Imaginary Apparatus: New York 1966-1973

Spring, 2009

In 1966, under threat of bankruptcy and crumbling urban infrastructure, New York City mayor John Lindsay signed Executive Order 10 – a measure intended to attract the film industry to New York. Major productions such as The Night They Raided Minsky’s and Midnight Cowboy were soon drawn to the city. Simultaneously, the city was drafting a significant amount of innovative urban planning policy. One remarkable aspect common to many of these policies is a tendency to understand the city cinematically. This attitude is evident in documents such as the 1969 Plan For New York City and the film What is the City But the People? Hence, Lindsay’s planning policy had a synergistic relationship to the contemporaneous policy regarding film production. Amplifying the significance of this blend of film production and planning policy was a developing financial and interpersonnel symbiosis between the city and the film industry. New York was inviting cinema production to its streets, while conceiving of those streets through various cinematic registers and yoking the financial interests of the city to those of the film industry. The combination of policies under Lindsay provides a lens through which to reexamine the relationship between the filmic and material New York. This essay contends that Lindsay’s policies created a situation in which the relationship between New York and its cinematic representation is best described discursively—as an iterative exchange between the financial stability of New York and the film industry, the methods of conceptualizing urbanism evident in the policies of Lindsay’s Planning Commission, and the subjective affect of the cinema spectator and the New Yorker. Through a consideration of the discursive motion of Lindsay’s policies, their effects, and the complex set of institutional interests they involve, this essay describes a historic relationship between New York, its cinematic representation, and the urban subject.

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