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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Destroying New York

What better way to start a New Year -- traditionally a time for looking forward in hope and making resolutions towards a better self -- than to ponder the destruction of a major city? This thought is all too reasonable given the beginning of what's sure to be a growing onslaught of advertisement for the film Cloverfield, in which "a monster the size of a skyscraper descends upon the city." Coming on the heels of Will Smith's I Am Legend -- a film based on a 1954 science fiction novel set in a post-apocalyptic LA, but moved to New York because "it's hard to make Los Angeles feel empty" -- there appears to be some sort of trend, or at least acceptability, in the physical destruction of New York City.

[Poster for Cloverfield]

Of course Hollywood films that depict the destruction of New York City are nothing new, as can be seen by this recent list prompted by Will Smith's stroll through a deserted Manhattan. The timing of the two movies mentioned above may just be a coincidence, though rarely in Hollywood are things so detached. But rather than delve into the Hollywood grist-mill and the playful competition that studios partake in, I propose that the films are coming out now because of two things: the acceptability of imagining the physical destruction of the city a full six years after September 11, and the growing awareness and concern over global climate change. In other words, they combine fears of attack (by others) and fears of destruction (by ourselves).

[Detail from poster for Cloverfield]

Obviously what makes these, and other films so appealing is the fantastical imagery, balancing the familiar (bustling streets, notable buildings, recognizable skylines) and the amazing (empty streets, crumbling buildings, smoking skylines). The CGI-heavy imagery of Cloverfield certainly exhibits this, but after a certain level of destruction (below image) it congeals into a generic ruined urban landscape, resembling illustrations from a mid-20th-century sci-fi story rather than the city that existed before the skyscraper-sized monsters.

[Still from Cloverfield]

Without having seen either of these films, it seems that what they are saying (indirectly, at least) is that the physical construction of the city is as important as the people within. This isn't to say that objects are on par with living things, but when the city is seen as the physical expression of life, in all its good and bad respects, it is hard to deny the city's importance. But is all this imagined destruction also saying the bad respects are outweighing the good these days, and a brighter future is becoming harder and harder to picture?


  1. Regarding your comment that the physical construction of the city is on par with the inhabitants of the city; while viewing 'I am Legend', the imagery of the abandoned and destructed New York City had more of an impact on me than the notion of humanity turning its self into a collection of monsters. I know this to be the case as well, with most of the people I saw the movie with!

  2. Someone said (Behrens or Kahn?) that good architecture become beautiful ruins.

    Traditionally architects built, but how could be a city destroyed by architects?...
    Perhaps this everytime happens.

    Happy new year 2008

  3. You might be right re: loss of hope for a brighter future, but only, perhaps, on a very meta-zietgiest level. Easily swayed, probably. Hopefully.

    Your entry made me think about what people gravitate too. Faces are big. Advertising illustrates this many times over, daily. We are always drawn to faces. Past that, we look for the familiar. Hollywood was tugging heart strings that were strenghened by NYC's beauty, history and its renewed familiarity due to 9/11.

    That, more abstractly, grapples onto the idea that place is important. Be they a home or one's favorite building or bridge, we are drawn to place emotionally and, perhaps secondarily, for the same reason our attention is drawn to faces. And NYC is distinctive and infinately more recognizeable than most of LA.

    Though I have not seen it, I assumed that I AM LEGEND was relying on the fascination based on the incongruity of a dense urban center as ghost town. That and the issues The World Without Us raises.

    Great post.

  4. jack - Looks like that's one reason to see that film in the theater!

    il.balan - Sounds like Kahn, though does that mean bad architecture becomes bad ruins?

    A.L. Deviant - Faces of buildings like faces of people is a nice way of thinking about it. And that book's on my "to pick up and read" list. Great idea for a book, regardless of what is actually said within it.

  5. well, I think that "bad arquitecture" simply disappears in the time...
    in the other hand, I don't believe in "bad architecture". I only call "architecture" to "good architecure". bad architecture is only for me "simple construction".

    interesting points!
    thanks for sharing.

  6. Where'd you get the last picture from? whoever is saying that's a still from Cloverfield is either an idiot or a liar. It's actually a portion of an image by Daniel Kvasznicza, here's a link to the original.

  7. Brian - That would be me saying that, so I'm both an idiot and a liar. I believe I found it here or somewhere like that (can't recall for sure) with the 01.18.08 mark, so I figured it was related to the film. I wasn't sure if it was from a poster or a pre-production art piece or what, so I took a leap and called it a still. I'll be much more careful in the future.


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