Midnight Cowboy. Courtesy of Park Circus.

Fun City: New York in the Movies 1967–75

August 10–September 1, 2013

Organized by guest curator J. Hoberman 

In November 1965, New York elected a young mayor with movie-star looks; six months into his reign, John V. Lindsay signed an executive order that would turn the city into a movie set.

The Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting cut through existing red tape, encouraging the filming of motion pictures on the city’s streets. Hollywood took notice with a cycle of tough cop films, bleak social comedies, and gritty urban fables, capturing the feel of the city in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The ironic coinage “Fun City” first appeared in a Dick Schaap column that ran in response to a remark made by the new mayor at his first press conference: “This is a fun and exciting city even when it’s a struck city.” That was one way to put it. Born with a transit strike, ending amid the gas lines that followed the oil embargo of 1973, Fun City was a town in continuous crisis.

Whatever the mayor’s intentions, the movies produced on his watch rarely glamorized New York. Rather, they provide a still-compelling, exuberantly downbeat spectacle of social upheaval and urban decay, ethnic tension, and street smart chutzpah, drawing on local talent to celebrate America’s greatest city in all its glory and despair.