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Monthly Design Review - November 2017

This month's review concentrates on the relationship between cities and cinema. As a departure from our usual image-heavy list, the following books are mostly non-fiction literature, a cross between urban and cinema studies. Here's to big metropolitans and the films that portray them!


STARRING NEW YORK: Filming the Grime and the Glamour of the Long 1970s (Stanley Corkin,2011)

The book examines the films shot in NYC during the dramatic decade that was the 1970s, against a background of high crime rates, institutional disfunction and citywide since of disillusion. The films discussed, including "Mean Streets", "Serpico" and "Klute" picture the city's racial and ethnic populations, its elite enclaves and decaying districts, its sometimes vibrant and often violent street-life and its complex social structures.

To buy the book go to Amazon.


DOLCE VITA CONFIDENTIAL: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome (Shawn Levy, 2016)

Gossipy, colorful, and richly informed, Dolce Vita Confidential re-creates Rome’s stunning ascent with vivid and compelling tales of its glitterati and artists, down to every last outrageous detail of the city’s magnificent transformation. A confluence of cultural contributions created a bright, burning moment in history, and Rome’s huge movie studio, Cinecitta, attracted a dizzying array of stars. The scene was captured nowhere better than in Federico Fellini’s masterpiece, La Dolce Vita, starring Marcello Mastroianni and the Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg. It was condemned for its licentiousness, when in fact Fellini was condemning the very excess, narcissism, and debauchery of Rome’s bohemian scene.

To buy the book go to Amazon.


DARK CITY: The Lost World of Film Noir (Eddie Muller, 1998)

Dark City presents post-WWII Hollywood as ground zero in the explosion of artistic, political, and cultural cynicism that engulfs us today. It entwines classic silver screen fictions with intriguing factual back-stories about the people who created the moody and mysterious world of film noir. The truth is often bleaker—and more cruelly humorous—than the darkest cinematic concoctions. The author relates this slice of cinema history with the headlong thrust of crime fiction, peppered with the hardboiled argot of the period.

To purchase the book visit Amazon.


CITIES AND CINEMA (Barbara Mennel, 2008)

Cities and Cinema puts urban theory and cinema studies in dialogue. The book’s first section analyzes three important genres of city films that follow in historical sequence, each associated with a particular city, moving from the city film of the Weimar Republic to the film noir associated with Los Angeles and the image of Paris in the cinema of the French New Wave. The second section discusses socio-historical themes of urban studies, beginning with the relationship of film industries and individual cities, continuing with the portrayal of war torn and divided cities, and ending with the cinematic expression of utopia and dystopia in urban science fiction. The last section negotiates the question of identity and place in a global world, moving from the portrayal of ghettos and barrios to the city as a setting for gay and lesbian desire, to end with the representation of the global city in transnational cinematic practices.

The book suggests that modernity links urbanism and cinema. It accounts for the significant changes that city film has undergone through processes of globalization, during which the city has developed from an icon in national cinema to a privileged site for transnational cinematic practices. It is a key text for students and researchers of film studies, urban studies and cultural studies.

To purchase the book visit Amazon.


BLACK CITY CINEMA: African American Urban Experiences In Film (Paula Massood , 2003)

In Black City Cinema, Paula Massood shows how popular films reflected the massive social changes that resulted from the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to cities in the North, West, and Mid-West during the first three decades of the twentieth century.

The book probes into the relationship of place and time, showing how urban settings became an intrinsic element of African American film as Black people became more firmly rooted in urban spaces and more visible as historical and political subjects. Illuminating the intersections of film, history, politics, and urban discourse, she considers the chief genres of African American and Hollywood narrative film: the black cast musicals of the 1920s and the "race" films of the early sound era to blaxploitation and hood films, as well as the work of Spike Lee toward the end of the century. As it examines such a wide range of films over much of the twentieth century, this book offers a unique map of Black representations in film.

To purchase the book visit Amazon.



The film is a video essay by Thom Andersen exploring the way Los Angeles has been presented in movies. Consisting almost entirely of clips from other films with narration, the essay compares the city as it exists in real life with its depictions on screen. In addition to critical analysis, Andersen explains how directors portray the city itself as a character, and he also delves into L.A.'s dark history.

The film is available on youtube, among other platforms.

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