Blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation

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Thesis: New York “blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation”. This proves why the city is such a desirable place to migrate to if you feel you are “nobody” and want to find yourself. New York allows anonymity, which gives you the chance to explore your own identity.

“It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything,” professes a character from well-known film Fight Club. Through abandoning everything that has attached itself to our lives, all external expectations and predetermined roles, can we figure out exactly who we are or what it is we want out of life. Sometimes by starting again, self-discovery and exploration comes naturally. New York seems to be the ideal playground for such adventures, like the third type of New Yorker as E.B. White describes in his essay “Here is New York”. The three films Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Panic in Needle Park, and It Should Happen to You follow this pattern.

E.B. White has been credited with providing one of most fit descriptions of the “city that never sleeps”. In his essay “Here is New York”, he examines the idiosyncrasies that make New York one of the greatest cities in the world. Where others have over-simplified or made observations based upon myths and clichés, White scours every nook and cranny of the city, never overlooking its downfalls, to come out victorious in painting a picture of the city any New Yorker would marvel at.

White examines many features of the city that contribute to its legacy and grandeur: the population, the setting, the history and the individual. The connection White makes between each piece of New York allows us to follow a line of thinking that leads us to understand how extraordinary the city is.

The sheer size of New York’s population contributes to so many of its characteristics. The opening statement of E.B. White remains the headline of the city, that it “bestows the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy”. The city allows you to give up participation in the countless events that take place during the day. This may have a part in causing people to “escape, not face reality” in New York, to be selfish and on their own merry way, however, it also lets the city be the creative hub it is, as “creation is in part merely the business of forgoing the great and small distractions.” Because so many many people flock to New York during their lifetimes and each and every day, there is a concentrate of every field: art, commerce, sports, entertainment, etc. This brings to light the “city that is the goal”. The city is filled with “young worshippers…each with his own stable of giants” because New York is a center with a little bit of the best of everything in the world.

The history of New York City has a lot to do with the present New York’s magic. White speaks of “emanations” he felt from all the successful, famous people who have been in the same spot as him in NYC. These “giants” are role-models for the worshipful beginners that find their way to this city, to use the analogy of the Empire State Building constructed during the Depression: “when it was madness to put out as much as six inches of new growth…the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying that the way is up….”

One of the most pivotal points E.B. White makes in his essays is aptly categorizing the three major groups of people in New York. Using the original text is necessary because this is the focal point we’ll be examining, specifically the third kind of New Yorker: “There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.”

E.B. White hints at an important idea with his closing paragraph, speaking of saving a tree that “symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against odds”. This can be said both in the physicality of New York as well plight of the individual that makes their way to New York. White speaks of how New York is limited in its size, heightened in its frustrations and “unanswered poverty”.

It Should Happen to You starts out by flashing random places in New York City. This gives us a feel for what White described as the various “cities within a city” of New York, allowing us to get established into the setting of the movie. One of the first scenes unfolds as Gladys interacts with a cranky man in Central Park. It is a good example of how White describes most New Yorkers: selfish and unfriendly. Like White says, New York can “bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy”, and mainly because New Yorkers show little regard for others that they don’t know. Glover’s reaction to the man shows that this encounter makes her feel like a “nobody” and maybe she thinks that fame will prevent this from being her life anymore in New York. The same thing happens in the scene in the Pfeiffer office, as the man on telephone rudely ignores her.

Glover comes to New York City during her early adult life and by the time of the film’s start, she has already lived there for two years. She came to escape the traditional life back home for the chance to make her name be known.  It is obvious that she is someone who really wants fame, as she has stayed in New York and still searches for opportunities even when there were a lot of dead ends. She is one of the many that come in search for some sort of recognition.

But the fact that Gladys wants to buys signs of her name around the city just so that she becomes “known” confirms what she expected New York to do for her. She thinks that coming to New York will be glamorous and that it is okay to famous even if you don’t necessarily deserve it. Just being in New York doesn’t entitle you a magical life. “Many of it settlers are probably here merely to escape, not face, reality,” E.B admits (35). She doesn’t mind being superficially known, or having a name that doesn’t stand for anything in particular.

Although White often talks about how settlers add passion and fire to New York City with the dreams they set out to accomplish, a lot of the time they come to New York under false assumptions of the things that will happen for them. “Many people who have no real independence of spirit depend on the city’s tremendous variety and sources of excitement for spiritual sustenance and maintenance of morale…although many persons are here from some excess of spirit (which caused them to break away from their small town), some, too, are here from a deficiency of spirit, who find in New York a protection, or an easy substitution” (36). Gladys seems like both, someone who had bigger dreams and more energy than anyone where she used to live, but not enough substance to really make it on her own in New York. Her idea of happiness is based on the idea of being a part of something and “ …the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled” (38). The fact that she was so fed up with not being able to accomplish what she wanted is admirable, but at the same time New York does not owe fame to anyone. “The city is always full of young worshipful beginners—young actors, young aspiring poets, ballerinas, painters….each depending on his own brand of tonic to stay alive, each with his own stable of giants” (39). White describes that people who come “each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love” (36). This “love” feeling could cause some to be a little disillusioned. Love is never perfect, it doesn’t always pan out, and it is a lot of work.

Later on, after realizing that being “famous” wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, as her eventual love interest Pete Sheppard was always telling her, we go back to the idea of privacy and loneliness in New York. Although it seems people are always looking for their big break, some are content with being “a part of the crowd”. Gladys later appreciates this “gift of privacy” that New York offers, the phrase the E.B. White starts his essay out with.

Similar to Gladys Glover in It Should Happen to You, Holly Golightly in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s exemplifies White’s idea that there are people who come to New York in search of something. The main difference lies in exactly what Holly is searching for.

While Gladys knew that she wanted to escape the life of being a “nobody” in exchange for a life of fame and inclusion, Holly’s search differs. It is still in line with E.B. White’s observations however. “Many of its settlers are probably here merely to escape, not face, reality,” White writes (36). One could say that Holly did try to do this. When she was 14, she married a man named Doc but later ran away due to her unhappiness with the situation. Back then in Texas her name was Lula Mae, but she later changed it to Holly Golightly when she got to New York. This begins the theme of “reinvention” in Holly’s life. She is trying to reinvent herself as to find who she really is, because who she was growing up was not enough for her. While many come to New York to reinvent themselves, sometimes through recognition of their talents, Holly is different. Her story is deeper than this and unlike the many that White describes in New York: “The city is always full of young worshipful beginners—young actors, young aspiring poets, ballerinas, painters…each depending on his own brand of tonic to stay alive, each with his own stable of giants,” (39). Holly doesn’t have a specific talent, unless you count the idea of trying to woo rich men into marrying her. It is similar to the way Paul Varjack, Holly’s main love interest, describes someone else at a party when Holly asked if he thought they were talented or not: “Amusingly and superficially talented, yes. But deeply and importantly, no.” The same could be said about Holly. She is a “real phony”, like Holly’s friend tells Paul at the party.

What it seems like Holly is looking for is herself, but also safety. The title of the movie is based on the opening scene where she is eating a classic New York breakfast—pastry and a small coffee—in front of the windows at the jewelry store Tiffany’s. She explains how nothing bad ever happens in that store. It is not a greedy longing for Holly, however. We sympathize for Holly at points because part of the reason she seeks money to be able to provide for her brother Fred when he finishes from the army. However, it seems as though  she thinks money provides safety. This explains how, although she suggests that she “wild” and a “free-spirit” in different ways throughout the film, she really is afraid of the world. This is why most of her time in New York is dedicated to mingling with rich socialites. A never-changing store window where everything sparkles and has security and glass windows provides comfort for her. She is afraid of the world and being her true self. This is where New York as a setting comes in.

Although Paul confronts her as being someone who would always “keep running” if they had the chance, New York holds a special significance when it comes to a place Holly runs to. Golighty, at the end of the film, was about to fly to Brazil to marry a wealthy man. She doesn’t know anyone else in Brazil and this should seem comforting to her. No attachments. In this sense Brazil is like New York. New York, like White says, “bestows the gift of loneliness and privacy,” (34). At one point in the film, Holly, after getting engaged to the Brazilian millionaire, tells Paul how much she really does love New York against the other cities she’s been to. She must like the anonymity. In New York, you don’t have to be known. You’re one in the millions and it feels safe. New York gives you the chance to breathe a little and figure out who you are, as White says, like “a young girl arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors,” (37). Holly even says this herself: “I’m like cat here, a no-name slob. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. We don’t even belong to each other.”

The problem with Holly as opposed to others who try to find themselves in New York or anywhere is that her search doesn’t stop. She is constantly running and thus running from who it is she really is. “I’ll never get used to anything. Anybody that does, they might as well be dead,” she says. But at the end, Paul confesses his love for Holly and explains to her that if she doesn’t start accepting herself, she will never be happy, and that is it ok to be attached to one person and one place. She accepts his offer, thus ending her restless journey for herself.

Panic in Needle Park differs greatly from the previous two movies we’ve watched, and has a harder time relating to the ideas E.B. White talks about in “Here is New York”. However there are still some connections to be made.

E.B. White tended to focus on the third type of New Yorker as someone with dreams and passions, who in a way would light up the city with their quest.  Helen Reeves, our protagonist, does take a trip over to New York, but we’re not too sure why yet. This film functions in an almost completely opposite manner to It Should Happen to You and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. While those girls thought they had “problems” with finding themselves, I believe the consequences for Helen are far more real and less glamorized. When you watch movies like Tiffany’s, you almost forget about the other parts of New York which White hints at: “At the feet of the tallest and plushiest offices lie the crummiest slums” (36). Helen and her love interest Bobby may not be the poorest, but they are not going to socialite parties like Holly and having dreams of being in movies like Gladys.  However, they still represent a part of the population in New York. Underrepresented in film culture, possibly, because I have heard the title Breakfast at Tiffany’s hundreds of times before even watching it but never Panic in Needle Park.

One similarity Helen has to Holly Golightly, however, is that she seems to also be trying to find herself, even if it is harder to realize. Helen Reeves just seems to attach to Bobby and do whatever he is doing and go wherever he is going. Of course they are an item, and romantically involved, but only someone who doesn’t have an idea of who they are would so quickly adapt to someone else’s lifestyle. It seems as though she doesn’t have a life of her own aside from Bobby. E.B. White says, “Many people who have no real independence of spirit depend on the city’s tremendous variety and sources of excitement for spiritual sustenance and maintenance of morale…although many persons are here form some excess of spirit (which caused them to break away from their small town), some, too, are here from a deficiency of spirit, who find in New York a protection, or an easy substitution” (36). I believe Helen gets her spirit from Bobby and his constantly moving, hustler-type lifestyle. She reminds me of Holly in this way in that she fits into the mold she needs to wherever she goes, but doesn’t have a true identity herself.

However, as E.B. White notes, New York will bestow “the gift of loneliness” and I have a feeling that the lifestyle Bobby and Helen take part in wont be stable for long and it could possibly break them apart. Apparently the tagline for the movie is “God Help Helen and Bobby, They’re in Love in Needle Park”. If Helen loses Bobby, she will most likely be lost again, searching.

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