Film Forum resurrects a gritty city with ‘New York in the ’70s’

One of the most fertile periods of filmmaking in cinematic history comes back to life at Film Forum in a retrospective over the next few weeks that spans the gamut of New York movies made during the 1970s.

It was the right time and the right place for a renaissance. Iconic talents like Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin and Elaine May emerged on the scene, taking full advantage of a New Hollywood cinematic revolution that saw major, bold artistic works getting the sort of institutional support that they never had before and never would again.

Advances in technology, such as lighter cameras, allowed for complicated on-location shoots that took full advantage of what the city could offer.

The movies themselves — from 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy,” which heralded the era, through “The Warriors” at the decade’s close — directly reflected the popular perception of a city rife with crime and instability and the sort of gritty authenticity that you simply couldn’t find anywhere else.

“Though these films feel like the real city — and I remember NYC in the ’70s — many of them are really reflecting the public’s perception of the city in the wake of the Kitty Genovese case,” says Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s director of repertory programming, in an email. “In other words, it comes across as a city of fear, where you can’t walk into the subway without getting mugged, where people don’t get involved.”

The programming for “Ford to City: Drop Dead — New York in the ’70s” offers a tour through those mean streets — literally, in the case of Scorsese’s “Mean Streets,” which is here alongside “Taxi Driver.” But it also features a range of genres in the 44 movies on display from Wednesday through July 27.

For every well-known picture like Friedkin’s “The French Connection” or the abundance of Sidney Lumet movies (“Network,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico,” “The Anderson Tapes” and “The Wiz”), there’s a lesser-known alternative.

May’s comedy “A New Leaf,” her directorial debut starring Walter Matthau as a cad seeking to collect a rich woman’s inheritance, plays here. There’s an opportunity to screen “Born to Win,” which stars George Segal as a Times Square heroin addict opposite a young Robert De Niro.

Frank Perry’s “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” which depicts a love triangle involving Carrie Snodgress, Richard Benjamin and Frank Langella, is another notable rarity highlighted by Goldstein.

The New York City of these movies bears little resemblance to what its current leadership often touts as “the safest city in America,” but there are narratives with contemporary resonance on display as well.

Take as an example Hal Ashby’s “The Landlord,” a dramedy about a rich white man (Beau Bridges) who seeks to buy a building in Park Slope and brings with him the first wave of gentrification.

“It predicts the changes in the neighborhood and all over the city,” Goldstein says.