These clips are from a 1948 film appropriately titled In The Street. Filmed by James Agee, Helen Levitt, and Janice Loeb, the film documents street life in New York City. Similar scenes would no doubt be common in many major American cities in the first half of the 20th century, including Louisville. It’s especially interesting in light of a conversation earlier about city life as seen from this 1906 panorama in Downtown Louisville.
From the introductory reel:
The streets of the poor quarters of great cities are, above all, a theater and a battleground.
There, unaware and unnoticed, every human being is a poet, a masker, a warrior, a dancer: and in his innocent artistry he projects, against the turmoil of the street, an image of human existence.
(via Wooster Collective)
Rich with poetry and implications. Helen Levitt is one of my favorite photographers. The last time I was in New York I made a pilgrimage to the Laurence Miller Gallery to see an exhibit combining her images with another favorite, Cartier-Bresson. What is fascinating here is seeing the players in her photos come alive and enacting archetypal dramas. Just delightful.
There are several things to learn here: I love the bricolage of play and childhood invention. A certain kind of freedom and ‘debris’ mean children invent – games, dramas, dances… and they learn people and boundaries and selves. Such play involves risks most people are reluctant to let children – and especially teenagers – take. Our skate park is a rare exception. I wish there were ‘organically present’ adults as shopkeepers, hangout owners nearby so kids could truly hang comfortably with more things to do. I wish there were reasons for adults to inhabit the space with them. The segregation of youth does not help us.
One thing to think about as we head towards downtown living and density is that what we see in this film is the poor grabbing delight and meaning from lack and necessity. Do the wealthier who now first inhabit urban development have the inner skills it takes to make place and community there? If they have come from years of adult-formed soccer teams and music lessons, etc., will such serious play happen to them? Can they learn that it IS okay to talk to strangers?
I would love to take a camera out and find spontaneous interaction and play, do a modern version of this film and the Whyte film here in Louisville. I think we could learn a lot juxtaposing the old play and drama with the new.