Book Review: Celluloid Skyline

Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies by James Sanders

Billed as a "tale of two cities - both called 'New York'," James Sanders - a practicing architect and a co-writer of Ric Burns's New York: A Documentary Film - takes a look at the real and the mythic city through the medium of movies. The book begins at the beginning, when the movie camera was invented and New York City was its star in 19th century "actualities", scenes of daily life in the big city. Moving on to Hollywood's constructed reality, where the Big Apple was recreated and redefined in the eyes of expatriate writers and other creatives, the book abandons a chronological take in the second half, in favor of a typological and place-based analysis. Sanders examination of movie New York is extremely thorough and abundantly illustrated, be it film stills, production sketches, behind-the-scenes photos, and reference images of the real city. The author finds meaning in a diverse range of films, from obvious classics like Rear Window to popular entertainments like Splash. A thirteen-page filmography illustrates the wealth of features that use New York City as its setting and the time-intensive research the author undertook. The reader is that much better off for Sanders's perseverance and obvious love of film, apparent not only in the amazing book but the equally-impressive web page, a visually delightful and educational online incarnation.