I just got back from a trip to Italy, Rome and Spoleto. After a few hectic days in the capital, we drove to a lovely country cottage in the hills of Umbria. Andrea, the guy who owned the property, told me he had been to New York once, for two days, and he felt like he was an extra on a film set and was waiting for a movie star to walk by. That is exactly how I felt walking down the streets of Rome. I felt like I was on the set of one of my favorite movies of all time, Roman Holiday (1953) and I kept waiting for Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck to whiz by on a Vespa.
Film, often even more than fiction, has the power to shape our “memories” of places we’ve never seen. There have been scores of films shot on location in New York City, but not too many that depict life in SoHo pre-1985. Only one film that takes place in the 70’s that is shot, at least in part, in SoHo comes to mind (although I’m sure there are others), Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978), in which, if I remember correctly, a newly divorced Upper East Side woman finds romance and freedom with a downtown artist.
It is not until the mid-1980’s that we see a glimpse of everyday life in SoHo at the movies, first, in Martin Scorcese’s After Hours (1985), in which a man gets trapped in SoHo with a bunch of off-the-wall characters with whom he gets involved in a series of unlikely sticky situations. The film was hugely popular, and I admit it has its moments, but the idea that this man was “stuck” downtown with no cash, when he could easily just walk to the Upper West Side irked me to no end. Being so close to the situation depicted made it impossible for me to suspend disbelief.
And then there is Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), in which a man falls in love with his wife’s sister who lives with a painter in SoHo. Allen’s SoHo is the already-spifified SoHo—not the dark, subversive SoHo of Scorcese or the even more exotic industrial SoHo of Mazursky. All three films, however, use SoHo to represent the unknown, where the protagonist is the outsider in uncharted territory, much like Rome is used in Roman Holiday for the princess of the unspecified country.
So there I was, a SoHo native in Rome, a stranger in a strange land, not the Rome of princesses and journalists falling in love, but Rome in 2011. And now that I am back in New York and am thinking back on my trip, I still recall not Berlusconi’s Rome, but the black and white Rome of Audrey and Greg. After AT LEAST fifteen viewings of Roman Holiday and merely two actual visits to Rome in my life thus far, my experiential memories are still proving to be far less vivid (and thus less REAL?) than my cinematic ones.
A scene from An Unmarried Woman (1978), directed by Paul Mazursky (especially between 5:00 and 8:00):
The trailer from After Hours (1985), directed by Martin Scorcese:
A scene from Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), directed by Woody Allen (especially through 2:20):
The trailer from Roman Holiday (1953), directed by William Wyler:
Tags: After Hours, An Unmarried Woman, Hannah and Her Sisters, History of SoHo, Loft Living, Martin Scorecese, New York 1970's, Paul Mazursky, Roman Holiday, Rome, SoHo 1970's, SoHo in film, William Wyler, Woody Allen