Scenes From the City

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A complex, many-sided portrait of New York, shot on location in films and television over the past half-century, capturing the fine-grained fabric of the city as well as the powerful changes that have reshaped it in that time.

Scenes From the City: Filmmaking in New York, with contributions by Martin Scorsese and Nora Ephron, offers an evocative survey of the metropolitan landscape over the past five decades, rendered in hundreds of feature films and television shows. Published by Rizzoli, the book was produced in association with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in 2006 to mark the 40th anniversary of the agency—the first of its kind in the world—whose founding in 1966 had sparked an explosion in film production in New York. A revised and expanded edition of the book was published in in 2014.

In his chronological, lavishly illustrated backstage tour, Mr. Sanders, an architect and filmmaker himself, details how assiduously [New York] wooed Hollywood…and reaped not only revenues but also an intangible reward: the “power to convert the daily reality of the city into a magical transcendent realm.
Sam Roberts, New York Times
The essence of New York is that it’s too big to be one thing—it’s the city as schizophrenic, with something for everybody, in any mood. So it’s appropriate that Scenes from the City is sufficiently varied, and luscious enough, to melt the heart of the fiercest partisan of pastoral pleasures.
Scott Eyman, New York Observer
#Mythic Places
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Where Celluloid Skyline conjures a “mythic New York” of the imagination, built of a century of feature films, Scenes From the City offers a survey of the real place, presented on screen since the late 1940s by filmmakers drawn to shoot in the actual streets, sidewalks, rooftops, and open spaces of the city, in such films as An Unmarried Woman (opening image), Manhattan (above, left), and West Side Story (above, right).

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Featuring three hundred images from 250 feature films and TV series, along with the insights of directors, producers, actors, art directors, cinematographers, and other moviemakers, Scenes From the City charts the rise of a new kind of filmmaking in New York the postwar era—one that would forever change the look and feel of American movies—even as it renders the evolving texture the texture and character of the city itself, from the elegant Fifth Avenue of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) to the brownstone streetscape of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant in Do the Right Thing (1989).

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Recognizing that New York, like all cities, exists in both time and space, Scenes from the City balances chronology and geography in its counterpointed structure. Within its primary, forward-moving framework, proceeding decade by decade from the mid-1960s onward, the book touches down regularly to explore closely various areas of the five boroughs: Coney Island to SoHo, Central Park to the Bronx, Greenwich Village to Brooklyn. In finer detail still, the book recalls some of the poignant urban moments caught on celluloid over the past half century, from John Turturro manning the window of a Brooklyn deli in Jungle Fever (1991) to Melanie Griffith in reverie on the Staten Island Ferry in Working Girl (1989).

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As it unfolds, Scenes From the City inevitably reveals the enormous changes New York has experienced over the last half century—especially the startling and unexpected transformation from the disorderly, crime-ridden city of the late 1960s and 1970s, which reached a kind of intense, even hallucinatory apotheosis in films of that era—including 1975’s Taxi Driver (above, left), to the secure, family-friendly playground of the 21st century, which enjoyed its own cultural blossoming in films such as 2004’s 13 Going on 30 (above, right).

Scenes From the City Inside Llewelyn Davis

A final thread of Scenes from the City traces the evolution—technical, logistical, creative—of location filmmaking itself, from the quasi-improvisational techniques of the 1960s to the large-scale production approach of the recent decades, such as the night shoot of Inside Llewelyn Davis (2013). The book seeks, ultimately, to allow readers to enter the very heart of the astonishing enterprise of bringing cameras, lights, equipment, crew, and some of the world’s most famous faces onto the streets of one of the busiest, most dynamic and most compelling “stages” on earth: New York.


James Sanders, Author of ‘Scenes From the City,’ on New York’s Filmic Presence,” Matthew Kassel, New York Observer, 6/27/2014

Hollywood and the City, Take 2,” Sam Roberts, New York Times, 2/23/2014: MB2

Scenes From the City,” John Patterson, DGA Quarterly Magazine, Spring 2007

From Park Slope to Katz's Deli: Gotham Captured on Celluloid,” Scott Eyman, New York Observer, 11/27/2006

Radio Interviews

The Treatment,” with Elvis Mitchell, KCRW, 2/14/2007

City on Screen,” with Sara Fisko, The Fisko Files, WNYC, 5/25/2007

The Leonard Lopate Show,” with Leonard Lopate, WNYC, 10/16/2006

  • Edited and Written by:
    James Sanders
  • Contributions by:
    Martin Scorsese
    Nora Ephron
  • Produced with:
    NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment
    Katherine Oliver, Commissioner
  • Funding:
    New York City Commission on Women’s Issues
  • Design:
    Michael Bierut, Pentagram
  • Photo Credits:
Next to New York: An Illustrated History