Take a Walk: Time Traveling Through the City Streets

Time Traveling on the Upper West Side, 1971 (click text here to go to film)

Take a Walk

New York is made for walking. And it’s a city that lends itself to image making, from still photography to home movies.  To see the city from a “common” or everyday point of view seems both literally and figuratively quite pedestrian. But with the passage of time, that point of view becomes magical, offering viewers the opportunity to time travel and walk through the streets of Manhattan in another era.

Here are just a few of my favorite films shot on the street. They are surprisingly modern in many ways, but in so many others, they come from a place (a time, a city) that no longer exists. The post-industrial eye is so familiar with the mediated image, but actual historic footage can be surprising. It often bears very little resemblance to the images we consume in television and films.

….and now, please take a walk with me….first stop, 1965:

Take a walk in New York City, 1965. click here to watch film

This film is an amazing string of still photographs taken as the photographer walks north along the city streets. The jump cuts, jittery shots, and altering perspective create a vivid experience that mimics the point of view of a real person on the streets of New York.

This film, shot in Times Square in 1951, pictures NYC in gorgeous black and white. The shots of restaurants, traffic, signs and theatre marquees are spectacular; but interjected into the movie is a chilling reminder of the state of world affairs: we watch as an air raid drill takes place. The later shots foreshadow the haunting Cold War film, The World, the Flesh and the Devil, set in New York City.

~Jenny Thompson


  1. The first two clips: notice almost all the women are wearing skirts, even in the 1970s.

    A walk through New York: it looked drab and depressing. Must have been a Sunday because there was so little foot traffic, but Central Park was crowded.

    And notice all the litter! Midtown was more beautiful when I was there this spring, after 43 years. The streets were definitely cleaner this time.

    1951: We visited New York that year when I was 10 years old. The vehicles and clothes sure looked familiar.
    I wasn't actually there, but I remember the air raid. It caused quite a stir in the movie newsreels (not much national TV yet). It was interesting to see the films showing on the marquees. And did you notice Judy Garland at the Palace?


    Although Garland appeared in concert as early as 1943, it was only when her film career stalled that she began regular concert appearances, beginning with a critically acclaimed 1951 concert series at the London Palladium. Garland set a record when she appeared for 19 weeks at the Palace Theatre in New York City, also in 1951, and her 1961 concert Judy at Carnegie Hall is often described as one of the greatest nights in show business history. She continued to tour until just three months prior to her death in 1969.

    I was surprised to see how small the Palace facade really was.


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