“You Have To Give A Sense Of What People Wanted”

Martin Scorsese has drawn on his own youth and his feelings about the past—and has rebuilt 1860s New York—to make a movie about the fight for American democracy. Here he tells why it is both so hard and so necessary to get history on film.

I spoke with Martin Scorsese in early September about his forthcoming movie Gangs of New York. The setting was the Park Avenue offices of his Cappa production company, where he was still hard at work, editing and finishing his film. The offices were spacious and well appointed, with shelves full of bound volumes of movie magazines and framed movie posters hanging on almost every wall.Read more »

The Tenement Museum

On Manhattan’s Lower East Side you can visit a haunting re-creation of a life that was at once harder and better than we remember

For many immigrants, moving to a new country is in ways like becoming a child again. Like children, they have few connections outside of their immediate families; some cannot speak the language well and are assumed to be ignorant and mute; they may have few skills or few ways to apply those skills. And like children, they feel strongly the pain of loneliness. The vast majority of American immigrant families, whether they came here in 1790 or 1990, have known this loneliness, but their descendants don’t know what that feels like.

 
 
 
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“The Supreme Laboratory Of The American Experiment”

One of America’s greatest documentary filmmakers takes on America’s greatest city: Ric Burns discusses his new PBS series, New York

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The Riot That Remade A City

How a mass killing 150 years ago made today’s New York a better place

The children are back at Columbine High School now— if they can still truly be called children after the terrible violence perpetrated upon them. We can only hope that the murder of twelve of their classmates was a random moment of madness. We can only hope, that is, for in the time since the killings in Littleton, Colorado, we have proved ourselves unable to address whether or not they reflect any greater, underlying problems in American society and, if so, what we should do about them. Read more »

The Force Behind The Whitney

American art was hardly more than a cultural curiosity in the early years of this century. Now it is among the world’s most influential, and much of the credit belongs to a self-made woman named Juliana Force.

Today, when a painting by a living American artist fetches seventeen million dollars at auction, as a picture by Jasper Johns did last year, or when hundreds of people stand in line to get into a museum, as they did for the retrospectives of Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, and Georgia O’Keeffe, it is almost impossible to imagine the hostility and suspicion long encountered by American artists. In the early years of this century, a painter of independent or nonconformist leanings was a pariah.Read more »

III. They’re Still There

The great buildings of the 1920s are standing all over Manhattan, preserving in masonry the swank and swagger of an exuberant era.

New York rebuilt itself in the twenties. The most anarchic, self-regarding, self-proclaiming city of them all achieved its new self by an astounding vertical leap that thrilled, disordered, delighted, and terrified the critics who tried to take its measure. Since then Manhattan has suffered at least three origins of demolition, but many of the classics of that barely believable era remain — almost a miracle in a city where the concrete never sets. Read more »

Gods Of Pennsylvania Station

A trackside album of celebrities from the days when the world went by train

A person used to enter New York City “like a god,” said the art critic Vincent Scully, but “one scuttles in now like a rat.” Read more »

Dirty-faced David & The Twin Goliaths

One of the country’ more bizzarre labor disputes pitted a crowed of outraged newsboys against two powerful opponents—Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolf Hearst

Joseph Pulitzer, nearly blind, suffering from bouts of depression, and so sensitive to sound he exploded when the silverware was rattled, managed his newspapers in absentia for the last twenty years of his life.Read more »

Avery

A gathering of little-known drawings from Columbia
University’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library illuminates two centuries of American building

ONE OF THE WORLD’S most renowned architectural institutions is named for a virtually unknown architect who died at age thirty-eight, too young to have made more than a promising start in his own career. In 1890, the year of Henry Ogden Avery’s death, his parents founded the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University in New York City and donated two thousand books from their son’s professional library as well as the drawings from his brief career. Read more »

Lullaby Of Tin Pan Alley

The ceaseless clatter of cheap pianos from a mid-Manhattan side street was once music to all America

ONE DAY IN 1922 a young would-be composer named Richard Rodgers paid a call on Max Dreyfus, head of the publishing firm of T. B. Harms and dean of Tin Pan Alley. Rodgers had been there before; three years earlier, Max’s brother Louis had shown him the door, saying, “Keep going to high school and come back some other time.” This time, however, Max himself granted him an audience. “This ascetic-looking titan of the music business sat with eyes half-closed as I played my songs,” wrote Rodgers in his autobiography.Read more »