The Film Forum is in the middle of a great, ground-breaking series devoted to movies that put you in a time machine. But the series isn’t science fiction, it's called "New Yawk New Wave," and it's a startling collection of the revolutionary, up-from-the-underground features that invented independent filmmaking as we know it right here in the streets of New York.
In the '50s, '60s and '70s, New York filmmaking was all about going out and catching the reality in front of you. What's intoxicating about this series, apart from the sheer number of great movies it includes, is that every one of the films is, in effect, an extraordinary "you are there" document of the moment it was made.
That's true of legendary non-fiction films like "On The Bowery" or the "City Symphonies," and it's also true of Stanley Kubrick's 1955 "Killer's Kiss," which is playing this weekend. It is a feverishly exciting, shot-on-a-shoestring noir about a struggling boxer, but the film's most memorable star is New York itself — the fog and lights of Times Square in the '50s, the grimy brick tenements that make this one of the first movies to truly capture Manhattan's mean streets.
"New Yawk New Wave," which is playing at Film Forum through the end of January, features a number of legendary cult relics, like Norman Mailer's "Maidstone," a one-of-a-kind quasi-home movie that showcases the author at his most contentiously fascinating, and Andy Warhol's "Trash," which mixes low-budget, drug-and-drag-queen camp into a strangely sincere gutter anthem.
A movie I urge you to see, if you never have, is Kenneth Anger's "Scorpio Rising," the visionary 1963 S&M, "leader of the pack meets Jesus meets Satan" fantasia that turns the twin subcultures of New York bikers and gay leather bars into the world's first and still greatest music video.
Other films still to play in the series include 1969's "Coming Apart," in which Rip Torn, as a twisted psychologist, experiences the sexual revolution in full flower, and David Holzman's "Diary," which 45 years ago may, in effect, have been the first reality TV show.
For pure New York flavor and intensity, though, the film in this series to put at the top of your must-see list is "Who’s That Knocking At My Door," the astonishing first feature by Martin Scorsese. Made in 1967, it is an arresting early sketch for "Mean Streets," and in that sense it is the movie that would open the door to the New York new-wave underground going overground.