Imagineering New York

By McLain Clutter

In 1966, under the threat of bankruptcy and crumbling urban infrastructure, New York City mayor John Lindsay signed Executive Order 10 – a measure intended to attract the film industry to New York. Major film productions such as The Night They Raided Minsky’s (William Friedkin, 1968) and Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969) were soon drawn to the city. The financial effects of the policy were immediate, adding $20 million to New York’s economy in the second half of 1966 alone, and bolstering the city’s waning tax base. Simultaneously, Lindsay’s City Planning Commission was producing a variety of policies that, perhaps unconsciously, presupposed a cinematic experience of the city by the individual on the street. This attitude is legible in sections of planning documents such as the 1969 Plan For New York City, the 1967 publication The threatened city: a report on the design of the city of New York, and the 1969 film What is the City But the People? In effect, the policies of the Lindsay Administration were inviting cinema production to New York’s streets, while conceiving of those streets Cinematically.

Mayor Lindsay’s policies proved effective on several levels: economic, juridical, and aesthetic. But the contention of this thesis is that all of these effects were discursively engaged within an apparatus of institutional interests that was both inclusive and determinant of the economic stability of New York and the film industry, the prevailing ideology behind policy in Lindsay’s Planning Commission, and the subjective affect of the cinema spectator and the New Yorker. Thus, by surveying Lindsay’s policies, and the complex set of interests they involve, the nature of the apparatus in which they participated may be illuminated; and a historic relationship between New York, its cinematic representation, and the New Yorker may be described.