The Baroness in the Adirondacks

Last year, we were asked to participate in an ambitious project conceived and directed by the amazing minds of Cassandra Guan and Lily Benson. I’ll let their description explain the project:

The Filmballad of MAMADADA is an experimental, feminist biodrama about the marginalized Dadaist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Its content has been produced collaboratively by an international group of filmmakers and artists. Participants undertook to interpret and adapt fragments from Freytag-Loringhoven’s biography, working in piecemeal fashion toward a collective narrative. The resulting compilation (a total of 49 passages) is being edited into a feature-length film, its representation of history fractured through a shifting series of authorial lenses. This unconventional process of production can be imagined as a game of exquisite corpse unfolding in time, giving shape to an intricate web of desires and fears surrounding identity politics today.

We were charged with a portion of the year 1923: Elsa has returned to Berlin penniless, cold, with only an unfurnished apartment. Inspired, we decided to portray Elsa’s outer landscape as a reflection of her inner landscape. This January of 2013, we shot our scene lakeside in the January subzero Adirondacks, near the town of Old Forge. MaryAnn Nelson, an extremely talented local actress, was our Baroness.


MaryAnn Nelson

A lake dock is transformed from a dormant memory of summer to a confined room.


Prudence demonstrating the proper use of safety goggles

Does the window allow her to look out or look in?


MaryAnn Nelson and William

Cassandra Guan recently cut a trailer for “The Filmballad of MAMADADA.” Excerpts from our sequence are seen in the cut before and after the title card, and in the very last cut.

Roberta Brandes Gratz interview

We recently interviewed author and historic preservationist Roberta Brandes Gratz during a gray and rainy afternoon. Her most recent book is Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, and she regaled us, as the rain turned to fat white flakes of sleet, with tales of New York City’s past as only a true New Yorker can do.

Dan Fridman, our trusted cinematographer,  also did a splendid job with his lights set-up and in holding the reigns of the two-camera shoot (our AF100 and the new Blackmagic camera).

The Port and Sandy

In October we had the pleasure of speaking with Eric Darton, author of Divided We Stand: A Biography of the World Trade Center. Our interview’s finale was in Battery Park City, with the marina and the World Financial Center as our backdrop.

The Freedom Tower as framed by Battery Park City

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An 1890 Manhattan Patchwork!

This amazing, confusing-to-read, quilt was created from census data showing the nationality mix of the time – A glorious island of immigrants!

Here’s some of what the creator’s of the map had to say:

The census of 1890 obtained the nationality of the residents of each sanitary district by descent from the mother. The table in which this appears was made the basis of the nationality map. As a basis it will appear fair enough when it is considered that at the time of the census over seventy-six percent of the white population in the city had foreign-born mothers, and over forty per cent. were foreign-born themselves. So the latter certainly, and probably a majority of the thirty-six percent. of native-born of foreign mothers, would show the traits of their maternal nationality. All the nationalities given in the table are not plotted. The Scotch, English, Welsh, Scandinavian, and Canadians have not collected in colonies, but are scattered over the city. These, being in small numbers, and perhaps less foreign than the others, were disregarded.

Check out an awesome, cross-hatched 1890 density map, along with insightful commentary from Making Maps: Diy Cartography

Good Morning, America, how are you?

Scott Wooledge of the Daily Kos just wrote a concise review of the newest nationally acclaimed urban, cautionary tale since the “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.” “Detropia” is a slice-o-life meditation on a city blinking on the edge, and, as Wooledge points out, there is no mention of the stark race stratification between those who live within the city limits of Detroit and those who live in the suburbs or NAFTA: this film contains more pans of industrial ruins than hard statistics. The only point of contention I have with Wooledge is his observation that college educated folks under 35 (he doesn’t mention that they are mostly white folks) are the film’s only “tantalizing glimmer of hope.” I would think that the glimmer of hope was the announcement that 2,500 jobs were to be added because of the Obama bailout?

But, the casting in this documentary is wonderfully fantastic – I recommend this movie on the portraits and conversations of these individuals alone. It is through these portraits that the directors were able to do a tidy job of showing how a whole ecosystem of nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, and even an opera, were blooming off of the monoculture of the car industry.


Now that the car industry has abandoned their native soil, perhaps it’s time to look again at the train – the original native son.

Who are streets for?

The Hunts Point Cooperative Market is desired by New York City not just for the food that enters and exits its terminal, but also for the jobs it provides. The Hunts Point Cooperative Market contributes to the congestion that snarls up the South Bronx, and to the diesel fumes that the neighborhood’s astronomical child asthma rate. But, it is also an actual job creator – a fact that even the FIRE obsessed Bloomberg administration can pay attention to.

Highways around the Hunts Point Cooperative Market courtesy NYCDOT

Highways around the Hunts Point Cooperative Market courtesy NYCDOT

But, even 17.5 million in city subsidies cannot be enough to entice the market to sign a long term lease. Why? Because, Charles V. Bagli of the New York Times explains, trucks that deliver the produce are often ticketed, policed and harangued by the Business Integrity Commission, “a city agency created to root out organized crime in the carting industry.” I imagine that a lot of tickets are given if trucks have to contend with tucking themselves into that tiny off-shoot of land.

What if New York City focused on a transportation network that wasn’t just for the pleasure of the average car commuter driving from Greenwich to Wall Street? When New York City started to abandon its manufacturing, it stopped planning for diverse transportation modes that involved rail and ships. Now the infrastructure, and thus the economy of 21st Century NYC is suffering.

© The American Arts

Could a city of trucks also co-exist with a city of people? What would happen if people were not afraid to interact with their own streets? Ulrich Franzen illustrated these revolutionary notions in his 1969 film “STREET.” The Urban Omnibus wrote a loving little article about the short and is also hosting the video. I recommend watching this for the funky music alone.