I've spoken about Nelson Sullivan's videos here a number of time (see links at the bottom of the post), but -- for the uninitiated -- Nelson was this video pioneer, of a sort, who painstakingly documented his doings -- however ordinary -- with a big, honkin' camcorder. Without the comparatively streamlined technology of today, he managed to capture the sights, sounds and scenes of downtown Manhattan throughout the 80's, encapsulating his meanderings in a candid, laissez-faire manner that was in keeping with the more relaxed posture of the pre-Dinkins/Giuliani/Bloomberg eras of the city. In terms of why he was doing it, I'm afraid I cannot say, but -- y'know, why not? Thank God he did, as his work has provided a telling glimpse back at a city that is barely recognizable three decades later. Sadly, Nelson passed away in 1989, leaving his extensive catalog of archival clips to NYU.
In any case, if you curious about the NYC of that era, you'd do well to seek his stuff out.
The clip I'm highlighting in this post probably won't blow a new part in anyone's hair unless they're from around here. In it, Nelson captures a leisurely stroll from an apartment on East 9th Street, east of Tompkins Square Park in Alphabet City, to a destination across town in the West Village on a sleepy July 4th in 1986.
Now, again, if you're not a New Yorker, this is probably going to seem like some pretty tame shit, but viewed from the vantage point of 2018, there are some notable points to take in.
On a purely surface level, yes it's cool to see several since-vanished landmarks like the old Aztec Café in the East Village, the Lone Star Café on Fifth Avenue (replete with signature roof-reptile) and Bowlmor Lanes on University Place, but I was more struck by the fact that these three dudes --- evidently a pop band called The Pop Tarts, whose work I must confess to not being at all familiar with -- are all depicted casually sipping from open containers of Heineken, a stunt that would invariably not fly in the NYC of today.
Beyond that, though, witness how refreshingly rough-around-the-edges the neighborhoods they pass through still look. The walls are covered with flyers and street art. The businesses, by and large, are all independent, mom'n'pop affairs. Moreover, the byways of Manhattan look practically deserted. The streets and sidewalks are almost empty of traffic.
Suffice to say, that city is gone. Have a look, as it's probably not coming back.