Everything brutal and cheesy and wonderful about movies was happening in NYC in 1981 (at least onscreen). Dudley Moore was getting caught between the moon and New York City in the shamelessly romantic Arthur. Gritty urban poets Abel Ferrara and Sidney Lumet were hitting new highs—lows, really—with, respectively, Ms .45 and Prince of the City. And our bedrock activities, dinner and neurotic arguing, were crystalized in the intensely verbal Wallace Shawn-athon My Dinner with Andre.
Beginning this Thursday, all of these movies and more will be playing during the coming 16 days at the Lower East Side's beloved Metrograph, in a series it's calling "NYC '81." You get a terrific sense of a city in Koch-era transition, struggling its way out of a '70s malaise that made national headlines. Is the series timely? Perhaps. This Friday also sees the release of the instantly controversial Joker (read our review), set in a grungy "Gotham" that looks distinctly like New York circa 1981, down to the posters for Excalibur and Blow Out.
Joker is not in Metrograph's series, which sticks to 1981 vintage, but the new movie feels devoted to the same aesthetic. John Carpenter's immortal Escape from New York, meanwhile, is included; it's a better nightmare in every respect, connecting then-current crime anxieties to a free-floating, post-Watergate cynicism about authority. Metrograph has even tricked up an amazing piece of promotional signage, based on some cheapo computer graphics from Carpenter's classic: