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New York City: A filmmaker's paradise

The Only Living Boy in New York, directed by Marc Webb, is the latest 'love letter' to the Big Apple.

Callum Turner’s character stalks his father’s mistress with the help of Kiersey Clemons in The Only Living Boy in New York.

Amazon Studios

Callum Turner’s character stalks his father’s mistress with the help of Kiersey Clemons in The Only Living Boy in New York.

Long before I saw the Statue of Liberty in person, had a drink at Sardis, or stepped foot in the Guggenheim Museum, I felt like I knew New York. The movies of Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Paul Mazursky, and Spike Lee introduced me to the city’s sites and stories, painting vivid pictures that sparked my love of the Big Apple.

It’s a cinematic city that not only looks great on film, but as veteran producer Robert Greenhut said: “New Yorkers’ personalities are different than Chicago. It’s a different kind of hard-edged. There’s a certain kind of vibrancy and tone that you can’t get elsewhere.”

A new film from (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb, The Only Living Boy in New York brings some of that vitality to the screen. The story of a lovesick college grad, played by Callum Turner, who first stalks then has a relationship with his father’s mistress, is, as Webb says, “a love letter to New York”.

Webb admits his take on the big smoke is whimsical. “It’s not contemporary,” he told Den of Geek. “It’s not a gritty, realistic depiction of New York. It is the New York I fantasized about before I ever went to New York. So it’s like a hermetically-sealed version of the city and a romantic, kind of gimlet-eyed view of it where Jeff Bridges is your neighbour.”

He says shooting in New York is interesting because the city itself is “eminently cinematic” and yet still open to artistic interpretation. “It’s also kind of a fantasy,” he said, “and you can project a lot on the city. That makes it fun.”

New York has seduced filmmakers for more than a century. What Happened on Twenty-third Street, New York City is a 77-second 1901 short film showing a woman walking over a grate, the hot air lifting her dress.

From his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It, Lee has made the city his personal and professional home. That isn’t likely to change any time soon. “(Martin) Scorsese’s here, Woody Allen’s here,” Lee says. “They didn’t move.”

The city has been Scorsese’s canvas for years. From the grit and grime of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver and the musical confectionary of New York, New York to the stark black-and-white edge of Raging Bull and the historical drama of The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York, he has looked at the place from every angle.

“I’m obsessed with this city,” he says of his hometown. “You really treasure this city when you go to different countries and you see that there is no mix. When you get back to the city, it’s such an exciting place. New Yorkers, we walk in the street, we talk to ourselves. But the issue is the energy, the excitement and the different ethnic groups all mixed together. We’re spoiled being here.”

Allen is perhaps the most prolific chronicler of New York City. Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters and many others drip with affection for his city but it is the character Isaac in his masterpiece Manhattan who subtly sums up his feelings. “This is really a great city,” he says. “I don’t care what anybody says, it’s really a knockout, you know?”

Ccatch the trailer for The Only Living Boy in New York here.

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