trade Center to build a 200 foot tightrope.  The planning, execution, and luck needed to pull off this stunt was incredible- and they did it!  For me, the most exciting part was when they finally attached the rope and knew Philippe would have to opportunity to walk.  After that, everything seemed easy.

I think the movie reflected this attitude as well.  A lot of time was spent talking about the planning on how to get to the top of the buildings.  They needed fake ID passes, they needed to sneak past guards, and they needed the top floor to be empty long enough to set everything up.  The biggest disagreements were not about whether or not Philippe could walk the two hundred feet, but about how to get him in position to do so.

This also is what made the movie so exciting.  Though the actual tightrope walking was amazing, I could not have watched an hour and a half of a man on a rope.  It was the “heist” that kept my attention.  I don’t like to admit it, but there is something thrilling about breaking the rules. Cases like this one are especially easy to get excited about because there is no obvious moral dilemma.  It didn’t seem like anyone was getting hurt in the process of getting Philippe into the building, so there was no one to feel bad for.  I couldn’t find any real reason to be angry at Philippe or his team.  This enabled me to enjoy the process of making it happen.  I enjoyed the suspense when they were hiding under the tarp and when the bottle broke signaling the entrance of a guard.  If Philippe had somehow gotten a permit to use the towers (which I don’t think is possible) the movie would have been somewhat boring and would have to have been much shorter.

Escape from Patriarchy?

November 22nd, 2010

Wilson sees the city as an uncomfortable place of uncertainty, crowds, and women.  Women add to the uncertainty of the city because in the city they do things which were not allowed for them in the suburbs.  They act independently of men and exercise their power and rights as individuals.

At first I thought Helen from “Panic in Needle Park” was a perfect example of a women embracing the unconventional aspects of the city.  She leaves her boring suburban life to live an active, exciting life in the city.  She breaks with traditional rules of what it means to be a woman and tries new, forbidden things such as drugs.  She rebels and becomes her own woman.  I’m sure Helen’s mid-western upbringing did not include heroine and her parents and community would disapprove of her drug use and promiscuity.

On further thought, however, I realized that Helen is not independent at all.  Instead of breaking free in the anonymity and uncertainty of the city, Helen turns to unhealthy ways of coping: an abusive relationship with Bobby and heroine.  This man and this drug completely control her life and she cannot function without them (although she barely functions with them anyway).  Instead of escaping the patriarchy and control of of the suburbs she allows a man and a substance of the city to control her.

Even when Helen escapes Bobby and cannot get heroine, she doesn’t gain control of her own life.  First she turns to pills, another drug, and then to prostitution.  As a prostitute she is completely dependent on men’s desires and must allow them to control her.  Her rebellion and attempts at escape only result in increased dependency which she never gets away from.  At the very end of the movie she reunites with Bobby.  The cycle will never end for her, even in the city.

Women as Irruption

November 16th, 2010

In establishing her dichotomy between city and suburb, Wilson emphasizes the fact that the suburbs have certainty and are unchanging.  In contrast, you can never know what you will find in the ever changing city.  Amongst this change are new ideas.  These ideas threaten the old, suburban, patriarchal order.  In the past, women’s inferiority to men was unquestioned.  There is no motivation for question in the suburbs because of the comfort of their certainty.  The city allows for and promotes question, particularly that one with which Wilson is so concerned: why are men dominant?  In the city, women can express themselves and throw off the shackles put on them by patriarchal society.  They can “irrupt” and forge a new identity for themselves which was not able to be found in the suburbs.  This irruption makes the city even less certain and comfortable for men, it makes them feel threatened and confused. Similarly to the sphinx, women in the city scare men by making them think and doing what is unexpected.

City vs. Suburb

November 11th, 2010

Crossing the line from a suburb to a city can feel like traveling to a new world. The familiarity and comfort of the suburban environment is immediately lost as you get jostled in a crowd of people who look nothing like those you are used- they often don’t even look much like each other.  This variety is what makes the city so wonderful, but the disorder and uncertainty of it provokes immense anxiety.  Coming from the suburb, you are used to order and segregation.  In the city there is no room for segregation and no time to create order.

This dichotomy of the comfort of the suburbs and the mystery of the city is very clear to Elizabeth Wilson.  She describes her trip from suburb to city as a “strenuous, fraught journey to a treacherous destination.”  After this terrible journey, she would end up in violent, scary “theaters of cruelty” such as the cite of Anne Boleyn’s execution and the electric chair.

To add to the discomfort of going to the city was the unfamiliar crowd. Wilson “had never seen crowds like those” found in the city and did not enjoy the “promiscuity,” jostling,” and “indifference.”   In the suburbs there is familiarity.  You is exposed to less people, and more of these people care, or at least pretend to.  There is no jostling, you are free to move where you please without competing for that space.

The spaces of the city are filled with “artists and criminals.”  Both of these groupls of people are unlikely to be found in the suburbs.  For artists, there is a larger audience and subject matter, for criminals there are more victims.  There is a sense of security in the suburbs- people leave cars and homes unlocked and parents feel safe allowing their children to roam with little or no supervision.  This same feeling does not exist in the city where every restaurant is full of criminals.

Most of all, the city is confusing and changing.  As Wilson says, it is more like a circular and center-less labyrinth than a maze with a secret center which can be gotten too and is the ultimate goal.  Even a labyrinth, however, is not an adequate metaphor for the city.  In a labyrinth you can retrace your steps and eventually you will become familiar with old paths.  The city, in contrast, “is in a constant process of change.”  Unlike the suburb, one can never know what to expect of a city.  Walking down a suburban street you are unlikely to see new faces or buildings; there will rarely be construction projects or the opening and closing of businesses.  The city is full of these changes and many others, and the city dweller would find it odd if this were not the case.

Gorky’s New York

November 2nd, 2010

Gorky’s New York- The City of the Yellow Devil, as he calls it- is a terrible place where thought, and therefore life, is destroyed by industry, the people are dumber and more savage than animals, and all individualism is suppressed by “the mob.”  He conveys this with a dark, contemptuous, hopeless voice and clear, disturbing detail.  His early description of the New York setting is scary, tense, and unsettling and strongly conveys the discomfort and anxiety he feels in the city.  According to Gorky, the city is filled with “angry whistles” and “everything is running, hurrying, vibrating tensely… everything is groaning, howling grating.”  After reading such a description, I can’t help but to feel the rushed, oppressive atmosphere Gorky finds in the city.  The ultimate result of this unforgiving setting is that man is “an insignificant screw, an invisible dot.”

Throughout the whole first chapter Gorky writes how the city destroys the individual and leaves life joyless.  To him, statues are more alive than city dwellers.  He describes the statues “bronze people” and the human beings as “little black figures.”  Gorky’s statues have thoughts, the people do not.  Later, Gorky goes back to this idea of a lack of thought.  At the end of a description of the subway commute he writes “In brains that are constantly being shaken it is impossible, surely, for thoughts to weave their beautiful bold lace patterns.”  This lack of thought is a lack of life, according to Gorky and “a living man, who thinks… would be annoyed by this wild howling, screeching and roaring, this trembling of stone walls, this timorous shivering of glass in window frames.”   If there is any thought in the city, it is about work, and such thought isn’t really the people’s.  “Work is done, there is nothing more to think about.  Their thinking belongs to their boss, what is their to think about themselves?”

In the second chapter, Gorky shows that he finds the city boring in addition to life destroying and thoughtless.  Unexpectedly, he uses Coney Island to convey this idea.  I found the most interesting thing about this chapter to be his elaborate Hell metaphor.  Gorky uses this “Hell” attraction in Coney Island to mirror life in the city while at the same time he shows that the city can’t even get Hell right.  “Hell is very badly made,” Gorky tells us and even Satan is clearly uncomfortable.  After describing various sins which can be punished by satanic abduction, Gorky describes a boring sermon about the evils of sin.  To Gorky, nothing in the city can be exciting. It is clear that Gorky finds even the magnificent to be badly done in the city when he writes “a nauseatingly handsome angle appears from a corner of the cave.”  The phrase “nauseatingly handsome” is contradictory, but Gorky is so hateful of the city that nothing in it can be good.

The rest of the chapter describes people’s savagery and stupidity in a zoo.  The people prod the animals looking for a show and enjoy when the animals are tortured.  To punctuate the lack of sophistication in the people, Gorky gives the animals the coherent thought of which city people are incapable.  As the mob enjoys the show of a baby monkey being tortured an elephant looks down on them and thinks of them as “scum.”  The elephant has the sympathy the people lack he “cannot help feeling sorry for the monkey.

The third chapter is about the lack of individuality in the city.  Instead of being a number of individuals, city dwellers are one mob.  They scorn individuality and difference.  The mob is “suspicious” of anyone who “is dressed differently or… walks faster than the rest.”  They do not like laughter when they can’t all see it’s cause.  The mob makes an enemy of anyone different, especially those who seem to have it better than them.  Gorky tells us about the mob’s reaction to “lovely graceful women… in light, costly carriages.”  These women are beautiful and rich, they have everything that could be desired.  Even their children are better.  “These comparisons breed envy in the Mob’s dark heart,” as well as hostility.  This well to do, different, group of people- like anything else that doesn’t fit the city’s dreary mold- is the mob’s enemy.

Gorky’s stance is against the life he sees in New York.  He is disappointed with the lack of thought, intelligence and individualism he sees in the city.

Gorky’s voice is that of a hopeless onlooker.

Gorky uses descriptions and examples as support.  He vividly describes the dark, hopeless setting of New York and the monotony of people’s lives while showing examples of thoughtlessness, stupidity and a mob mentality.

Low Life

October 26th, 2010

I found the beginning of the preface to LowLife immediately intriguing.  I am not used to reading something which begins with a statement of what the book is, but I found it to be an interesting way of introducing the piece.  Though “This is a book about New York” is not particularly grabbing, the words “vices and lures,” “streets and alleys,” and the term “lower classes”  made me curious.  Sante continues to draw the reader in with references to important historical periods such as “the Red Scare” and more attention demanding terms such as “realms of attraction and concealment,” and “bazaars and the underworld.”
The preface reminds me of Whitmans’s crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”  Whitman was focused on  the connection of the past, present and future.  Sante talks about places in Manhattan, particularly the Bowery, which have a similar atmosphere they did years ago, despite the changes which have occurred in the world since then.  He sums up this feeling of similarity: “prostitutes walk where prostitutes walked a hundred years ago; the homeless are camped on the sites of nineteenth-century shantytowns; street peddles pitch their wares in spots that once saw pushcart lineups or thieves’ markets.”  It is clear that Sante, like Whitman, sees the experience of the present day city as very similar to that of the city of the past.

The chapter on Bohemia describes a community within a community- the Bohemians within New York City.  It seems that the Bohemian culture comes from a rejection of convention as well as an appreciation for the arts.  I found it fascinating that this cultural community extended into other spheres, such as politics and business.  The idea that an offshoot community could help to spur as important a movement as that of women’s rights was both surprising and impressive.  This excerpt left me wanting to read more of this book as well as anything related to Bohemian culture.


October 26th, 2010


  1. Whitman Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
  1. Stanza 1
  1. Usual costumes- people are dressed up, fake
  1. Stanza 2
  1. disintegrated but part of scheme- no individual identity, just part of whole
  2. Similitudes of past and future- we’re all the same
  1. Stanza 5
  1. “I too-” relating identity to others
  2. Questions- Who am I?
  3. Received identity through my body- Idk yet
  1. Stanza 6
  1. Best I’d done blank and suspicious, great thoughts meagre- questioning importance         of self
  2. I am he who knew what it was to be evil etc.- questioning sense of self and decisions
  3. Was one with the rest- loosing I.D. -or- I.D. is one with others
  1. Stanza 9
  1. Play the part actors and actresses- faking, no I.D.
  2. Appearances indicate what you are- you become how you act
  3. Foil us, withhold yourself- you can’t hide
  1. Whitehead Brooklyn Bridge
  1. Paragraph 1
  1. history, immigrant spices- identity as immigrant/outsider
  2. City’s less famous heroes
  1. Paragraph 3
  1. False front of industry, movie set- lack of identity, or covering identity up
  2. We’re all extras
  1. we don’t matter
  2. we are acting
  1. singing, whistling, rebuking- individuality vs. conformity
  1. Paragraph 4
  1. suicide imagery- inspired by identity confusion
  2. Everything looks hazy
  1. Paragraph 5
  1. They have always tried to regulate your views- your ID isn’t yours
  2. You can’t break me- he won’t let the hugeness of the city defeat who he is
  3. She wants the window- wants to change immigrant/outsider identity
  1. Paragraph 6
  1. flaking paint/beautification- can’t hide what you really are
  1. Paragraph 7
  1. In the middle, caught in act of changing mask- need different ID in manhattan
  2. If yo have no philosophy one will be appointed- if you have a weak sense of identity, the city will shape it for you
  3. Tourist speak language of workers- tourist seem like outsiders, are they?
  1. Paragraph 8
  1. Truth of the size of the island- the skyline hides truth
  2. Introspection- who am I?

Age of Innocence

October 20th, 2010

“The Age of Innocence” is a film adapted from Edith Wharton’s novel of the same name.  The film tells the story of Ellen Olenska’s return to New York after leaving her husband- a Polish count.  Ellen finds it difficult to assimilate into the culture of the 1870s New York elite because of her “free thinking ideas” and unorthodox behavior. She is helped past this struggle by her cousin May Welland’s fiance, Newland Archer.  Newland himself holds non-traditional ideas about how women should behave and defends Ellen from the public.

In the midst of helping her become accepted, Newland falls in love with Ellen.  He being engaged, and she not yet divorced, a romance between would be unacceptable.  This forces them to repress their feelings and not have the relationship they desire.  Newland, as would be expected of a man of his times, follows his social role instead of what he desires.

In addition to portraying the story of repressed desires, the play recreates 1870s New York.  The focus on and accuracy of the settings and props helps convince the audience that they are watching scenes out of that era.

Day Lewis, playing Newland Archer, does a great job despite portraying a disappointing character. Michelle Pfeifer, playing Ellen Olenska, is convincing despite being a very different role than her last one as Cat Woman.  Wynona Rider does an equally good job as May Welland.

Though this film is very different from Scorsese’s usual work, he succeeds in making what could be a boring story exciting.  Likewise, the script writer successfully brought the story down to an acceptable movie length without sacrificing essential plot points.

Appetites and Desires

October 6th, 2010

The motif of appetites and desires is clear throughout Whitehead’s “Brooklyn Bridge.”  The very first image in the story is one of the city as a piece of meat.  This sets up the idea that there is something to be gained by crossing the bridge, going from Brooklyn to Manhattan.  Where Brooklyn, with it’s “unfashionable area code and immigrant spices” is a place to be stuck in the old world with no opportunity, Manhattan is a land of newness and opportunity.  In Manhattan, the woman crossing the bridge can escape her foreign background and be whoever she wants to be.

Later in his piece, Whitehead presents us with a scene in which a man stops along the bridge and yells “you can’t break me.”  Though this isn’t quite as obviously about appetites, it shows the man’s desire to conquer the city.  We are given no background information, but it seems clear that the man is somehow frustrated with what the “indifferent skyline” of the city represents.  This could be the towering power of business and industry, or man’s constant desire to reach higher.  Either way, the man clearly wants to get past it and be his best despite it.

Farther down in the same paragraph, we are told of a woman, most likely the same one from earlier in the piece, who “picked a window and told herself one day she would live behind that window and watch them walk the bridge like she walks now.”  This continues the idea of the woman’s desire to get out of her current situation.  As an observer of those walking the bridge, she would be “closer to the city, doubtless, but much closer to what she wants.”  To the woman, the city represents everything she desires.  Getting behind that window would mean she had made it to Manhattan, and therefore achieved her goal of making a new and better life for herself.

In the end, Whitehead seems to reject the idea that by crossing the bridge the woman can get what she wants.  When she finally gets across “there is no more dreaming, only solid ground,” and when she gets to the other end of the bridge she feels “that disappointed feeling.”

Whitehead uses the motif of appetites and desires to emphasize the symbolic meaning of the bridge.  It is seen as a path to a better life.   The idea of going from Brooklyn to Manhattan is more than a simple change of location.  Living in Manhattan requires wealth and implies acceptance, status, and importance.  By repeating the idea of people’s appetites and desires for Manhattan, Whitehead makes this very clear.

Two Voices on the Brooklyn Bridge

September 27th, 2010

Mumford has an appreciative and personal voice, one that would be used when speaking of a fond memory.  The first time he mentions the Brooklyn Bridge he says “it was the Brooklyn Bridge I loved best, partly because of its own somber perfection of form.”  From there he goes on to describe the many breathtaking and impressive aspects of the bridge.  He continues to express his love of the bridge when he tells us that he “took every possible occasion to walk back and forth across the Brooklyn Bridge.”  His positive attitude can be heard even when not talking about the bridge itself.  When he tells us about his coming across Steinman’s study of the building of the bridge he says it was a “happy chance”  that the book passed under his “favorable editorial eye.”  It is clear that he enjoys anything which shares his appreciation of the bridge.

I found Mumford’s loving and affectionate voice toward the Brooklyn Bride to be clearest when he talks about the general feeling around the bridge and when he describes his spiritual experience in the last four paragraphs.  According to him, people “had a sense that we were on… a quite magical translation, in which the best hopes of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution would all be simultaneously fulfilled.”  This is one of the strongest lines I have ever read.  He sees the bridge as a symbol of freedom as well as an example of the amazing technological advancements the world had made in the decades preceding the writing of his piece.

He also experiences the bridge in an almost divine way.  He talks about “golden pinnacles” how the “sky formed a halo around the jagged mountain of skyscrapers.”  He says he was “filled with energy and light” and was “drinking in the city and sky.”  The experience was one such that he felt “The world… opened before me.  His voice couldn’t be more loving and admiring.

Whitehead is also appreciative of the bridge, but voices it in a less personal way.  Though it seems that he is conversational when he uses slang and the word “you”, he keeps the piece impersonal by sticking mostly to the second or third person.  Whitehead introduces his character, the woman journeying across the bridge, in the opening paragraph.  “Her whole history hordes behind her with its unfashionable are code and immigrant spices,” he writes.  But how does he know this? He is using this woman to tell his own story, but doesn’t want to get personally involved with the reader by revealing that he is, in fact, speaking about himself.  Whitehead later introduces a new character, a man observing the woman as she crosses.  This man feels a connection with the woman because he too has crossed the bridge.  I think this is Whitehead continuing to attempt to reveal things about his own personality without explicitly stating his own feelings.

Though Whitehead’s voice also has admiration for the bridge, it is a darker voice filled with a dissatisfaction for his own, and others’, emotional states. His admiration has more to do with what the bridge can provide for the crossers than for the architecture of and view from it.  He sees the bridge as something which can help us unburden our souls and uncover what we hide.  In the third paragraph, Whitehead says “the only toll is what you need to be rid of.”  He tells us about a time when a man stopped along the bridge “and declared ‘you can’t break me.’”   The bridge gave the man the opportunity to overcome his feeling of weakness.  Later, when he returns to the woman crossing the bridge he talks about how “a scale inside her seeks equilibrium as she walks along this larger scale.”  The crossing of the bridge gives the woman a chance to find balance in her life.   According to Whitehead, the bridge makes it easy to think about one’s life: “Introspection is a cheap date up here.”

In addition to creating a voice to get their meanings across, both authors use repeating motifs. One of the strongest motifs in Mumford’s work is that of a romantic connection to the bridge.  It first appears when he tells us about the love scene in his play.  He tells us that the scene takes place “high up on one of the piers… with a sense of giddy isolation heightening the passion of the lovers.”  We know this was a profound feeling in him because he writes that it still “haunts me.”  He repeats the idea of a lover’s connection to the bridge at the end of the play when he compares an experience he had on it to “an orgasm in the body of one’s beloved.”

Whitehead repeats a darker motif. In his piece, there is a recurring idea of hiding true identity.  He describes the manhattan skyline as a “false front of industry.”  Later, Whitehead talks about how the “flaking paint pinpoint the beautification projects.”  It is as if the paint is covering up what is really on the bridge, and the bridge is rejecting it.  In the next paragraph Whitehead describes the transitionary period in the middle of the bridge.  He says the crosser is “Caught in the act of changing your mask.”  Later in that paragraph he tells the story of a man who was arrested for pitching a tent on the bridge.  If this man had “no philosophy one will be appointed to” him.  Whitehead seems to see crossing the Bridge as a chance to find one’s identity.  The very last sentences of the play continue to talk about hiding one’s true self- as Whitehead has done throughout the piece by speaking in terms of “you”, “him”, and “her. “We have the right to disappear.  The city rushes to hide all trace.  It’s the law.”

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar