Whenever the movies show New York City at night, it’s usually with an air of menace: for every shot of Fred Astaire dancing in the dark with Cyd Charisse, there are 100 like the opening of Taxi Driver, with its throbbing, on-the-verge score by Bernard Herrmann punctuating those lurid nocturnal shots of sleaze-bitten Times Square, where light licks greasy rainsoaked streets while the steam pouring out of the standpipes and manhole covers seems like the smoke of hell itself.
Still photographs? Same thing. Weegee still rules.
Walk on the wild side in nighttime New York? Judging by the visual evidence, there’s no other option. Oh, but there is. Let James and Karla Murray show you.
The Murrays, who last gave us the enchanting Store Front, a daylight look at dozens of mom and pop stores across the five boroughs, have returned with New York Nights. But please don’t think of this as the noir version of the first book. It’s more like the Through the Looking Glass companion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Gotham at night for the Murrays is pure enchantment. The subjects are often humble: drug stores, bars, night clubs, delis, Halal trucks, bookstores, movie theaters, record stores, arcades, restaurants (including the city’s very first one, Delmonico’s, where you could do what you could do nowhere else in America in 1837: order a meal any time of day, and not only that—you could order a meal different from the one your neighbor was ordering: a la carte dining had come to America at last). But come sundown, these establishments light up like gossamer temples out of the Arabian nights. As any of us who love the city best at night will tell you, that’s when the visual fun kicks into gear. It’s like the world’s biggest outdoor art gallery. The proof is in these pages.