Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gods of Times Square

"The world is upside-down. With everything gone wrong. Everything's gone wrong," says an 82-year-old street preacher in Richard Sandler's film Gods of Times Square. "They're closing up the little shops and they want that big money. They're closing everything up in New York City."

Shot across the 1990s, the film focuses on the Bible thumpers and doomsayers of Times Square, and in the process gives us a wild and wonderful glimpse of a lost world. Times Square looks smaller and darker than it is today, sort of brown, as if stained with tartar. The buildings are mostly made of brick. They're not very tall. The sidewalks are busy, but uncrowded.

The New Yorker reviewed the film in 1999, saying it's "like discovering a box of old photographs. Here are the sidewalk preachers, pleasure seekers, and urban malcontents that populated Times Square before it was cleaned up."

The people in this world are crazy, passionate, filled with wild ideas. They tell stories. They sing and beg and stamp out the devil. They give mystical answers to simple questions. One shy young man believes he is the second coming of Jesus and waits for his moment to marry Madonna and become a rock star magician. Another man squats in the street outside Howard Johnson's and takes a long, lazy shit.

On the closing day of the beloved, lost Grand Luncheonette, the owner's wife says, "There's no room on the same block for Walt Disney's and [the Grand Luncheonette]. It's a new wave. It's a new world. It's over...It's finished. This whole way of life is over."

Reverend Billy is here, with his hair still black, preaching against "Mickey fucking Mouse." He goes into the Disney store and bellows to the tourists, "Mickey Mouse is the antichrist...and the Disney store is turning Manhattan into a theme park!" We see a new Times Square arise. The tourists flood in. People look cleaner, whiter. We know what happens next.

It's all gone. The buildings, the people, the spirit. All of it is gone. What happens to all that energy? Where does end up?


ShatteredMonocle said...

Saw a screening of this a couple years back. Amazing and powerful. And sad.

Tom said...

Jeremiah - Do you remember if there were one or two other luncheonettes around Times Square that were similar in look and menu to Grand Luncheonette? I'm thinking there was at least another one on 42nd St, and one just around the corner on 7th Ave between 42nd and 43rd. But my memory's fuzzy.

maximum bob said...

It exists only in our memories now.

KSx said...

I'll have to rent this one.

"What happens to all that energy?"

I'm afraid it's been dispersed to the edge of the universe, to make room for the plastic at its core.

And we'll likely have to wait for the plastic to collapse -- for the banks, Disney, and the rest to leave -- before there's room for people who fret about meaning and not just money.

Marty Wombacher said...

I just put this in my Netflix queue, thanks for the post!

richard sandler said...

thanks for the ink....
my next nyc doc is called "neo york."

have you seen my other three (nyc) documentaries
all on one disc?

"brave new york" (2004) is my eulogy to the east village, it was 12 years in the making, 1992-2004.

"SWAY" (2006) is from 14 years of shooting viddy on the subway.....and,

"subway to the former east village" (2008) is a combination of outtakes from all three of the above.

as i said all three are on the same disc released by
BRINK dvd (also on amazon etc.) and rentable on
netflix as well...

i miss the old nyc too and fuck giuliani!


richard sandler

Mitch Broder said...

Just before the Grand Luncheonette closed, a guy from the Empire State Development Corp. — the perpetrator of the 42nd Street extermination — told me that the Grand could return "if a developer wants to incorporate it into their design." So I know it'll be back. In fact, I'm watching for it. I hope the hot dogs are still two for $1.95...

Jeremiah Moss said...

hey Richard, thanks for writing. i have not seen your others, but i definitely want to. i'd love to hear more about Neo York, too.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Tom, don't recall any similar luncheonettes around there. but maybe way back, before my time. a lot of things used to look like that.

i wish it could come back. but if it did, it'd be selling "artisanal" egg creams and its construction would be featured on HGTV.

JAZ said...

"what happens to all that energy"

There's plenty of positive channels for all of that energy - After all, you think the world's largest Applebee's is just gonna build itself?!?

Uncle Waltie said...

May I recommend a labor-of-love type website that will bring back so many memories to people who lived in that area in the 70s, as I did. In 1971, as a wide-eyed 21 year old, I lived in an SRO at 120 W 44th Street, near 7th Avenue, next to the Lambs Club, paying about $ 30.00 per week.
There were many luncheonette type places in that area, notably Chock Full o'Nuts and Woolworth's own cafeteria as well as a couple of hot dog luncheonettes called "Zum Zum". It was a great time to live in that area. The following website helps me recover some of the stuff I forgot. Once you get the hang of it, it's easy to navigate.

Anonymous said...

Hey Unkle Waltie,
Songlines is a wonderful concept and great fun to visit. Unfortunately there are tremendous gaps, glaring errors and omissions. The information may be years out of date. Best used as a starting point for deeper research and not as a definitive source.

Uncle Waltie said...