Readers’ Corner: New York’s Hidden Library

The New York Public Library's Main Reading Room.

The New York Public Library’s Main Reading Room.

When you think “New York” and “library” there’s really only one that comes to mind: the grand main branch on Fifth Avenue facing Bryant Park. It’s gorgeous, it’s iconic, they have just about every book you can imagine (even if they’ve started trying to move a bunch of titles off-site); in other words perfect. The main Brooklyn branch on Grand Army Plaza is no slouch, either, either in architectural grandness or selection.

But there’s another library worth mentioning, and that’s the one underneath the Surrogate’s Court building in downtown Manhattan that nobody knows about: the City Hall Library. From last Tuesday’s New York Times:

Below the library are the cavernous storerooms and vaults that contain some of the maps, books, photographs and other items that are part of the Municipal Archives. They document the city’s government and leadership dating back to the unification of the boroughs into New York City in 1898, and back to the first mayor of the city, Thomas Willett, in 1665.

The history of the city is celebrated in old sepia photographs, wall-size topographical maps and reproduction manuscripts on display within the library and in a visitor center next to the library.

Yet there is not a hint of any of this on the granite exterior of the imposing Beaux-Arts building at 31 Chambers Street, behind City Hall….The librarians say the courthouse’s status as a designated landmark means that they are not allowed to hang a sign on the building’s exterior.

Grand Central Station, circa 1937 - one of the images available from New York city's Municipal Archives.

Grand Central Station, circa 1937 – one of the images available from New York city’s Municipal Archives.

If you can’t get there, though, no worry: Much of the Municipal Archives’ photographic holdings were digitized and put online last year—the interest was so immediate that it crashed the server. It’s an astonishing collection of historical imagery, which you can see here. Many of the old glass-plate negatives that the NYPD shot of crime scenes back in the early 20th century were used by Luc Sante in his ghostly book, Evidence.

 

Now Playing: ‘Gimme the Loot’

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Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson in ‘Gimme the Loot’

gimme_the_loot-posterOne of the most impressive directorial debuts in too long is now inching its way into smaller theaters around the country. Gimme the Loot (presented by Jonathan Demme) is a fresh, honest, and heartbreaking comic drama that follows a pair of Bronx teen graffiti artists—who might or might not be in love—around the city over a revelatory couple of sweltering summer days.

My full review is at PopMatters; here’s part of it:

For all its guerrilla graffiti backdrop, Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot is really a classic Nothing Was Ever The Same After That Summer story. His characters face tests on the limits of their goodness and their inabilities to demarcate the borders of friendship and love. After two sweltering summer days during the lives of a couple of Bronx teenagers, their lives will be changed, only not for the reasons they imagine…

You can watch the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Nobody Walks’

With much less fanfare than greeted her HBO show Girls, Lena Dunham worked on Nobody Walks, a kind of lo-fi hipster / L.A. trash bed-hopping melodrama that gets creepier the closer you look at it. My full review is at PopMatters:

At the start of Nobody Walks, 20something New York artist Martine (Olivia Thirlby) gets off a plane in Los Angeles and promptly gets into a heavy make-out session with the handsome man putting her bags in his car. Right there in the parking garage, he begins unbuckling his belt and she puts her hand on his chest and tells him that it was really great talking to him on the plane, but…. He cocks a “can’t blame a guy for trying” look at her, and then gives her a lift. It’s an innocuous and seemingly funny scene, the kind of fumbling comedy you would expect from cowriter Lena Dunham…

Nobody Walks is already playing in limited release.

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Cosmopolis’

Adapted by David Cronenberg from Don DeLillo’s prescient 2003 novel, Cosmopolis is set in a fantastical New York of the present or near-future, a nebulous universe that feels like a recent William Gibson novel—this might be the future, but it’s barely five minutes hence. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a 28-year-old wizard of some species of speculative, quantitative finance who has made his billions and now can’t seem to wait to set his entire universe on fire. He drifts through the city in a white limo that looks outside like all the others, but inside is a fully wired and soundproof command center that keeps him wired to his empire while sitting in traffic on the way to get a haircut…

The deadpan, crazed Cosmpolis opens tomorrow in limited release; seek it out when it comes to your town, there’s nothing else like it.

My full review is at Film Journal International.

The trailer is here:

New in Theaters: ’2 Days in New York’

If you’re looking to improve box office, it might make sense to replace Adam Goldberg with Chris Rock. As a leading man opposite co-star/writer/director Julie Delpy in her romantic comedy 2 Days in Paris, Goldberg chiseled a bit of comic gold, but he was hardly a draw for most moviegoers. Rock, who replaces him in 2 Days in New York, is a star with proven appeal, even if his on-screen timing has always been a poor cousin to his stage persona. But, as it turns out, this tradeoff is costly…

2 Days in New York opened last Friday; my full review is at PopMatters.

Trailer is here: