I keep thinking about the sexual exhibitionism of the Standard Hotel guests and why, as much as it has captured the national attention, it isn't quite as compelling as one might hope.
First, a quote from Penelope Green's 2007 New York Times article "Yours for the Peeping," on the proliferation of glass towers in the new New York:
"City life has always been to some degree a public performance, and one of its pleasures is the opportunity to catch a glimpse of other habitats, to watch the movie of others’ lives through a half-drawn curtain, as Jimmy Stewart did in 'Rear Window.' But in the same way overheard phone conversations used to be tantalizing until cellphone use reached saturation point — 'I’m on 14th and Fifth,' bellows the guy into his Bluetooth, and your ear — ogling other people’s apartments is no longer so appealing..."
In the old New York of Rear Window, we do catch glimpses. Of Miss Lonelyhearts and her candlelit supper for one.
Of Miss Torso with her balletic legs and many suitors. Of luckless pianists, giddy newlyweds, bored housewives, and violent husbands. All of them unaware they are being seen. All of them caught in flashes and moments, half-hidden by curtains and brick walls. In the blanks, we are left to fill in the story for ourselves, using our imaginations. That is what the gazed-upon city as depicted in Rear Window was all about--the creation of mystery.
At the High Line's Standard Hotel, there is no mystery. The hotel management, like a film director, directs its guests to strip nude and perform sexual acrobatics before the windows. Said their Facebook page, "We encourage you to exercise your inner exhibitionist... It's all about sex all the time, and you're our star."
What stories are we meant to create from these scenes? These aren't glimpses we catch of people caught unawares in their everyday life, but wholly exposed performances staged like the dullest of movie scenes. In his direction, the luxury hotelier lacks the depth and nuance of Hitchcock.
In this glass slab, a man opens his towel and blandly displays his penis to the crowd below.
photo: NY Post
Another shows off his magazine-glossy muscles and tighty-whities.
photo: NY Post
Men masturbate in tandem. Couples press against the glass while having sex. Nude women pick up lamps and wave them in front of the window to call attention from viewers, "Look at us!"
All of them have paid hundreds of dollars to be in those high-flung fishbowls. And all of them stand as close to the glass as they can get, where every murky aquarium-green window frame is the same, each scene starkly similar to the next.
photo: NY Post
None of this is as sexy as Hitchcock's Miss Torso in the arms of a sailor. Nor as seductive as the red-haired man smoking a pipe in his pajamas in Carson McCullers' short story "Court in the West Eighties," another classic of urban window voyeurism.
In the Rear Window city, in its tenement backyards and apartment-house courtyards, drama unfolded like an old striptease, piece by piece, simultaneously revealing and disguising. The uninvited viewer felt furtive, yearning, filled with the thrill of voyeuristic taboo. Like Jimmy Stewart, he longed to know what was happening behind the curtains. Like Grace Kelly, she could spin from it a romantic, tragic tale.
Each window was a world--unique, colorful, half-hidden--loaded with possibility. In those old windows, we saw not flat-screen-TV objects, but subjects like ourselves.
There are 8 million stories in the naked city. What story are the High Line's naked people trying to tell us?