As magnificent a place as New York is today, it is only a watered down version of it’s 70′s self. It’s impossible to describe to people who weren’t there what NY was like in the 70′s. There was an attitude an energy an element of danger that permeated almost every inner city neighborhood in the 5 Boroughs. At the same time there was also an element of community and camaraderie necessary to survive or just stay out of trouble. Nowhere was this more evident than in the South Bronx, and no film captures this time better than the documentary by Gary Weiss, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s. One sound-byte from a gang member featured in the the film sums up the South Bronx in the 70′s best.
“I’ve seen … 57s … I’ve seen 12-gauge shotguns, I’ve seen 12-gauge pumps … I’ve seen a .45 military special with a clip on the street … I’ve seen fuckin’ Thompsons. A damn Thompson! I’ve seen it! I’ve seen hand grenades, I’ve seen damn beer-can bazookas getting made. That thing hit you, just the same as being hit with a gun! I’ve seen .22 zip guns, I’ve seen .38 zip guns. I see things you never think you’ll see on the street. I’ve seen dynamite. I’ve seen all this, man; you’d be surprised. Pretty soon, they’re going to steal the damn atom bomb!”
If you are interested in the contemporary history of New York you should watch this film. 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s has more of the original fabric that made up NY in the 70′s than any other fictional or documentary film to date. It makes cultural references long forgotten by the NY of today. You feel the grease, you see the grime, you feel the first beats of today’s urban art and music scene pulsating through every frame. If you want to lay claim to being a true New Yorker you should learn it’s history, and there is no better history lesson than 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s.
This fall, the film is seeing a reissue on DVD, making it available for the first time in 25 years. It is available below in it’s entirety with the exception of an 8 minute section in which there is no audio due to youtube restrictions. For more information about this remarkable film log onto the Guardian.co.uk