Starting today and continuing through Saturday, Anthology will be showing a five-film NYC Vigilantes series, taking us from the bankruptcy-era Death Wish to the post-Tompkins Riots Maniac Cop 2. It is, in other words, a bad-old-days NYC nostalgia trip, as examined by noted NYC nostalgist Nick Pinkerton in the current Voice. (He’s also right to connect the 70s vigilante genre to the Western, although he curiously doesn’t mention Ford-to-City-era Searchers remake Taxi Driver in the piece. Though he does allude to the scene in Vigilante — pictured on the right — in which a cop chases a crook through a very pre-Summerscreen McCarren Park Pool.) Also of note in the series is Abel Ferrara’s fearful fever dream of radical feminism, Ms. 45; here’s a great blog post on that movie’s relation to the sexual and racial politics of disco, and the tawdry hedonism of the turn-of-the-decade American Gomorrah.
Hey, you know what other NYC vigilante movie Anthology should be showing in this series? Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. First of all, what’s Kevin McCallister if not a vigilante who metes out his own, brutal punishment (which audiences get off on) on NYC’s criminal element?
And secondly, it’s of a piece with the scuzzy, thrillingly dangerous NYC as depicted by the films in the series. Home Alone 2, made in 1992, is the last real pre-Giuliani movie. It’s directed by Chris Columbus, who attended NYU in the 70s and early 80s, and it shows a New York divided between the obviously Eloise-derived fantasy of a kid alone in the Plaza Hotel — a symbol of uptown postwar affluence; though I wouldn’t call Kevin’s precocity Salingeresque — and the seedy Bronx-is-burning, post-crack fear-mongering of a dark, scary city, with its grotesque homeless.
The climax, of course, occurs in Kevin’s aunt and uncle’s vacant brownstone. Supposedly the aunt and uncle are on vacation while the building is being renovated, but to me that looming, gutted, abandoned brick structure suggests that Kevin is a squatter moving into a place vacated by white flight.
That the benevolent, privileged version of the city wins out (F.A.O. Schwartz is protected from the riffraff), in this family film, prefigures the hypercommercial “reclamation” of the city that began in earnest with the election of Bill Clinton two and a half weeks before the movie’s release. Though when he took office in 1994, Giuliani didn’t really give the homeless the chance to prove their essential goodness, the way Kevin McCallister did.