Back in 2007, I went to see a screening of Harvey Wang's film The Last New Yorker at the Big Apple Film Festival. You might best know Harvey as the photographer who captured the scene inside skid-row lodging houses in Flophouse: Life on the Bowery, a book hailed by Paul Auster as "required reading in every home across the country."
Or you might know Harvey Wang’ s New York, a collection of vanished or vanishing characters from the city--grave diggers, seltzer bottlers, pillow makers, bowling alley mechanics...these were the people in our neighborhoods.
In The Last New Yorker, starring Dominic Chianese as Lenny Sugarman, Harvey looks at the vanishing city through the eyes of two best friends, a dying breed in a disappearing world. In fact, since Harvey made the film, many of the locations have been lost, making the movie a document of the vanishing. See the film when it comes to the Quad on February 19. In the meantime, I asked Harvey a few questions and he answered.
Wang in 2007 at Tribeca Cinemas
Q. I remember in the film a particularly lovely segment that felt very photographic. How did your photographer self and your filmmaker self collaborate and/or disagree in the film-making process?
A. I am a photographer, but when working with actors, I find it important to be available to the actors and to watch the bigger picture. However, my photographer’s sensibility was critical in choosing the locations we used, as well in pre-visualizing the world of our characters. I worked with my storyboard artist to imagine the environments we needed to frame the action. And I chose to work with a cinematographer who was very collaborative and respected my background as a documenter of the city.
Wang with screenwriter Forgash on set at Beny's
Q. You used a lot of great old places in the city that are vanishing or have vanished. Could you say something about the places you chose and why you chose them?
A. Much of the movie takes place in “the modern city” but we attempted to also film what remained of Lenny’s world. What were the places he inhabited? Where did he go for a refuge from the city he no longer felt at home in? Where did he go for coffee? I shot in places where the passage of time wasn’t felt: Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, Moulded Shoe on 39th St., Lismore Hosiery, Odessa Coffee Shop, Beny’s Fine Jewelry, Blarney Stone, among others.
Chianese and Latessa at Moulded Shoes
Q. Have you considered doing a feature-length documentary on the vanishing city?
A. With my books Harvey Wang’ s New York and Flophouse: Life on the Bowery I captured parts of New York that were vanishing. Perhaps I could have made a documentary film on these subjects, but this script came along, and this was my way of dealing with the subject.
Chianese and Latessa at Eisenberg's
Q. When and where can people see The Last New Yorker?
A. Bringing The Last New Yorker to the screen has been the last of many challenges in making the film, but finally, we open at the Quad Cinema on February 19. We are scheduled to run for a week, but runs can be extended if need be. Hopefully, we will have other venues in other cities in the future.
The Last New Yorker site
Lenny Sugarman's Facebook page
Harvey Wang's website