Back in the "crime and grime" 1980s, Michael DiPaolo walked the streets of Times Square (and "other equally sleazy parts of New York City") with a hidden camera, secretly filming the whores, hustlers, homeless, and other denizens who came out after midnight. The result is "City of Sin," a compilation of footage from DiPaolo's nighttime walks.
I asked the filmmaker a few quick questions:
What inspired you to do the hidden camera?
Well my “day job” at that time was videotaping confessions for the Brooklyn DA’s Office, where I also did some surveillance stuff and I thought I could get a more “real” unguarded view that way. In addition, I was planning on going down to the West 20s/30s to video the prostitutes, and I knew that there would be no way in hell to do that without hiding the camera. Finally, I wanted to get some background footage for a couple of shot-on-video features I would later complete in 1988 and 1989--Bought and Sold and Requiem for a Whore.
What was your technique?
I would put the camera--a Panasonic VHS camcorder with a wide-angle lens--inside a black gym bag that had a hole cut out on one end. Then I placed black gauze/screening over the hole. I would start recording about a 100 feet before turning onto the block I was going to shoot, then just kept walking and pointing the camera in the direction of anything interesting. But I made it a point of trying NOT to look where I had the camera pointed and I always kept walking. By doing it this way, I never knew what I had until I got home and was able to screen it.
Did you ever get caught -- or worry about being caught?
The only time I was “caught” was when I stopped walking to shoot an argument/fight outside Port Authority. One guy noticed and said something, so I immediately walked away. I was most worried about getting caught when I was shooting the prostitutes and pimps and police down in the relatively desolate West 20s/30s. Actually, I think I was most worried about videotaping the police, as they especially don’t like to make “unscripted” appearances on camera.
Do you ever go to Times Square anymore?
I still do pass through Times Square--with great sadness--as the very first place I went to when I first moved to New York City back in the early '70s was the Times Square that I had read so much about. To me it was magical, some sort of profane church for the lonely where I worshiped until Disney came along and turned it corporate.
Some people say the cleaned up Times Square is an improvement over the "grime and crime" of the past. What do you think was valuable about the old Times Square in your film?
Times Square BD (before Disney) was a unique, one of a kind place offering a cultural smorgasbord that could only have existed in New York City and nowhere else in the entire world. It has now become just another outdoor corporate mall replicated hundreds of times around the world.
Also, it was for New Yorkers (including those who choose to come to New York to make it their new home) of all cultural, financial, and racial variations, as well as the tourists. Today it seems to be catering mostly/mainly to the tourists.
Watch the film trailers here and here -- and find out more at Black Cat Cinema.