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Book Details

Title:   Tales of Times Square
Author:   Josh Alan Friedman
Times Read:   1
Last Read:   02.15.11

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Notes History
Date Read Note
02.15.11 So... some time after I really started hanging out at the Alamo... maybe QT 6 or once I took up residence as a Weird Wednesday regular, a mild obsession formed around the "heyday" of 42nd street and its beloved grindhouse theaters. These seemed to really stand out as the epicenter for the type of movie lauded every wednesday at midnight. I had a real problem imagining a theater that ran 24 hours a day playing this type of stuff. My own theater memories consisted mostly of mall cineplexes and vague childhood drive-in double features where still the B-movie was nothing more than a second-run hollywood feature paired with the A-movie (License to Drive and The Lost Boys, Batman and Friday the 13th Part 7, huh as I type these out they do seem like the late-80s equivalent... never mind!) so I couldn't even imagine a world where a movie like Black Caesar or 2000 Maniacs could be on any sort of marquee, much less nestled in a block full of similar theaters showing similar films ALL NIGHT LONG. So then, in an effort to learn more about the films and the stretch of NYC affectionally referred to as "The Deuce," I real Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford. Bad mistake. That book completely iconifies late 70s/early 80s Times Square as film-geek heaven, hints of danger in some novelty way, occasional mentions of seediness in good-natured free and fun gold-tinged nostalgia, but most of all crazy insane films that are awesome. After reading that book I tried to construct a quick layout of the block from Landis & Clifford's descriptions. They structured their book to talk about certain exploitation genres paired with specific theaters, as if each theater only stuck to one genre (a notion that I've read on the internet to be false, with the exception of maybe one of the theaters being a kung-fu house for a time). Each chapter of their book starts with a deliciously brief description of the theater itself and what sets it apart from the others. This was the gold vein in between the film write-ups that make up the bulk of the book (not to take anything away from the film talk. it's a great book for getting excited about these films in much the same way as Eddie Muller explores film noir in Dark City). After reading (and Jotting down my little mental map) I wanted more. That led me here. According to the jacket and amazon reviews, this book was exactly what I wanted. Josh Alan Friedman apparently spent all his time in Times Square during the "golden era" and wrote a whole book about how awesome it was. It would have extended and expanded chapters about each theater with complete archival-level records of films that ran and month-by-month accounts of their degradation and eventual death, all with a new Afterward that would presumably talk about the Disneyfied castration that occured in the last decade. Well... not quite. A lot of this book was a wake-up call for me. It turns out, Friedman wrote for Screw magazine so the bulk of the book deals with the sex trade that, as it turns out, completely saturated Times Square everywhere around the theaters. The theaters were just a single ingredient in the scummy toilet bowl that was Times Square. Chapter headings that I thought might eventually get to the theaters passed by them even faster than Sleazoid Express, with barely a sentence or two thrown to each movie house and not a single movie discussed. This book took some re-adjustment. The abundance of sex - not Penthouse magazine sex or even Hustler magazine sex but Screw magazine spent-condoms-in-the-gutter junkie depressio NYC-accent sex that is... not hot at all - was a little off-putting. The sections on stripping and prostitution and especially the chapters on the peepshows are disgustingly complete. It's a real portrait of a very sad desperate industry that I can understand people despising. Yet even with them being downers, I really responded to the authoritative comprehension of these worlds that I'd never really thought about (and certainly chose not to dwell on with any attachment to the theaters). Even though the funniest chapter was not actually in Times Square I don't think (involving a bet between some goombas, Screw founder Al Goldstein and Larry Levenson, the proprieter of swing joint Plato's Retreat (inhabiting the original home of the Continental Baths where soon-to-be seminal House/Garage DJs Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles once spun)). The extended account of Larry's marathon 15-orgasm night to prove his manhood is pretty hilarious. Anyway, by far the best part of this book for me is titled "A Loner's Paradise: 24 Hours On The Square" where Friedman delivers a multi-faceted portrait of the geography, filled with vignettes of character and description, giving what's probably the most complete mental image of that place at that time as is possible. And since it was written back then, any nostalgia read in between the lines is purely projection. You do get a real sense that Friedman loves the neighborhood and feels its impending doom (redevelopment committees are repeatedly mentioned; it's clear that everybody saw the end approaching in its own slow but inevitable way), but the bad is mixed equally with the good. Junkie hoods ready to terrorize, con men lying in wait, frightening transvestite prostitutes ready to rob the shamed and curious. It read to me in a way that I suspect it really was: a Red Light district that was dangerous but also had character. So it's safe to say that this book popped the delusional bubble of my 42nd Street obsession. In the end it's a great read but the pessimism of all the sex-trade stuff is pretty hard to take. It really has me in a mood to watch Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy again to actually see this stuff in motion (why don't these books include more photos!? It's always infuriating to repeatedly refer to the same 8 shitty photos over and over again looking for new details that are not there). It's also time to read something completely different that doesn't make me feel dirty.



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