Filed under “New York”

June 11, 2015

A short documentary about a street puppeteer, his craft, and an unconventional friendship

How has it been so long since I’ve written anything here? Is anyone still reading me? If so, I have something new to show you. I’m really proud of how my latest short documentary turned out.

It’s about Ricky Syers, a street performer in Washington Square Park, and his friendship with Doris Diether, a local community activist who spends a lot of time in the park. The two of them are so endearing, and a couple of real New York characters. Check it out!

May 6, 2014

New York City photographed with the Game Boy Camera in 2000

Back in 2000, I was playing around with a Game Boy Camera, trying to use it to take color photos. (I finally got that to work.) When I first got the camera, I took a walk through midtown taking pictures. I just came across the images and thought I’d share them here for posterity (scaled up to 200% for visibility on our fancy modern displays).

Rockefeller Plaza:

The New York Public Library:

A Giacometti statue at MOMA:

A slice of pizza:

A park bench:

Toy taxis being sold on the street:

A subway car speeding past:

A subway passenger:

Another subway passenger:

Selfie sporting a goatee:

March 25, 2011

60 Seconds in the Life of Flare

Part 41 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 Second Films.

December 15, 2010

A standpipe disguised as a rooster

Pretty sneaky, standpipe. Pretty sneaky.

September 7, 2010

What you’ve missed if you don’t read

My analytics tell me that the majority of Ironic Sans readers don’t follow my side project so I thought I’d do a little roundup here of some of the articles you’re missing out on if you’re not a reader:

[Reminder: is where I reprint the most interesting articles from the New York Times Sunday Magazine from 100 years ago each weekend with some notes for historic context or commentary]

• The night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre, there was another couple in the private box with Abe and his wife. They were young and in love, invited guests of the Lincolns. Imagine how that night affected them, and guess how their story ends. It is perhaps even more tragic and gruesome than the Lincolns’ story. Read it here.

• There was an international conference in 1910 to consider revising the calendar so that it doesn’t change from year to year. One of the proposals actually makes pretty good sense to me. Read it here.

• A look at 1910s state-of-the-art motion picture special effects and how they were done. Read it here.

• A fascinating description, complete with illustrations, of how to fly an airplane. Read it here.

• The details of a murder that was overshadowed by a more prominent murder. To this day, the case remains unsolved. Read it here.

• An anecdote about a case of mistaken identity at the theater that tells us something about class differences in 1910. Read it here.

• Leonid Andreyev was considered Russia’s answer to Edgar Allen Poe. The Sunday Magazine serialized one of his stories, The Man Who Found The Truth over four weeks. I posted the entire story complete with illustrations as a PDF, and also linked to the free ebook edition. Read it here.

• As an aside during an otherwise slow week, I published an 1890 article about telegraph operators. They got to know each other so well that they could identify each other based on Morse code tapping style, and could even determine the gender of an operator by how he or she taps. Plus, they used abbreviations that share a lot in common with today’s text-messaging. Read it here.

• As air travel became popular, people came up with all sorts of related patents. This article is about some of the more absurd patents, including illustrations. I’m a fan of the airship powered by eagles. Read it here.

• A study sought to determine whether or not you can predict a person’s musicality based on the shape of the ear. Read it here.

• One man had a license to hunt in Central Park. In fact, it was his job. And he tried to get his work done without bothering tourists. Read it here.

• I had no idea that the first ascent of Mt. McKinley was filled with such drama. The first person to claim victory turned out to be a liar. And the first party to really reach the top had no climbing experience. So how could they have done it? Were they lying, too? Read it here.

• Circus clowns are serious people out of the ring, but nobody treats them with any humanity. This article tells a clown’s sad tale, and I follow up by describing the tragic turn his life took after the article was written. Read it here.

• A 14-year-old kid was the president of the first amateur radio club in America. When Congress was considering regulating the airwaves, he went and testified before Congress. He had a lot of smart things to say, and I saw a lot of parallels between his 1910 radio club and the computer clubs of the 1970s. Read it here.

Those are just a handful of examples. I usually put up 5 articles each week, give or take. If you like what you see, check out the archives, and subscribe to the RSS.

June 29, 2010

Animated Subway Tiles

Whenever I’m in the 42nd Street A/C/E station, I notice that the tile number 42’s along the wall look like consecutive frames of animation depicting a jumping or sinking number. There are similar tile 59’s at the 59th Street A/C/E station. They may appear elsewhere, too.

Today I decided to actually animate them.

Click to start the animation:

April 13, 2010

Announcing a new blog:

Short version:
I’ve launched a spinoff blog from Ironic Sans called Sunday Magazine. Every Friday I post the most interesting articles from the New York Times Sunday Magazine that was published exactly 100 years ago that weekend. You can get each week’s articles (probably one to six per week) by subscribing to the RSS feed, or following @sundaymagazine on Twitter, or by becoming a fan on Facebook.

It is not in any way affiliated with the New York Times. All of the Times articles I post are from before 1923, which means they are in the public domain.

Long version:
The New York Times Sunday Magazine is full of interesting articles about politics, science, crime, life, language, and human interest. It features fantastic writing and photography. It’s my favorite section in the paper.

It turns out that no matter how far back you go towards the supplement’s 1896 debut, the Magazine Section (as it was called back then) was always filled with amazing long-form articles, including many that are as interesting today as they were then. Some even more so. I stumbled upon this fact on April 1, when I began to get annoyed with every website’s need to pull some sort of prank. I wondered if companies did this sort of thing back at the turn of the last century. Searching for old articles about April Fool’s Day, I found this great article published in the Times on March 31, 1912:

(Note: All images of articles in this post can be clicked to enlarge; even bigger PDFs available via links below each image)

Now April Fool Originated And Some Famous Pranks


Everything about that article is wonderful. The writing style, the stories, and the illustrations are all quaint by today’s standards, but that makes it all so charming. It’s worth downloading the PDF to read it all, or any portion of it. Here is one of my favorite passages:

A hundred years ago [children] used to say, “Sir, your shoe’s unbuckled.” Today, their successors cry out, “Mister, your shoe’s untied!” A more elaborate piece of waggery has endured up to the present time practically its original form.

“Sir, there’s something out of your pocket.”
“Your hand, sir!”

Or again a boy and a lady enter into this dialogue.
“Ma’am, you have something on your face.”
“Indeed! What is it?”
“Your nose, ma’am.”

In all cases the ultimate rejoinder is accompanied with a burst of laughter and the shout of “April fool!”

Another passage describes a prank pulled by the Evening Star newspaper in London, which comes closer to the kind of corporate pranks we see today, although a bit more mean-spirited:

On March 31, 1846, that paper solemnly informed its readers that a magnificent collection of asses would be exhibited in the Hall of Agriculture at Islington. A great crowd of staring and struggling human being filled up the hall long before noon, and not for some time did it dawn upon anybody that they themselves were forming the collection that had been advertised.

Could you even fill a room today by advertising a donkey exhibit? The article is full of stories like this, pranks and characters long forgotten. I thought I might sit on it for a year, and post it next April Fool’s Day. But I wanted to learn more about the article so I could post it with context. I needed to research the various background characters and then-famous pranksters mentioned in the article to provide annotation. And the more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder: could I find other interesting articles in the Times from around the same period?

I originally found the article on the NYTimes website, where all of their content pre-1923 is freely available, having fallen into the public domain. But their online archives are difficult to browse unless you have specific keywords you’re searching for. I noticed that this article was published on a Sunday, but I didn’t know what section it was in. I didn’t know if the Times even had a magazine back then. To find out, I went to the Microforms Room of the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Sure enough, the article was in the “Magazine Section” of the newspaper. I wondered what other interesting articles I could find the in the Magazine Section. So I rewound the microfilm one week and found the Magazine Section for March 24, 1912.

I think my jaw actually dropped when I saw this:

French Savant Tells of Life on Venus and Mars

FRENCH SAVANT TELLS OF LIFE ON VENUS AND MARS: Conditions Resemble Those on the Earth (PDF)

What the hey-now? Check out those awesome drawings. They depict the zoologist Edmond Perrier’s descriptions of “frogs as big as cows” on Venus and “beautiful plumage” of birds on Mars. It’s almost like he imagined the world of Avatar 98 years ago, a bit closer to home. And look at those large-chested Martians with headlights on their fingertips!

Here’s how Perrier described Venus:

The dampness of the atmosphere on Venus favors the growth of ferns. The development of flowers from the more primitive forms of plants must be slow and probably has not yet been accomplished on Venus. This lack means the absence also of bees, butterflies, perhaps of ants and of other insects which depend partly or entirely on flowers for their food.

Venus, then, is the home of insects like grasshoppers, or dragon-flies, or roaches, grown to an enormous size; of large batrachians, frogs as big as our cows, of innumerable and gigantic reptiles like those which once filled our earth, ichthyosauri, pterodactyls, iguanodons. Man is absent; indeed the race of mammals may not yet have appeared, in even the humblest form.

That’s not the case on Mars, where people evolved similarly to Earthlings:

[The Martian] is very tall, because the force of gravity is so feeble; he is very fair, with blue eyes, because there is so little light or heat; his jaws are narrow and the top of his head is large, because he has been evolving away from the animals for a much longer period than we. The Martian noses would be long and the ears large. The Martian’s lungs and consequently his chest would be enormous, on account of the thin atmosphere, and his legs would be very slender, because little effort is needed to walk.

What a find.

This fantastic article seems like something out of Amazing Stories, and it’s just been sitting there in the New York Times Magazine archives for the past 98 years. As far as I can tell, nobody has written about it. A Google Search for the article brings up only one result: the PDF buried in the archive. It hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else that Google indexes, although a little more information is available about the French scientist. (I’ll have more to say about that on the new blog on March 24, 2012.)

I was eager to find other gems like this. But with so many years of archives available, where would I begin? I decided to start with the New York Times Sunday Magazine from exactly 100 years ago, and make my way forward. So I found the microfilm reel for April, 1910. In just the first week’s issue, I found several interesting articles. Zooming ahead, I found several more. Every week there were articles that made me think I just had to write a blog post about this treasure trove of fascinating reading material.

I started working on a post featuring some of the articles I found covering a two month period of Sunday Magazines. Omitting all but the ones I found most interesting, I was able to pare it down to just 30 articles. But that’s still too many to reasonably expect any of you to read at once. That’s 30 articles stuffed into one blog post.

And so I decided the best way to share my findings is to dole out a few of my favorite articles from each week on a new blog: I have a couple weeks’ worth of posts up, and the next two months’ worth already in the hopper. They range from historically interesting to downright bizarre. I hope that you’ll see it as a new source of reading material. You can find out about new articles, posted every Friday, by subscribing to the RSS feed, or following @sundaymagazine on Twitter, or by becoming a fan on Facebook.

January 26, 2010

60 Seconds in the Life of a Subway Window

Part 39 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 Second Films.

December 8, 2009

The Manhattan Tongue Project

Back in December of 1998, a friend handed me a role of 35mm color film and asked me to take photos of anything at all, and then give the roll back for her to develop. She wouldn’t tell me why, or what she planned to do with the photos. (I eventually learned that she planned to use the images as creative inspiration for a short story project, with me as her unwitting collaborator).

Not knowing her plans for the photos, and having no direction for what to shoot, I thought about the experience she would have picking up the mystery photos from the lab and seeing them for the first time. I wanted to take photos that would make her anticipation worthwhile.

These are the photos I took (click any photo to enlarge):

February 12, 2009

Real Life Multitouch

Maybe this is a sign that I’ve been using my iPhone too much.

May 20, 2008

A tree grows in Brooklyn Bridge Park

While wandering around DUMBO last week during the New York Photo Festival, I took this picture of a tree near the Manhattan Bridge in the north end of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Since I posted an earlier picture of a tree and a bridge, I figured I’d post this one, too. Maybe I should start a series. Click to enlarge.

Manhattan Bridge

September 27, 2007

Idea: The Histogram as the Image

Yesterday, I posted the image seen here and told you that there is another picture hidden somewhere within it. I challenged my readers to find it. After a bit of confusion in the comments, someone finally declared that they found it: “Hahahaha! Cool! It’s the NY skyline!” Another reader noted, “The first thing I did was to try to tweak the image using the Levels command. I was greeted with a surprise right there in the dialog.”

Yes, the New York City skyline is hidden in that picture’s histogram. It looks like this:

Several people have asked how I did it. So I’ll explain, but I might get a little longwinded in my attempt to be clear. Feel free to just skim and look at the pictures if you don’t want to read it all.

The idea for this project started with a question: Is it possible to create an image that depicts its own histogram? (A histogram, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a bar graph representing all the tones in an image — it typically looks something like a mountain range). I played around a little bit in Photoshop and the closest thing I came up with was this image:

…which has this histogram:

Yeah, okay. That was neat I guess. But I couldn’t come up with any other shapes that worked. But all this thinking about histograms and what they represent got me wondering if I could control what a histogram looks like by manipulating the image. Could I create something recognizable? To try it, I would need to find something that would be entirely black, horizontal in orientation, and not require any holes or vertical gaps. A skyline seemed perfect.

I did a Google Image Search for “manhattan skyline silhouette” and was tickled to see that the perfect image came up in a result from my own site! I once posted an entry about New York City as depicted in the animated film Antz. Google showed me this image from that entry on the first page of search results:

A typical 8-bit grayscale image can have 256 possible shades of gray. A histogram represents the amount of pixels at each level from 0 to 255, and is 256 pixels wide. So the first thing I did was shrink down the Antz skyline to 256 pixels wide. This meant that each vertical band of black pixels in the skyline represented a value from 0 (black) to 255 (white).

Then I created a new document. The first column of pixels in the skyline image represents value “0” and has 43 black pixels. So my new document needed 43 pixels with the value “0.” Column 2 of my skyline represents value “1” and has 46 black pixels. So my new document needed 46 pixels with the value “1.” And so forth.

Another way to think of it is to say that I took all of the “skyline” pixels from this image:

…and put them in a new document, with no other pixels. Then I rearranged all those pixels into a square from dark to light. The result was very close to perfect. The histogram looked pretty much like the skyline, but it was stretched vertically.

Normally, a histogram is scaled vertically so that whatever value has the most pixels reaches all the way to the top of the graph, and everything else is sized proportionately. In this case, it is the shade of gray which forms the World Trade Center antenna that has the most pixels. So this is roughly what the histogram looked like:

I was thrilled that it worked, but I didn’t want it stretched vertically like that. In order to prevent the WTC tower from being too tall (and everything else scaling upwards with it) I had to put extra pixels of one value in my image, so there would be more pure of that value than any other value, which would push the others down so that the graph remains proportionate. I chose pure white, because this creates a thin black line at the far right side of the histogram where you don’t notice it.

I could have added this row of white pixels at the bottom of the new image, but instead I typed my website name in white, and placed it within the image. In doing so, I copied over some other pixels, which altered the skyline. So I had to put it in a place where the “damage” to those buildings wouldn’t be that noticeable. It took trial and error, but I found a good spot. It changed the skyline on the left side a little bit (compare to the “Antz” image). But it still looks like buildings, so I accepted it. Also, this way I get some credit if the image gets passed around without attribution.

I did it all tediously by hand, but I think with a little tinkering, someone could write a program to simplify the process, taking a 256 x 100 silhouetted image and extrapolating a new image with that as the histogram. And the final image file doesn’t need to be a square with a gradient, either. Those pixels could be in any order. They could be completely scrambled. Or they could be laid out in a way that shows an image of an Apple (as in “The Big Apple”). As long as no new pixels are introduced or deleted, the histogram remains the same. But that is a lot more work than I was prepared to do.

Oh, I almost forgot: I doubled the image size so it would look a little better on the website. As long as I resized it using the “Nearest Neighbor” method instead of some other interpolation method, every pixel (and therefore every shade represented in the image) would be duplicated identically, keeping the proportions in the histogram the same.

Update: A reader has taken this idea even further!

August 27, 2007

Animated Manhattan: TMNT

Part 17 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have once again been adapted for the big screen. According to the movie’s opening narration and also the official movie summary, the movie takes place in New York City. But while it sure looks like it takes place in New York, something’s missing. See if you can figure out what it is.

Here’s a shot of the city from the movie:


Okay, it looks pretty good. I don’t really recognize any of the buildings in this view, but they got the general feel right, down to the water towers on the rooftops. Here’s another shot:


That’s a pretty good rendering of a New York City streetcorner. Okay.


Another lovely skyline shot. I still don’t recognize any buildings, but I suppose that could be the Brooklyn Bridge in the image. Kinda hard to tell.


Now that’s definitely lower Manhattan, with Brooklyn across the harbor. Except I still don’t recognize any buildings. And where’s the Statue of Liberty? Are we really in New York City? Or some generic lookalike city?


Finally, an aerial view! That looks like it’s supposed to be Manhattan in the middle there, with New Jersey across the Hudson River, and Brooklyn across the East River. Except lower Manhattan’s not really that angular. So it’s not perfect, but pretty close.


But wait. What the hell is this building? I guess I’m fine with fictional buildings in a fiction movie, but if it’s supposed to be New York City, shouldn’t we see some of the real buildings, too?


And I know that’s not a New York City license plate.


Newspaper titles don’t really get much more generic than that one. [Although the newspaper does seem to say “NYC Cleanup” which I missed the first time around. Thanks to Grant for pointing that out in the comments]


Even the skyline on the local news is missing any landmark buildings.

I can only reach one conclusion: Despite the official movie synopsis, and the opening voiceover, [and the newspaper headline] this movie doesn’t take place in New York City at all. It’s meant to evoke the atmosphere and feeling of the city, but seems to take place in a generic version of New York City. The animators did a really good job rendering Manhattan-like settings, but with no landmarks, and no mention of New York in the dialogue (they refer just to “the city”), I assume they decided to go all the way and officially call it “New York City” only after the movie was nearly complete.

IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 5/10

(My rating is for the depiction of NYC only; in this case, they get high scores for the look and feel, but low scores for the lack of anything actually representing New York City)

August 22, 2007

Dog Day Anniversary

Update 9/23/09: Google just made a large collection of old LIFE Magazine issues available for viewing on-line. You can now read the original article that inspired Dog Day Afternoon in its entirety on-line.

35 years ago today, a couple guys named John Wojtowicz and Sal Naturile held up a Chase Manhattan bank in Brooklyn at the corner of Avenue P and East 3rd Street. At the time, New York City was experiencing one or two bank robberies per day. But before it was over, this one became the hottest thing on TV. The police were alerted, hostages were taken, and 12 hours later the ordeal finally came to an end after several strange turns.

dogday09.gifI don’t want to go too much further into what happened, because the story was turned into the excellent 1975 movie Dog Day Afternoon, starring Al Pacino and directed by Sidney Lumet, and some of you may not have seen it before. I don’t want to spoil it. I highly recommend it as a great movie to watch during these dog days of summer.

The movie was based on a Life Magazine article about the holdup called “The Boys in the Bank.” I dug up the original article, by PF Kluge and Thomas Moore, and was amazed to discover that the photos of the event looked surprisingly similar to stills from the movie. I knew that Lumet had strived to achieve a realistic look to his film, but there were many details that were nearly identical to the real events.

Here are some side-by-side comparisons. On the left, we have photos from the actual crime scene. On the right, we have images from the movie.

John (called “Sonny” in the movie, played by Al Pacino) talks to cops outside the bank:

dogday01.jpg dogday02.jpg

Ernest (called “Leon” in the movie, played by Chris Sarandan) arrives at the scene:

dogday03.jpg dogday04.jpg

Sal (called “Sal” in the movie, played by John Cazale) was actually 18 when the events took place. I think Cazale looks quite a bit older. But I can forgive them. Because it’s John Cazale.

dogday07.jpg dogday08.jpg

Cops (called “cops” in the movie, played in part by James Broderick) huddle behind a car across the street with reporters, watching events unfold:

dogday05.jpg dogday06.jpg

I should have an original copy of the magazine coming my way soon, and when it does I’ll try to add a couple more side-by-side comparisons using more photos from the story. In the meantime, as further encouragement for you to watch this movie, here’s a famous scene (that’s relatively spoiler free) to tease you. Enjoy.

August 21, 2007

60 Seconds in the Life of the Wonder Wheel

Part 29 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

If you look quickly, you can catch a glimpse of the Cyclone, too.

June 25, 2007

She’s a vector girl. I’m a bitmap guy.

David Friedman and Ellen Butters
Photo by Guy Ambrosino
I don’t really write much about my personal life on this site, but I’m going to make a big exception to announce that I recently got married to graphic designer Ellen Butters. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with an album of wedding photos, but I do think there are a few aspects of our wedding that readers might find interesting.

Back in December, when we started planning the wedding, we were interviewed for an episode of Wallstrip, the daily video podcast about stocks which are at an all-time high. This episode was about, a website that helps couples plan their weddings. CBS purchased Wallstrip last month (congrats to them!), and I have a strong suspicion that our participation in that episode helped seal the deal. Here’s the video:

The wedding took place at the Society of Illustrators in New York City, an old carriage house turned gallery that doubles as a sort of clubhouse for illustrators. “Illustration” was the theme of the wedding. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before the wedding where we exchanged rings and vows before our family and friends, we were legally married at City Hall, accompanied by fellow photographer Brian Berman. Brian’s portraits don’t always capture people in their most flattering light, but it’s his photos of people in their awkward moments that are always the most interesting. Here’s his favorite photo of us at City Hall:

David Friedman and Ellen Butters

Don’t worry. He took photos showing how happy we were, too.

The wedding at the Society of Illustrators took place in their third floor gallery, which featured an exhibit of illustrations from the seven women’s magazines that dominated the market in the 1950s. Paintings by artists including J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg and others provided the perfect setting for the event.

David Friedman and Ellen Butters
Photo by Tim Griffin
For dinner, each table featured a lantern centerpiece (made by Ellen and her mom) featuring a biography of an illustrator plus examples of their work. Instead of being assigned a table number, guests were assigned an illustrator, and they had to look at the lanterns to figure out where to sit. To make it even more interesting for the guests, each illustrator had at least one painting hanging somewhere in the room, to encourage people to walk around and look at the artwork.

Music plays as important a part in our lives as does art, and we were honored to have great talent on hand. Guests arrived to the music of pianist and arts critic Vivien Schweitzer. The procession was accompanied by cellist Yves Dharamraj, and Ellen’s father provided a Piano interlude. At the reception, pianist Kayo Hiraki led a jazz trio in setting the musical tone for the celebration. The whole event went as smoothly as could be imagined, and a great time was had by all.

In a few weeks, we’ll be off to the Galapagos Islands for our honeymoon (with me sporting a fancy You Say You Want An Evolution T-shirt). So I hope everyone is itching to read a post about giant tortoises, because I suspect there will be one coming.

Ellen Butters and David Friedman

June 19, 2007

A new billboard in Times Square

Back in January, I decided to take photos of every advertisement in Times Square. So when I was walking through Times Square the other day and I saw these billboards, the likes of which I’ve never seen in that part of town, I figured it would make a good follow-up post:


May 11, 2007

Basketball Court

I just noticed this. On the north side of City Hall Park, right next to the Tweed Courthouse, gated off from the public, there’s a basketball hoop.

Basketball at City Hall

When was this installed? Does anyone use it? Is Mayor Bloomberg enjoying an occasional game of H-O-R-S-E when he’s got some downtime?

April 4, 2007

Animated Manhattan: Shortbus

Part 16 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

ShortbusThere’s a lot of explicit sex in the movie Shortbus. There’s straight sex, gay sex, solo sex, oral sex, and group sex. But in between all the sex scenes, there are lovely animated sequences depicting New York City.

The movie, which is more artsy than pornographic, is primarily about a relationship-and-sex counselor who has never had an orgasm. She and the other characters live in New York, and when the narrative shifts from one part of the city to another, the camera flies through a virtual version of the city, over bridges and through the park, finally landing on a street or building where the next scene takes place.

Shortbus Shortbus

The virtual city is really wonderful. It looks like a handmade and hand painted model. If not for the way the camera moves between and around the buildings, it would be easy to mistake the computer generated model for a real tangible highly detailed replica. Most of the city’s recognizable landmarks are faithfully recreated. The city is depicted by day and by night, and even during a blackout, to wonderful effect.

The animation is done by John Bair, whose company Edgeworx has done visual effects for TV, movies, and commercials that you’ve almost definitely seen. Here are more images from his work on Shortbus:

Shortbus Shortbus
Shortbus Shortbus
Shortbus Shortbus

IMDb Rating: 7.2/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 8/10

(My rating is for the depiction of NYC only)

January 29, 2007

“Dear Sophina” — An amazing follow-up to “The Astoria Notes”

A couple weeks ago, I posted an entry I called The Astoria Notes. It included scans of several notes slipped under my door by my downstairs neighbor in my first apartment in Astoria, Queens, complaining about noise and leaks from my apartment. Her name was Sophina, and if you haven’t read her notes yet you should really check them out.

Among the responses I received was an e-mail from Ryan Meehan, an English teacher at Santa Fe High School in Gainesville, Florida. He wrote, “I teach High School English to kids who really struggle with reading. I am always trying to create reading assignments they might actually enjoy. I think your post, and the notes, would be a delightful assignment. Would you mind if I used it for two of my classes?”

I gladly gave him permission, and a week or so later I received this response:

So your blog went over great with my kids. They are all, for the most part, kids who really struggle academically (especially with reading), so to see them tear through your story with a sense of urgency was extremely rewarding.

In addition to the active reading exercises and comprehension questions I had them complete, their final assignment was to write a letter to Sophina. They were to imagine what they would have done were they in your shoes.

I brought in my microphone today, and we recorded the responses in Garageband and mixed in a music track as well…

Thanks again for granting me permission to use your story. This is my first year teaching high school, and though I’m 6 months in, I felt like this was the first week I really connected with the kids.

It’s equal parts touching and surreal. Somewhere out there, a group of high school kids I don’t know wrote letters to my old neighbor, sticking up for me. And they set it to music. Ryan set up a wiki for the class project where he posted the classes’ spoken word performances. Here they are:

Period 2 Period 5
Emotional Emotional

5 mins 33 secs

6 mins 37 secs

I was a bit taken aback by these, I must confess. The students were much angrier with Sophina than I ever was. But then Ryan followed up by having the students write more respectful letters to Sophina:

Period 2 Period 5
Respectful Respectful

6 mins 3 secs

4 mins 45 secs

I have to imagine that, in the entire history of neighborly feuds, I’m the first person to get letters to my neighbor recorded by two high school English classes and set to music. It’s too bizarre. I love it. Thanks, Santa Fe High School English periods two and five!

January 22, 2007

Every ad in Times Square

[Update: All the photos are now available in larger sizes on flickr.]

Times Square AdsSometimes I get dangerous thoughts in my head, like “I wonder what it would look like to see every ad in Times Square all on one page.” So when I knew I’d be passing through Times Square this weekend, I made sure I had my camera. For the purposes of this nearly purposeless project, I considered storefront signs the same as ads if they were flashy and glitzy like Times Square ads tend to be.

I’m sure I missed a few, and there may be some I got more than once. I do know that some appear to be duplicates, but are actually similar billboards in different spots. Also, if an ad took up more than one billboard, I usually shot each billboard separately, unless it was a wraparound billboard on a corner, in which case I tried to get it in one shot.

So without further ado, here is every ad in Times Square. More or less.

Times Square Ads

Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads
Times Square Ads

Right now, you’re probably thinking one of two things. Either you’re thinking, “Does that ad really say that there’s a musical version of Legally Blonde coming to Broadway?” or you’re thinking, “Someone has too much time on his hands.” Well, I can tell you, it took about 20 minutes to take the photos, and about 2 or 3 hours to crop the images while I was listening to the pundits on Sunday morning TV. It wasn’t as bad as I feared.

And yes, there is a Legally Blonde musical coming to Broadway. I don’t know what they’re thinking, either.

January 17, 2007

The Astoria Notes

[Update: Be sure to read the surreal follow-up in which a high-school class in Florida gets involved.]

The Astoria NotesMy first year in New York, I lived on the top floor of an old building in Astoria, Queens, with rotted wood floors that creaked every time I took a step. I didn’t mind so much, because my schedule was so hectic I was rarely home. I got up early every day to get to my job by 9:00 a.m. I was happy to work in a photo studio, but it didn’t pay enough to survive in this town. So at 5:30 p.m. each day I left the studio and went to a bookstore across town, where I worked until 12:15 a.m. in order to make ends meet (and another 8 hours on Sundays). By the time I got back to Queens every night, hopefully before 1:30 a.m., I was beat. I’d take an hour to wind down before finally going to bed, getting a few hours sleep, and starting over.

One night, I came home to find the first in a series of notes slipped under my door. Small writing filled both sides of a sheet of loose leaf paper. I didn’t know what to make of it. The note began, “Dear Neighbor. When you arrive late every night, you are probably concentrating on your chores and don’t realize that this building, this street, the traffic, the people are all very still, very quiet.” The care and craftsmanship that went into writing this note was beyond anything I’d ever heard of from an angry neighbor. I continued reading.

Click the images below to see them larger for easier reading:

The Astoria Notes

The Astoria Notes

Wow. I had no idea I was keeping them up. But what could I do? I had to come home at that hour, and it wasn’t my fault the floor was squeaky. More importantly, who bothers to write such a long and detailed letter just to say “Keep it down up there?” It seemed like every word was carefully chosen, written, re-read, and reconsidered. I tested the floor in different areas, trying to find the creakiest spots so I could avoid them when I walk, and made an effort to be quieter when I came home from work.

Months passed. Then one night, I found a greeting card slipped under my door. A greeting card. They took the time to shop for the appropriate card to say exactly what they wanted to say.

The Astoria Notes

I opened it. Inside it read:

The Astoria Notes

Wow, that’s touching. They picked out the card, and even went through the trouble of using White Out to make it more relevant to the situation. Who does that? Who were these people? How did they know my name? After all this time, I’d still neither met them nor seen them. Well, I was sorry to hear that I was still keeping them awake, but I was honestly doing everything I could possibly do within reason to minimize my noise.

Several more months passed with no notes about the noise. I guess all my extra efforts to be quiet were paying off. Then this arrived, slipped under my door:

The Astoria Notes

A leak? That’s much more serious than just some noise. I called the number on the note and left a message, explaining that I’d been having no plumbing problems, and no water was pooling in my bathroom or kitchen, so the water must be coming from somewhere else. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I must have put forth some specific theory about water condensation and the shower, because later this note was slipped under my door:

The Astoria Notes

Woah. Not only was I still too noisy for them, but they were taking advantage of my noise to entice an unwanted guest to leave. And that was so sweet of them to comment on my health. I guess they could hear that I was hacking up a lung when I had that cold. Well, at least the leaks had stopped. Or so I thought. A few weeks later, there was another note:

The Astoria Notes

The Astoria Notes

A waterfall? Coming from my apartment? Please! I’d had enough of this. No more notes. No more phone calls. It was time to march downstairs, knock on Apartment 5, and have a real conversation with these people face to face. I went downstairs and knocked. The door opened about 2 inches, and an eyeball stared at me. We had a brief conversation that way, through the crack in the door. I confess that I couldn’t pay attention to the conversation very much because I suddenly found myself wondering what it was that this woman didn’t want me to see. I remember she said something about her privacy and her beliefs being nobody’s business, and she didn’t want me to see what her apartment looked like. Okay. I told her I had no idea what the cause of these leaks were, and suggested she bring it up with the building manager to see if they can figure it out. I went back upstairs to my apartment.

It wasn’t long before I received another note:

The Astoria Notes

That was the last note I ever received from Apartment 5. A few weeks later, I moved.

Update: This story now has a very interesting and surreal follow-up, which you can read here.

January 9, 2007

Animated Manhattan: The Wild

Part 15 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

The WildYou know how sometimes you see a movie that’s supposed to take place in Manhattan, but in order to save money they filmed it somewhere else, like Toronto, and since you’ve been to New York you can totally tell that there’s no way they filmed that in Manhattan, except for the one scene that takes place in Times Square? Well, that’s what The Wild was like. Except, being a cartoon without location expenses and made by Disney, they really have no excuse.

The WildThe movie is about a bunch of animals in a fictional New York Zoo who go on an adventure whose plot was ripped straight from Finding Nemo, then had all the humor and charm stripped out of it. When the animals leave the zoo to find a missing lion cub, I expected some amazing Manhattan humor before they left the city, just like in the nearly identically-themed movie Madagascar (link goes to that film’s review from this series). But the only specific places they go to are Times Square, which I’m sure was picked so that Disney could satisfy all its product placement obligations in one scene, and the Statue of Liberty, which is shown multiple times, and only from afar.

The WildWhere are the other landmarks? Where’s the sweeping skyline? No Empire State Building? No Chrysler Building? No Brooklyn Bridge? The only recognizable buildings that jumped out at me were the Citicorp Building and 17 State Street, which I think might have been partially visible in one scene. The Wild might be the first cartoon I’ve reviewed that doesn’t have a scene at Rockefeller Center. Have the animators even been to New York?

Instead of showing real places, there were awful scenes in generic settings like alleys and sewers, with killer poodles and friendly crocodiles. Sounds hilarious, right? The pickings were slim in finding New York scenes, so here’s the movie poster, which depicts New York City better than any scene in the movie:

The Wild

And since I went through the trouble of taking a few more screen captures, here’s the remainder of the film’s Manhattan depictions:

The Wild The Wild
The Wild The Wild

IMDb Rating: 5.2/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 2/10

(My rating is for the depiction of NYC only)

December 18, 2006

A subway ad paradox

I saw these two advertisements side-by-side on the subway this weekend. They’re both part of the same “Take Care of Your Baby” public service campaign by the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. I couldn’t take a good photo that showed both ads side-by-side, so I took this short video instead:

The one on the left says, “Don’t leave him alone anywhere.” Then, right next to it, there is another ad that says, “It’s safest for him to sleep alone.” Hmm.

December 11, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Late Night With Conan O’Brien (Opening Credits)

Part 14 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

ConanIt’s hard to depict New York City in all its glory in just 30 seconds, but for the opening sequence of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, a company called Ultrabland has done a pretty good job.

They created Late Night’s opening sequence in 2003, and then retooled it when the show went to High Definition, adding extra details for those who have nice big HDTVs. The segment begins with a pan across several recognizable Manhattan buildings, which overlap with various opacities. The buildings include landmarks like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, as well as less famous buildings such as architect Philip Johnson’s Lipstick Building and AT&T Building. If you blink while watching the show, you may miss them. Here they are:

Conan Conan

Given the simple palette and style, it’s amazing how much detail the animators keep in the buildings while they manage to create a definite style for the sequence. The pan continues, with more buildings popping up to the beat of Late Night band leader Max Weinberg’s music, before zooming out to show the sun setting behind Manhattan.

Conan Conan

With the sun down and the city lights up, we quickly find ourselves in the heart of the city, looking around at the tall buildings like tourists would, driving along the streets of New York like tourists wouldn’t. Among the towering skyscrapers, we see the names of tonight’s guests. Jessica Alba and Mike Binder have never looked better than when their names were superimposed on this animated city. Well, okay, maybe Jessica Alba has.

Conan Conan

ConanFinally, our ride comes to an end at Rockefeller Center. Presumably, because we’re staring at the statue of Prometheus, we must be standing in the Rockefeller Plaza skating rink. But before we have a chance to catch our breath, we pan up to the highest floors of 30 Rockefeller Center, where Late Night is taped. The sequence fades out as we fade in to Conan’s entrance and opening monologue.

Short and sweet, with more style in 30 seconds than most of the animated depictions I’ve examined for this series have in an entire feature length film. You can watch the entire sequence on Ultrabland’s website, where you can read their description of what went into retooling the sequence for HDTV.

IMDb Rating: N/A
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 8/10

(My rating is for the depiction of NYC only)

November 13, 2006

Interview: Louis Klein, audience member of nearly every episode of Saturday Night Live

(The fourth in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.)

Fifteen years ago, I spent a Friday night camped out on the mezzanine level of 30 Rockefeller Center, hoping to get one of the standby tickets to Saturday Night Live that are handed out on Saturday mornings. The line forms at around 8:00 Friday night. That’s when I met Louis Klein, the SNL fan who had seen almost every episode of Saturday Night Live in person, going back to the very first episode.

Last Friday, I decided to go back to the SNL Standby Line and see if Louis was still waiting in line to get his ticket. In the years since I camped out there, the line had moved from the warmth of the indoor mezzanine to the chill of 49th street, but Louis was still there, right behind a group of teenagers who beat him to the first spot (one of the teens asked about my website, “Ironic Sans? Does it have anything to do with Horatio Sanz?”). When Louis stands in line these days, he is accompanied by his wife Jamie, whom he met on-line around six years ago. And by “on-line” I mean on the internet, not the standby line.

I spoke with Louis about his SNL Standby hobby.

When Saturday Night Live started, nobody knew it was going to be a big hit. Why did you go to the first episode of a new show that nobody really knew?

Louis Klein
Louis Klein with his wife Jamie
Prior to SNL, I was going to a lot of game shows. Like, I watched the game show called Jackpot, which was done in Studio 8H prior to SNL. It ended its run in the summer of ‘75, hosted by Geoff Edwards. I was also going to the Pyramid — any one of them, whether it was 10, 20, 25, 100 thousand, 2 cents, you know, whatever it was. I went to all of them over at TV-15 which doesn’t exist anymore. Any game shows that were done here, if any, I went to them also. So I was notorious as far as NBC was concerned. They knew who I was because I went to all the shows.

Then in April of ‘75 I found out that the show SNL was coming up, so I went to the Guest Relations department and said I hear you’re doing this show. They said, Well, they want 500 people in 8H. They want to do a show that’s going to be a run through for sound purposes. We’re going to have an audience for that, and you can float around the building and find somebody who’s going to give out standby tickets. So I come over here right after work, and I found the standby ticket and I got it and I went inside and I stood in line.

I got upstairs. I saw a full fledged comedy routine by George Carlin. I saw a full fledged comedy routine by Billy Crystal. I saw performances by Janis Ian and Billy Preston. I saw comedy by the Not Ready for Prime Time Players including Jon Belushi and Gilda Radner among others. Now that’s three and a quarter hours of pure entertainment for free. And I could come back tomorrow night. And I did. And I got in a second time. I came back the following week and I didn’t get into the second show but I wasn’t going to give up at this point. This is a great thing to do on a Saturday night. I went to the third show, I got in, and in the first 5 years I’ve seen 59 out of 106 [episodes].

At what point did you realize it was turning into something you were making a regular routine?

I never really thought of it that way at that particular time. It was just something to do on a Saturday night. I just came over. If I got in, I got in. If I didn’t, I went home.

My memory from meeting you 15 years ago was that you had seen every episode live except for a few. But I guess you’ve missed more than that.

In the first 5 years I’d seen 59 out of 106. So I missed 47 shows then. To date I’ve missed I think 83. That means in the last 27 years I’ve missed 36 shows.

How many have you seen?

This is my 528th show.

The original producer, Lorne Michaels, is still with SNL. But he left the show for a few years in the middle. So is there anyone who outnumbers you in the number of shows attended?

Don Pardo. He only missed one year. It was the ‘81 season.

How come after all this time you still have to wait in the Standby Line? Why don’t they just give you season tickets?

They do. I’ve had season tickets since 1990.

But you just enjoy the Standby?

When they gave that to me, they asked me to do Standby anyway, just in case the tickets didn’t come through. So I have the standby tickets to back it up. However I never needed them, and now I just walk in. But I still do standby because I’m helping NBC out watching this, make sure people don’t jump and things like that. It helps them out. If something goes wrong they know that I’ll take care of it. And then I give the details to them later in the evening. If they have to do something about it they’ll do something.

What’s the worst thing you’ve seen go wrong while on standby?

Jumping the line, and having people join the line. That’s a no-no, because basically the people who are joining are jumping the line. Once somebody tried to get me off the line. This was for the Soundgarden and Jim Carrey episode. We were all standing inside because there was nobody out here, and then all of a sudden somebody let me know that somebody was out here and so I came out, and he was standing over by the pole over here, two guys, and I said all the standbys are inside. He said, Oh, I’m sorry. This is where the line is and I’m going to be number one and two. Well I said, No, I’m number one. He says no, we’re going to be number one. And he argued with me all night at this pole. And I was a little perturbed about it because they weren’t really nice about the whole thing. Well when they didn’t take any standbys for the dress rehearsal, these two guys nearly blew their top to NBC. They said, A standby got upstairs! So NBC checked to see if any standby tickets were upstairs, but I went up on my regular ticket. Little did they realize, I went to the party that night!

Do you get to go the after-party often?

Only the season finale, if they ask. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

When I was here 15 years ago, the line was inside. When did they move it outside?

‘93. Letterman was still here at the time, and according to what I’ve heard, somebody did damage to the building inside in the mezzanine. So Rockefeller Center said no you can’t be up here anymore, because they have to protect their tenants. And as a result all the lines were put outside. The line started at that time on this side of the building. And then NBC put it on the 50th street side because the Rainbow Room was complaining that we look like homeless people. Now we’re back on this side. We’d love to be inside the building again. They’ve got plenty of room on hand. But that’s not going to happen.

I seem to remember that 15 years ago you told me Tim Kazurinsky mentioned your name during a Weekend Update segment.

No, no. Not Weekend Update. It was in a sketch that he did. The Guru sketch. His name was Havnagootiim Vishnuuerheer [pronounced “havin’-a-good-time wish-you-were-here”]. What he was doing was he was answering Unanswered Questions of the universe. So he invited everybody in the country to write in unanswered questions that they had, and he picked one of mine, and all of a sudden I’m at dress rehearsal and he says, “Louis Klein from Ridgewood New York wants to know, does God wear Pajamas when he sleeps?”

And what was the answer?

The Guru says, “No he doesn’t. All he wears is a t-shirt. and on the t-shirt it says I created the universe and all I got out of it was this lousy t-shirt.” That was a Flip Wilson show in December ‘83.

Did they mention your name on any other episodes?

Yes, they did. And Jamie too. This was in April of 2004. Will Ferrel was the host. And he was doing the Pepper Sketch, where Will was putting pepper on Will Forte’s salad. And the character’s name was Dr. Louis something, and his wife Jamie. In honor of my 500th show.

Who was the writer that wrote you into the script?

Will Forte.

Have you seen “Studio 60” and Tina Fey’s new show “30 Rock”?

I have.

What do you think?

They’re both great.

Which do you like better?

Oh I don’t know. I love Tina. I love Tracy [Morgan], too. And I relate more to 30 Rock than I do Studio 60 because of that. But I definitely like both shows.

Do you get to know the SNL cast members?

They all know me. They all come and say Hi. I’ve met most everybody. I was invited to the 25th anniversary show, and I went to that. I had to ask for a ticket, and they said that they already have a ticket for me. I was fairly shocked.

Do you have a favorite season of SNL? Or a least favorite season?

That’s a hard question. A favorite season? You know, I don’t remember what all the hosts and musical guests are, and it’s hard. I love them all. I mean, yes, you’re going to have somebody that doesn’t do too well, especially sports figures. I mean, if you want a show that I thought the host was terrible, okay, um… uh… there was… uh… I can’t even say that. I mean, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

Thanks, Louis! As I packed up my notes and my recorder, Louis pointed out that he would be there for several more hours if I had any further questions. And if you have any questions, I’m sure you can find Louis exactly where I did, near the front of the Standby Line outside Rockefeller Center on Friday nights.

[The preceding transcript has been edited for space and clarity].

November 12, 2006

What about Southbund?

Maybe the next time subway fares go up, the MTA can finally afford that spell-check software.


Detail of a sign spotted on an N train platform.

October 23, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Red Garden

Part 13 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

Red GardenA few weeks ago, a new animated TV series was launched called Red Garden. It’s about a group of girls who go to school together on Roosevelt Island, and they have all sorts of supernatural misadventures that begin when their friend’s dead body is found in Central Park.

At least, I think that’s what it’s about. It’s kind of hard to tell exactly because it’s a Japanese cartoon, airing in Japan, and I don’t understand a word of Japanese. But it’s interesting seeing their take on New York City. The cartoon’s rendition of Central Park looks nothing like Central Park. It looks like a dense thick forest, and not like a landscaped park. Trees like this don’t even exist in the ramble, the most densly wooded part of the park. Roosevelt Island, on the other hand, is depicted fairly nicely, with lovely views of midtown Manhattan and the Queensboro Bridge.

The show’s opening credits and a few clips can be found on YouTube. Here’s a small gallery of New York City as depicted in the pilot episode:

Red Garden Red Garden
Red Garden Red Garden
Red Garden Red Garden
Red Garden Red Garden
Red Garden Red Garden

Maybe if the show gets released in the states with subtitles, I can see what their take of the rest of the city is like, assuming they don’t spend all their time on Roosevelt Island. Maybe they’ll head East for an episode in Long Island City.

IMDb Rating: N/A
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 7/10

(My rating is for the pilot episode’s depiction of NYC only)

September 11, 2006

Five years after 9/11/2001

9-11 Garbage ManLike most New Yorkers who were here on 9/11, my memories of that morning are with me every day, and I have already said much on the topic over the past five years. But I don’t have anything specific to write today about the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that wouldn’t get me worked up with anger as I write it. So instead, I’ll share this photo I just took of a garbage collector named Pelé in midtown, and link to these two 9/11 related entries I’ve previously written on this site:

My idea for a WTC Memorial.

9/11 images in 3-D.

And of course, as boneheaded as this war may be, everyone please give some thoughts to our soldiers in Iraq today. Think about why they are there, and then think about why they are really there. And when you go to the ballots soon to vote in the midterm elections, please vote wisely.

September 10, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Oliver & Company

Part 12 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

Oliver and CompanyIn 1988, Walt Disney put out its first movie musical in 11 years, called Oliver & Company. Based on Charles Dickens’ book Oliver Twist, it told the story of an orphan kitten’s adventures in New York City.

It begins with dawn breaking over New York City, and I quite like the way the sun lights up the tallest skyscrapers before spreading out across the island:

Oliver and Company Oliver and Company

Oliver was left in a cardboard box for anyone to take, but nobody wanted him. So he wandered the streets of New York and eventually made friends with a dog named Dodger.

Oliver and Company Oliver and Company

Dodger is a pickpocket who works for a crook named Fagin, and they take Oliver under their wing. Eventually Oliver is found by a girl who lives in a fancy mansion on Fifth Avenue, and she takes him home. When Fagin’s boss hears about this, he has the girl and Oliver both kidnapped, but a rescue ensues and everyone ends up safe in the end. (Oh, crap. I forgot to say “Spoiler Alert.”)

Here are some more scenes of New York City from Oliver and Company:

Oliver and Company Oliver and Company
Oliver and Company Oliver and Company

It’s not a great movie by any means. But I do like the movie’s depiction of New York. The scenes in the park — and just around town — do a good job of capturing the general feel of the neighborhoods, even when they don’t depict actual locations.

IMDb Rating: 6.2/10
BCDb Rating: 5/10
My Rating: 7.5/10

(My rating is for the movie’s depiction of NYC only)

July 25, 2006

Animated Manhattan: An American Tail

Part 11 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

Don Bluth’s 1986 movie An American Tail tells the story of the Mousekewitz family’s immigration to America through New York City in 1886. Along the way, their son Fievel gets separated from the rest of the family. He spends the rest of the movie wandering through 1886 New York trying to find them. Oh, and did I mention that this is a family of mice?

American TailWhen the family comes to America, they go through Castle Garden, pictured at right, which was the immigrant processing station at the time. Ellis Island wouldn’t open for a few more years. Today, Castle Garden is known as Castle Clinton, and it still stands in Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan.

But while Fievel’s family go through Castle Garden, Fievel lands at the still-under-construction Statue of Liberty. That’s where he meets Henri the pigeon, who designed the statue and hopes to finish building it before the movie ends.

American Tail American Tail

Feivel spends the next hour wandering around the lower east side. He hangs out on Hester Street, gets conned by a rat (you gotta watch out for those rats), makes friends with some other mice, almost gets run over by the 2nd Avenue El, and participates in an attempt to rid New York City of cats. All while searching for his family.

American Tail American Tail
American Tail American Tail

Most of New York City in the background is kind of generic. There’s not much by way of recognizable landmarks. Of course, so much of Manhattan has changed that it would be hard to find anything recognizable anyway. But I did find this one nice detail. The full frame is on the left, with a close up on the right:

American Tail American Tail

That’s a menu from Delmonico’s in the background. Delmonico’s was the first restaurant in the United States, where Eggs Benedict and Chicken à la King were invented.

American TailIf you don’t already know, you won’t be surprised to learn that Fievel does indeed find his family at the end of the movie. This happens to coincide with Henri’s completion of the Statue of Liberty. So he picks up Fievel and his sister and flies them around for an aerial view.

American Tail American Tail

That last shot of the Statue could never happen in real life, because the Statue faces East in reality. In the picture, she faces South.

American TailThe closing credits of An American Tail have orange-tinted pictures of old New York City in the background, with the credits over them. I was immediately reminded of Fritz the Cat, the first movie I viewed in this series, which also utilized orange-tinted views of old New York City in the closing credits.

This sickly-sweet movie wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was when I was a kid. But it’s nice to see a historic version of New York City depicted in animation.

IMDb Rating: 6.5/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 7.5/10

(My rating is for the series’ depiction of NYC only)

July 17, 2006

The Art of 1010 WINS

1010 WINSThe radio station 1010 WINS is for New York City what CNN Headline News is for cable television. It’s just nonstop headlines, weather, and traffic, repeating every 22 minutes. Their slogan is, “You give us 22 minutes, and we’ll give you the world.” Their website,, features local headlines and news stories mixed in with syndicated newswire stories.

But for me, the real treat is the unintentional art gallery at Sometimes, 1010 WINS uses photos from the newswire. But often, some Photoshop Whiz Kid Artist at 1010 WINS smashes together some stock photos with a Photoshop filter and makes some of the greatest image mashups on the internet.

So I now present a small gallery of artwork from 1010 WINS that I call, “You give us 22 news stories, and we’ll give you bad art.”

The Featured Exhibit

1. Peace Grannies on Trial for Times Square Protest

1010WINSThe crown jewel of the 1010 WINS Art Collection is Peace Grannies on Trial for Times Square Protest. For a story about a group of senior citizen war protesters, the artist placed a black shadow behind one of the so-called “Peace Grannies,” representing the plight of the protester during a deadly war, even while she herself is heading to her grave. The cane represents the narrow band of freedom on which we all lean, while her hat signifies oppression from above. Her coat, of course, is the cloak of dignity. A powerful image indeed.

2. Man Charged with Having Crack in Sundae

1010WINSIt’s a classic struggle for every artist. How do you illustrate a news story about a man caught smuggling two rocks of crack cocaine in an ice cream dessert? Well, the artist at 1010 WINS found a creative way to solve that problem, using photos of crack cocaine and an ice cream sundae. By superimposing them both on a pile of powdered substance — representing both the popular drug and the sweet sugar used in making delicious desserts — he unifies the images thematically, while the black background represents the health problems implicit in too much of either substance.

3. Forecast Predicts Another Rough Hurricane Season

1010WINSThe influence of conceptual artist Barbara Kruger is obvious in this piece, which uses imagery and words in montage. When the AccuWeather Hurricane Center predicted a strong hurricane season, the 1010 WINS artist chose to ironically juxtapose two simple sandbags hurricane warning flags with the power of one giant hurricane, representing the futility of man against nature. The disproportionate scale of the flags represent mankind’s desire to hold back the winds, even as they overtake us. The label “2006 Hurricane Season” acts as a forecast, but may in the future be seen as an accurate description of what the image depicts.

4. Final Moments on Tape. Family Hears WTC Call

1010WINSNearly five years after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, audio tapes were released featuring conversations between 911 operators and people trapped in the World Trade Center. For the event, the 1010 WINS artist created this commemorative work. On the day the tapes were released, a cell phone was so clearly important — a modern technological luxury but also an icon of this day in history — that it seemed like an object as large as the towers themselves. Or perhaps slightly larger, in black and white, looking a bit like it was photocopied and then faxed a few times before being scanned in for a montage.

5. Rockland County Joins Gas Sales Tax Capping

1010WINSThe ashy, veiny hand reaches out, gas pump nozzle in hand, a stream of “S”es pouring forth from its spout like precious drops of gasoline. Together, the hand and pump give off an eerie glow as Honest Abe looks onward, his gaze obstructed by an exaggerated dot screen. George Washington is barely visible, shrouded by an orange shadow of depression. The message is clear: Rockland County joins gas sales tax capping.

The Extended Gallery

6. Fatal Shooting in Brooklyn


7. Murders on the Rise in NYC


8. Untitled


9. Westchester Law Locks Down Wireless Networks


10. Jury — Merk Liable for Vioxx Users Heart Attack


11. Subway Stabbing in Brooklyn


12. NJ University Drops SAT Scores, Gains Applicants


13. Conn. Officials - Lyme Disease up 26 Percent


14 & 15. The “Police Line” Diptych.

1010WINS 1010WINS

Individually titled, “1 Killed, 4 Injured, in Parkway Crash (Blue)” and “5 People Struck in Hit and Run (Red).”

16. FBI Commish Orders Review of 911 Tapes


17. Strong Earthquake Strikes Central Indonesia


18. Quick Thinking Student Saves Teacher with CPR


19. Rockland County Woman Arrested for ID Theft


20. Fatal Car Crash in Brooklyn


21. NYC HDC Earmarks $179m for Apt’s


22. Study - Less Time, Passengers Reduce Teen Crashes


July 6, 2006

Terrorism makes this ad special

IBM WTC adAm I the only person who looks at this IBM ad and sees a depiction of the World Trade Center after the first tower was hit on the morning of September 11, 2001? This explosive image that I guess is supposed to express creativity or something looks to me more like smoke and flames rising from the tower, just moments before the second tower was struck.

Is it as blatantly obvious as I think it is? Or is it just that I made the association because I saw this ad displayed poster-size and back-lit at my departing gate at the airport?

Update: Wow. Judging by the almost 50 comments so far today, I guess this isn’t going to go down in history as my most successful post ever. sent lots of people my way, and some Farkers can sure be vicious in the comments (welcome to my site, Fark readers — I hope you explore the rest of it while you’re here). Just to be clear, I’m not someone who sees 9/11 imagery everywhere I look (or faces on Mars, etc). And I certainly wasn’t offended by the ad. I too am bothered by people who confuse simply being reminded of a tragedy with actually being offended by whatever triggered that memory. I just thought this particular ad looked so obviously like the twin towers to me that its placement at the airport of all places could have been thought out a bit better. But people see all sorts of things in different ways, and I guess I’m not in the majority with this one. At any rate, you can read on in the comments to see lots and lots of people who disagree with me, and a few who agree. But be warned: Some of the less mature Farkers’ responses may not be suitable for (but perhaps were written by) young children.

July 3, 2006

The Eutats of Ytrebil.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The Eutats of Ytrebil

This bus drove by me on Friday. I think it must have gotten here accidentally from some Parallel Bizarro Earth 2 on the exact opposite side of the sun from us, where everything is just slightly different from our own planet. In this parallel world, uptown means downtown, Rockefeller Plaza has a roller skating rink, the Chrysler Building is taller than the Empire State Building, taxis are purple, and — as shown on the side of this bus — the Statue of Liberty holds her torch in her left hand instead of her right. How it reached our world I’ll never know.

But it got here just in time for Independence Day. Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

June 26, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Madagascar

Part 10 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

MadagascarMadagascar tells the story of a bunch of animals at the Central Park Zoo who break out hoping to live a better life on the outside. So, naturally enough, the story starts at the Central Park Zoo. It’s rendered fine enough, I guess, but it doesn’t really have much character. Nearby buildings — the Plaza Hotel, Essex House, etc — are recognizable in the background. And I guess it looks like the Central Park Zoo. But it’s so sterile and just kind of bland.

Madagascar Madagascar

MadagascarYou won’t be surprised to learn that the animals escape the zoo and have an adventure in New York City. There are a couple cute moments, like the one where the zebra sees the woman wearing zebra stripes outside Saks. But for the most part, I felt the renderings of the city were a little too real-world-photogenic. I mean, this is a cartoon where all the characters have definite style. So why doesn’t the city get any style?

MadagascarLook at Rockefeller Plaza, for example. It looks… more or less just like Rockefeller Plaza. I guess I would complain if it didn’t, but it’s just a little too clean and sterile to look good this way. It just bothers me. It’s like they’ve found the uncanny valley of architecture.

MadagascarThe more I think about it, the more I think the uncanny valley metaphor is exactly what’s wrong here. They created a version of New York City that’s photo-realistic and accurate in most details. But they missed the mark in so many subtle ways that it ends up being disturbing more than anything else.

MadagascarAnd they put benches in Grand Central Terminal. There are no benches in the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal in real life. But in the movie there are. But here’s one detail they did get right: They accurately depict the sign on the building as showing the words “Grand Central Terminal” and also accurately depict everyone in the movie referring to it as “Grand Central Station” instead.

Madagascar Madagascar

Only the first 20 minutes or so of the movie actually take place in New York. After the animals have their little adventure, they get captured and sent off to… well, I don’t know where because I found the movie so boring I didn’t watch any more than that. I assume they went to Madagascar, but I don’t know. I fast forwarded (fasted forward?) and saw that they went somewhere with a lot more color and style than this bland and sterile version of New York. Here are some more shots of the sterile city:

Madagascar Madagascar
Madagascar Madagascar

IMDb Rating: 6.6/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 6/10

(My rating is for the series’ depiction of NYC only)

May 27, 2006

Hot town. Summer in the city.


Looks like it’s finally summer…

May 26, 2006

60 Seconds in the Life of the Apple Store Stairs

Part 12 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

Filmed at the new Apple store on Fifth Avenue.

May 22, 2006

Animated Manhattan: The Critic

Part 9 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

The CriticThe Critic aired on ABC in 1994 before moving to Fox in 1995 and eventually being cancelled. But in the meantime, I enjoyed watching the adventures of Jay Sherman, movie critic and single father.

The show took place in New York, and the program made wonderful use of the city. In every episode, Manhattan is visible in the view out a window, or in the background as Jay goes about his life, meets women, tries to be a good dad, and tries (sometimes in vain) to be an appreciated son.

The CriticJay frequently spends time in the park, at restaurants, and around town in general. The attention to detail is incredible, even where it’s not necessary. In some general scenes when no specific real world location is intended, it’s amazing how the artists have captured the look and feel of the city with their brushes.

Since it’s easier to talk about this series’ depiction of New York City in general terms than it is to address specific episodes that highlight New York particularly well, here is a simple gallery of New York City as depicted in various episodes of The Critic. More information about the show can be found in its Wikipedia entry or by picking up the entire series on DVD. Enjoy:

The Critic The Critic
The Critic The Critic
The Critic The Critic
The Critic The Critic
The Critic The Critic

IMDb Rating: 7.9/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 9/10

(My rating is for the series’ depiction of NYC only)

May 18, 2006

When Isamu Met Bucky

Noguchi and FullerI had the pleasure this evening of attending the opening of a new exhibit at the Noguchi Museum in Queens highlighting the work of sculptor Isamu Noguchi and his good friend Buckminster Fuller.

Buckminster Fuller, many people will remember, was the man most famous for inventing the geodesic dome, an incredibly strong structure made up of a network of struts. Fuller’s invention was conceived as an extremely lightweight but stable building that could be erected simply and inexpensively. While the dome was a big success, he designed it after a long string of other inventions which Fuller hoped would create a better life for humanity, but which never caught on.

A chrome sculpture of Fuller by Noguchi overlooks several exhibits
Several of those inventions are showcased in the new exhibit. One highlight is a scale model of Fuller’s Dymaxian House, an easy-to-ship and easy-to-assemble home that hangs from wires around a central column (“Dymaxian” is Fuller’s made up contraction of the words Dynamic, Maximum, and Tension). Fuller imagined this as the wave of the future, an ultra-efficient, ultra-affordable, mass-producible home. But only one Dymaxian House was ever built. It was lived in for 30 years before being relocated to the Henry Ford Museum in 2001.

A visitor examines a model of the Dymaxian Car
Fuller’s Utopian vision extended beyond homes. In 1933, he built a prototype Dymaxian Car, a highly efficient vehicle that seated 11, reached 120 miles per hour, got 30 miles per gallon (unheard of at the time) and did it all on only 3 wheels. It was 20 feet long, but barely needed more space than that to do a full 180 degree turn. Sadly, an accident at the 1933 World’s Fair prompted investors to abandon the project, and the car never passed the prototype stage. It’s a shame it never went any further in development. It’s hard not to imagine how automobiles would be different today. For the current exhibit, the Noguchi museum has brought together models, pictures, and video footage of the car in action.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The exhibit explores many more of Fuller’s projects, but these were my favorites.

The sculpture garden at the Noguchi Museum
The exhibit, called “Best of Friends: R. Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi,” reflects the friendship and values of two men, each dedicated to improving the lot of the common man, one working through science and the other through art.

The lives of both men are presented nicely through an exhibit designed by graphic designer Tomoko Miho, who the AIGA called “the design world’s best kept secret.” Along one wall, an extensive timeline follows the parallels of both men’s lives, and is included in full as a gatefold in the exhibition brochure, making it a great souvenir.

The exhibit opens this Friday, and continues through October 15.

May 8, 2006

9/11 in 3D

[Note: See update for images you can view in 3D without the need for special glasses.]

wtc3dx2.jpgOn September 16, 2001, posted a video of aerial views of the World Trade Center site taken by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flying around lower Manhattan. Using near-consecutive frames from this video to simulate right-eye and left-eye views, I’ve created 3D images of Ground Zero as seen a few days after the attacks of 9/11.

To view these images in 3D properly, I’m afraid you need those red-and-blue glasses that give some people headaches. But it might be worth finding a pair to see what the terrorists did in a way only people who were there in person saw it previously — in three dimensions. I think it’s pretty powerful.

That reminds me: Sorry for such a heavy topic on a Monday morning.

Below is a gallery of thumbnails. Click on any individual image to see the full image in a pop-up window.

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Update: Read on to see images of Ground Zero that you can experience in 3D without glasses.

Personally, the following method of viewing images in 3D gives me a headache, but I’ve had a request to include images for use with this method, so I’m happy to do it.

To view the following pairs of images in 3D, cross your eyes until the two pictures converge into one. That single image will be in 3D. If your head hurts or you develop eye strain, stop! I don’t recommend doing this for very long.










April 26, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Futurama

Part 8 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

FuturamaOn December 31, 1999, pizza delivery guy Philip J. Fry delivers a pizza to a cryogenics lab in Manhattan and through a series of unfortunate events is accidentally frozen for 1000 years. While he’s in deep freeze, we can see time passing visibly outside the window. We see New York City completely destroyed by aliens (except, for some reason, the building the cryogenics lab is in) and eventually rebuilt as New New York City, where Fry wakes up on New Year’s Eve, 2999.

Futurama Futurama Futurama Futurama

That’s the premise of Futurama, the cancelled animated series by Simpsons creator Matt Groening which aired on FOX for four seasons and can now be seen in syndication and on DVD.

FuturamaIn New New York, the subway system has been replaced with the New New York Tube System, which whisks people across town. In Fry’s first experience with the tube system, we see it snaking through the city. It goes underwater, passing a sunken Circle Line Cruise boat. It winds past the Statue of Liberty (was it recreated? or is it still standing?), which supports the tube where the torch used to be.

Futurama Futurama

In the pilot episode, Fry takes a tour of underground New New York, where the remnants of New York City can be found. The Chrysler Building’s once shiny spire lies on its side. Rockefeller Center’s skating rink has become the swamp-like home of an alien creature.

Futurama Futurama

Some of old New York City has been recreated a bit differently in New New York. Luna Park, for example, is no longer an amusement park in Brooklyn. Luna Park is now an amusement park on, well, the moon.


And in memory of Madison Square Garden, a new sports arena has been erected: Madison Cube Garden.


Thankfully, a good slice of pizza can still be found in New New York. Original Cosmic Ray’s Pizza serves its customers a steaming slice as only an Original Rays Pizzeria can.


IMDb Rating: N/A
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 8/10

(My rating is for the series’ depiction of NYC only)

April 18, 2006

The Google Maps Guide to Ghostbusters

NOTE: After two years working just fine, the map is having problems. I’m trying to fix it. Sorry for the inconvenience. Should be fixed now. Let me know if you have any problems!

Click to launch map in new window
Hey! There’s a Ghostbusters symbol in my Google logo! What’s going on? One’s a movie, and one’s a search engine. Next thing you know, fish will be flying, trees will be swimming, cats and dogs living together — mass hysteria!

Welcome to the Interactive Google Maps Guide to Ghostbusters. You can click the Google logo above or the map image below at any time to launch the map in a new window, or read on for more info.

Click to launch map in new window
I’ve created a mashup of Google Maps and every New York City location used in filming the movie Ghostbusters and its sequel Ghostbusters 2 that a person might be likely to visit on a trip to Manhattan. It’s my first time using the Google Maps API, but I think I’ve come up with a slick way to use it. But still, let me know if anything doesn’t work right.

Also, if you’d like to link to the map, please link to this entry’s permalink instead of the map itself. Thanks.

Ready? Check it out! The map will open in a new window.

April 17, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Fantasia 2000: “Rhapsody in Blue”

Part 7 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

George Gershwin’s 1924 composition “Rhapsody in Blue” is strongly associated with New York City, partly due to its use in Woody Allen’s film Manhattan. Similarly, the illustrator Al Hirschfeld’s amazing drawings of Manhattan night life, Broadway stars, and other celebrities appeared in the New York Times for so long that his association with this city even prompted the Museum of the City of New York to put together an exhibit and book called Hirschfeld’s New York.

So it was a good bet by the producers of Fantasia 2000 that combining Hirschfeld’s images with Gershwin’s music would create an amazing sequence in their movie of animation set to music.

Fantasia 2k Fantasia 2k

Using an animation style evocative of Hirschfeld’s drawings, the film tells the stories of several New York characters during the great depression. We meet the construction worker who dreams of playing drums in a jazz band in Harlem, and we meet the down-on-his-luck unemployed gentleman who can barely pay for a cup of coffee.

Fantasia 2k Fantasia 2k

We also meet well-to-do characters. We meet a little girl whose mother forces her into every hobby imaginable — dance, piano, swimming, etc. — and we meet the husband of an overbearing wife who lavishly spends money on her pooch.

Fantasia 2k Fantasia 2k

It’s really amazing the way the animators have managed to capture Hirschfeld’s style, and the feel of the city, synchronized expertly with the excellent music.

Fantasia 2k Fantasia 2k

Any fan of animation, music, and New York should rent this movie just for this sequence alone. There are pleasant surprises in the rest of the film, but this is where the movie really shines. Scaling down the images for this website doesn’t really do the artwork justice. On the big screen, each frame looks like it could be a Hirschfeld drawing. It must have been wonderful to see this sequence when it was originally released in IMAX.

Note: The below IMDb and BCDb ratings are for the entire movie, not just the “Rhapsody in Blue” segment.

IMDb Rating: 7.2/10
BCDb Rating: 6/10
My Rating: 9/10

(My rating is for the film’s depiction of NYC only)

April 9, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Family Guy

Part 6 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

Family GuyIt took the Simpsons nine seasons to get to New York (as chronicled in a previous edition of Animated Manhattan), but the Griffins of Family Guy managed to make it during their second season. In that season’s 11th episode, titled “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Dollars,” Peter, Lois, Meg, Chris, Brian, and Stewie Griffin take Manhattan.

Family GuyFor Peter’s birthday, his son Chris gives him a painting. It’s not an especially good painting (it’s supposed to depict a “moo cow”), so Peter sticks it in the back of his car to replace a broken window. That’s where a gallery owner from SoHo in New York City spots it, and insists he can make Chris into an art star. So the Griffins pack their bags and head to New York.

Family GuyThey stay at the renowned Plaza Hotel in midtown. While Chris is in the able hands of his art dealer — a rather controlling fellow named Antonio Monatti — and on the road to fame and fortune, the rest of the family goes sight-seeing on to road to, uh, downtown by way of the east side.

As you can imagine, hilarity ensues.

Family GuyIn this establishing shot of the United Nations (left), I’m not sure why the animators chose to eliminate one of the UN building’s most recognizable features — the line of flags of member nations — but the omission is forgivable as they still captured the overall look and feel of the UN, one of the Griffin’s stops on their New York City tour. I’m guessing all those flags would just be too tough to animate.

Family GuyOf course the Griffin family makes a stop at one of the city’s most famous sites, the observation deck at the Empire State Building, where Peter chooses not to go agsinst his wife’s advice and drops a penny from the top. Come on, you know you’d love to do it and see what happens. Well, whatever happens in real life is surely different than what happens in the show, which is just odd enough that if I told you I’d probably be accused of making it up. So rent the DVD or wait for the rerun in syndication to find out.

Family GuyTwo thirds of the way through the episode, Peter and Meg have a talk about talent. Sure, Chris is the art star, but surely there must be something Meg can do (eventually they realize that Meg’s hidden talent is her ability to do convincing bird calls). Peter sings a Broadway-worthy song to Meg about how mediocre she is, set to a montage of the two of them in a variety of New York City settings. So in honor of that song, here’s a mini-montage of other New York images from the episode:

Family Guy Family Guy Family Guy Family Guy

And what about little baby Stewie this whole time? Well, Stewie is discovered by Calvin Klein as a great model for his new line of CK diapers. So his butt get plastered all over Times Square, just like so many other models before him.

Family Guy

I enjoyed this episode, and its use of New York City culture as a plot device. It was fun, funny, and makes a good addition to the Animated Manhattan archive.

IMDb Rating: N/A
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 8/10

(My rating is for the episode’s depiction of NYC only)

April 2, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Tom & Jerry - Mouse in Manhattan

Part 5 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

TomJerryUsually, the Tom & Jerry cartoons pit cat against mouse in an animated game of, well, cat and mouse. But in the 1945 short film “Mouse in Manhattan,” Jerry has his first and only solo adventure. He goes to the city where so many others have gone on solo adventures — New York!

TomJerryThe film opens with Jerry leaving a note under a sleeping Tom’s paw, explaining that he’s leaving their boring country life for the exciting bright lights of the big city. He’s heading to New York on what’s sure to be an excellent adventure.

Jerry arrives in the city at Grand Central Terminal. He is practically thrown from his train and skids across the floor, where he promptly gets stuck on a piece of gum. It’s not a very good start to his visit.


And to make matters worse, a shoeshine boy mistakes Jerry (a little furry thing) for a shoe shine rag (another little furry thing?) and dunks him in shoe polish. He shines someone’s shoe with Jerry’s head. When Jerry recovers from the ordeal, his face is covered with black polish and… um… well… I’m not sure I should show you this, but… Okay, here you go:


But Jerry recovers, cleans himself off, and sets out on his sightseeing adventure.

TomJerry TomJerry TomJerry TomJerry

Of course, once night falls, Jerry heads out on the town like any New York visitor would do. He checks out the nightlife, the lights, and the ladies.


He even finds himself at a penthouse gala, where he enjoys the beverages, the music, and even dances with a mouse-sized doll. There are certainly enough rodents in Manhattan that he should have been able to find himself a real mouse to dance with. But, alas, the city can be a lonely place.


Unfortunately, things are about to take a turn for the worse for Jerry. Maybe he enjoyed the beverages a little too much. He loses his balance, and finds himself dangling over the city on a broken candle precariously balanced over the penthouse balcony.


It reminds me of the famous photo of Harold Lloyd in his movie Safety Last.

Jerry falls to the ground, lands in an alley, lucky to be alive, but surrounded by alley cats. He runs away, gets chased by a subway train, and somehow ends up falling through the glass window of a jewelry store, where he’s mistaken for a jewel thief.


He manages to escape the cops, and decides he just can’t take the Big City any longer. So he runs home across the George Washington Bridge.


He manages to get home before Tom wakes up, retrieves the note, and tears it up before Tom has a chance to read it.


So what’s the lesson here? That Jerry’s a New Jersey bumpkin who can’t cut it in Manhattan? That Bridge-and-Tunnelers should just stay put where they belong? That New York City is such a big scary place that it’s not even worth visiting? That the country mouse will always be a country mouse? Or that you should give up on a new venture if at first you meet some hardships?

If Jerry doesn’t appreciate that he’s just had an adventure in one day that’s more exciting than being chased by that cat for the rest of his life, he fails to appreciate the wonders of this city. New York’s not about visiting, trying to be successful, and leaving when you hit some rough spots. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, but you’ll never make it anywhere if you give up so quickly.

This cartoon may have some lovely animation, and it might capture the look of this town, but it fails to capture the spirit of this city.

IMDb Rating: 8/10
BCDb Rating: 8/10
My Rating: 5/10

(My rating is for the episode’s depiction of NYC only)

March 27, 2006

Idea: Design for a WTC Monument

I know, designing your own WTC memorial is so 2002. But it’s been years since the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition, and there’s been next to no progress on actually building anything. Last week, some dirt was moved around and people got angry about it. So I’ve been thinking again about my own monument design that I came up with a few years back, but never actually rendered. It’s nice to finally get it out of my head and on paper. Er, pixel.

WTCWhen viewed from one direction, my memorial resembles the original towers. It stands tall and proud. It’s big and bold. Its height depends aesthetically on where it will be placed — in a memorial park, I assume — but I imagine it being really tall, the tallest thing in the park, peaking out above the tallest trees, or (since the tallest trees will eventually grow) in the middle of a clearing. The names of the September 11 victims who lost their lives are engraved in lines on the faces of the towers, like the lines of windows on the buildings.

WTCSo viewed from one direction, it looks like the towers themselves. But when viewed from another direction, the monument becomes an empty shell. It’s a reminder of how fragile the towers were, and of the empty space they used to occupy. It’s very, very simple. Hopefully it’s also poignant.

In my original vision, these were as big as the original towers, becoming part of the city’s skyline in the same way the original towers were. Viewing Manhattan from one side, you’d see the towers’ silhouette and the skyline looks just like it used to. Viewing from another direction you’d just see the outline of where they were. It’s a grandiose vision. But probably not realistic, so I shrunk it down to a size suitable for placement in a park.

To get the best view of the monument, and really convey how it looks, I’ve put together an animated fly-around that shows it from all sides.

And for those who might be interested, a note about how I created these images and the animation is after the jump.

A note about how I created these images.

I used a program called SketchUp. I loved it enough to heap the following unsolicited praise.

I’d never heard of SketchUp before I read last week that Google acquired them. And neither, apparently, had the Google Toolbar spellchecker, which thinks I’m writing about ketchup.

Anyway, when I came up with this monument idea several years ago, I drew sketches of it, but none of them really did the idea justice the way a 3D rendering could. But I knew nothing about CAD and the learning curve seemed steep. I considered building an actual 3D model, but what would I do with it once I’d made it? I have no room for such a thing in my apartment. But after viewing SketchUp’s demo on their website, I realized I’d found a tool even I could use. SketchUp makes 3D rendering easier than sketching. Seriously. I downloaded the free trial version (fully functional for 8 hours), watched the tutorials for about 15 minutes, and put all this together in about an hour. None of my sketches of this concept ever looked this good. It’s a cool product. I congratulate them on their recent successes.

March 23, 2006

Animated Manhattan: The Simpsons

Part 4 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

SimpsonsDuring their ninth season, The Simpsons came to New York. And many of you will never see that episode again.

The episode, titled “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” featured the Simpson family taking a trip to Manhattan to retrieve the family car. Barney had borrowed it, and left it illegally parked in front of the World Trade Center. While Homer goes to the WTC to straighten matters out, the rest of the family goes sightseeing.

SimpsonsThis episode first aired in 1997. At that time, the twin towers were still standing. Much of the episode takes place at the base of the towers, with some funny moments inside, also. But after the attacks of September 11, 2001, would anybody want to see this episode ever again?

SimpsonsNow that several years have passed, some stations are beginning to show the episode again. A San Francisco station only showed it last year for the first time since 9/11. And according to a Wikipedia article about this episode, some stations are airing a version with all references to the WTC removed.

SimpsonsIt’s too bad, too, because there are some truly funny moments in this episode. I loved Homer dancing in a field of toilets, his imagination’s depiction of what Flushing Meadows (a neighborhood in Queens) must be like. Sure, there are some neighborhoods in this town that smell like a toilet, but it’s not that bad.

SimpsonsSometimes when tourists come to New York, they avoid the subway at all costs, even when taking a taxi is the slower, more expensive way of getting around. They’re afraid they won’t be able to manage it, or they’ve heard bad things about it. But not the Simpsons. Bart even tries his hand at panhandling, before realizing that it’s best left to the experts.

SimpsonsThe Simpsons even manage to fit in a horse-drawn carriage ride in Central Park. I would have recommended against the carriage ride, as an overrated and overpriced experience, but I’m glad the episode manages to get the Park in there somehow.

SimpsonsAnd I love this shot of the Chrysler Building Empire State Building (d’oh!). Of all the depictions of New York in the episode, this image has the most architectural detail. It’s one of the city’s most beloved buildings, so it’s fitting that it was given the extra attention.

IMDb Rating: N/A
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 8/10

(My rating is for the episode’s depiction of NYC only)

March 20, 2006

60 Seconds in the Life of a Taxi Meter

Part 4 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

500 bonus points go to whoever figures out on which street this was shot. No, make it 5,000 bonus points.

March 16, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Sundae in New York

Part 3 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

Sundae in New YorkThe 1983 Academy Award winner for Best Animated Short was a stop-motion claymation film called Sundae in New York directed by Jimmy Picker. It featured a then-mayor Ed Koch character singing “New York, New York” as he makes his way from scenario to scenario throughout the city meeting different people like Frank Sinatra, Rodney Dangerfield, Alfred E. Neuman, Woody Allen, the Statue of Liberty, and more.

Sundae2Starting with a view of the Manhattan skyline, it’s easy to see that there’s not a lot of detail. But it was 1983, and Jimmy Picker didn’t have a huge set to work with. In fact, each shot shows barely anything wider than would be possible to fit on a small tabletop set. The opening, which pans down from the skyline to Central Park, shows more background than in any other scene. In terms of scope, this is clearly no Wallace and Gromit.

Sundae3But the limited set doesn’t detract at all from the short film’s charm. The song is familiar so it hooks you right in. Even someone who isn’t familiar with New York politics will find the Ed Koch character entertaining. And the caricatures of various celebrities and personalities are usually spot on. The scenarios depict different stereotypes from New York life, so while the settings may not be expansive, the characterizations make up for it.

Sundae4I remember back in 1983, Jimmy Picker was on a TV show (I think it might have been the Leonard Nimoy-hosted “Standby… Lights! Camera! Action!” on Nickelodeon, but I may be wrong) and he showed off the various clay characters which he stored in a normal kitchen refrigerator to keep from melting. The fact that it has stuck in my head this long shows how entertained I was by it that I remember it after all these years, diminished only by the fact that I have a sneaking suspicion my memories may have made the whole episode up.

Sundae5So by now you must be wondering how on Earth you can get to see this short film. Well, it was put out on a DVD called The World’s Greatest Animation several years ago, but it’s now out of print. According to, you can purchase a used copy starting at $149.99. And of course you can always try eBay.

Or, you can just head over to YouTube, where it looks like someone has put the movie up for your viewing pleasure.

IMDb Rating: 6.7/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 7.5/10

(My rating is for the film’s depiction of NYC only)

March 14, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Antz

Part 2 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

antzcoverThis time, we look at Antz, the computer-animated Dreamworks film about an ant named Z-4165 (called simply “Z” by the other characters) voiced by Woody Allen. Typical of Woody Allen characters, Z is depressed, in therapy, and feels pretty insignificant. This isn’t surprising, considering he’s one in a billion ants living together in a giant ant colony. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd.

The film starts out reminiscent of Woody Allen’s movie “Manhattan,” with a big silhouetted view of the Manhattan skyline:


But a lighting change quickly reveals that we aren’t looking at Manhattan at all, but an extremely close-up view of some blades of grass:


The camera then pans down, through the ground, and we meet our character Z for the first time, talking with his therapist. This begins the story of how one little insignificant ant can rise up, find love, save his colony from destruction, and save the day becoming a big hero.

At the film’s conclusion, Z is surrounded by his new love, and his whole colony, in the aftermath of the great battle that ended the film.


The camera pulls back, showing the size of the crowd…


…and we see again how insignificantly small all those ants are…


…and that they’re even smaller compared to their anthill…


…which, it turns out, is in the middle of a park…


…with trees, grass, a water fountain, and garbage…


…it’s probably Central Park, by the looks of it…


…and finally the camera reveals that the story has been taking place in the middle of Manhattan, showing the skyline in all its glory.


While the movie wasn’t as good as many other cartoons, I loved the conclusion. I thought it was a great way to reinforce the notion that all those little ants are, after all, pretty insignificant compared to the scale of the big city. And living in Manhattan it’s easy to feel like an ant toiling away, and that Manhattan is one giant ant farm.

Of course, the final shot is an impossible depiction of the Manhattan skyline. Looking South from Central Park, the Plaza Hotel is in the right place, and both the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building are in approximately the right places, too. But the former AT&T Building (now called Sony Plaza) is rotated 90 degrees so we can see its Chippendale-style top. And the former Pan Am building (now called the MetLife building) has been transplanted to a front-and-center location where it doesn’t belong. And of course the World Trade Center is really so far downtown that it should not be looming so high above Central Park. But while the details are wrong, the overall feeling is right.

IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
BCDb Rating: 8/10
My Rating: 7.5/10

(My rating is for the film’s depiction of NYC only)

March 12, 2006

60 Seconds in the Life of Steam

Part 2 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

This one is called “60 Seconds in the Life of Steam” and was filmed at 42nd Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.

March 1, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Fritz the Cat

This is the first entry in a continuing series examining New York City as depicted in animation. I have a long list of animated films — features, shorts, hand-drawn, made with clay, made with computers, popular, and obscure — that take place at least partly in Manhattan. I’ll be sharing some images and examining how New York City is portrayed in each film.

Kicking things off: 1972’s “Fritz the Cat,” directed by Ralph Bakshi and based on the comic books by Robert Crumb.

This movie, the first x-rated cartoon, follows Fritz the Cat on his drug-filled sex romp in search of love in Manhattan. The movie begins with a gloomy view of Times Square, and eventually takes our hero from his NYU haunts downtown, all the way up to Harlem on his adventures. Here is how the movie is described in the Fritz the Cat entry in Wikipedia:

The animated film is a satire on college life of the 1960s: while Fritz doesn’t attend any classes during the movie, he participates in major social upheavals based around the popular college protest movement of the time. Fritz invites several girls to his “pad” for an orgy, does a lot of drugs, escapes when the place is raided by the police, takes part in organizing an angry, violent mob that riots against “authority” (without actually figuring out what the target of its anger is), is briefly associated with a protest group similar to the Black Panthers, and apparently “dies” at the film’s climax (before coming back for one final roll in the hay with his nubile girlfriends).

Crumb has famously stated that he detested Bakshi’s film — so much so that he killed off the character in his comics, by having an ostrich-woman stab him in the head with an ice pick.

Most of the movie takes place in lower Manhattan in the 1960s, in and around Greenwich Village. When we first meet Fritz, he’s hanging out with a hip crowd in Washington Square Park.

Even today, Washington Square is home to folk singers and other musicians. In the 1960s, it was especially so. As a college student in Greenwich Village in the 60s, it’s not surprising to find Fritz hanging out with musicians in the park.

Occasionally the movie gives us broad, sweeping views of Manhattan as establishing shots for upcoming scenes. This overview of lower Manhattan shows off the gloomy monochromatic pallette with which much of the film is painted:

Under the closing credits, actual photographs of locations around Manhattan are shown, real-life versions of the neighborhoods Fritz hung out in. The last photo depicts the same view of Times Square that we see as the opening shot. Here is a side-by-side comparison:

I have to say, I didn’t love this movie. But its depiction of New York City was okay. Manhattan can be shown sparkly clean or dingy and dirty. It can be colorful or gray, cheerful or gloomy. Fritz’s life in this movie consists of just a lot of meaningless sex and drugs. The mostly subdued colors and monochromatic depiction of Manhattan presents an adequate background for his adventure.

IMDb Rating: 5.9/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 6/10