Brownstones, Grey spaces: ALook at the Portrayal ofBrownstone Stoops in FilmCRP 386/Social Life of PublicPlacesDaphne Lundi
Research QuestionsBackground History of Brownstones in New YorkUrban Spaces in filmFilm Case StudiesConclusions
Research QuestionsWhat have been the common uses of brownstone stoops in New York, whathave been their social significance, and how is this changing?What are common themes of representation of brownstone stoops in film? • How are the uses of brownstone stoops portrayed in film? • Who are the principal user groups portrayed in film? • How are the relationships between these user groups portrayed in film? • How are various forms of demarcations associated with stoops portrayed in film?
Stoops, comes from Dutch word “stoep” for stairs.Earliest brownstones, also known as row houses were built in lowerManhattan before 1800 where most of the city’s population was located.The buildings were mixed used serving as work spaces as well asresidential spaces.By the late 19th century many brownstones were dilapidated and had losttheir cache as the residential choice for the upper class.In the 20th century many affluent families in the city chose to leave theurban core for more suburban lifestyles.Many single family brownstones were converted into multi-unit dwellings todeal with the growing demand. Poor and working class residents, mostlyfrom Central Europe were also moving into these areas, in tenements thathoused twenty or more families into a single lot.
In Brooklyn, brownstones were the housing of choice for many middleclass families.Brownstone construction mostly ended in the 20th century due to theincreasing cost of land and suburban growth and the fact that the buildingswere seen as out of fashion.After World War II small groups of white professionals and artists began tobuy old existing brownstones and renovate them. This became a majormovement in the 1960’s and 1970’s that was coined the name, the“Brownstone Revitalization Movement” that supported a larger urbanistmovement “back to the city”.With these new neighborhoods came neighborhood associations, historicalland marking and community gardens in abandoned lots (put a garden onit: Frambach 2012 ).These residents were part of a neighborhood movement that significantlyimpacted planning.
Urban Spaces in FilmCinematic Landscape: "the representation of material, real world andsubjectively organized scenery on the earth’s surface, which is loaded withcultural additions, or a fictitious environment in the day-to-day dimension”Cinematic spaces can be delineated in the way in which a film characterexits one space and moves to another and when the camera angle shiftsfrom one direction to another.Borders are necessary in film as a way of framing the geography of themovie. Without these borders, there is no room for discourse and it isdifficult to frame the film within a space, whether real or imagined.
Spike Lee helped to create a shift from Harlem to Brooklyn becoming thecenter of black culture. This shift also helped to highlight spaces such asbrownstones and how they are part of urban life.The use of brownstone space is a powerful framing technique that lets thestreet itself reveal the conditions of everyday life in urban settings byframing interactions.In many of Spike Lee’s film as well as other films that capture brownstonelife what is striking about the portrayal of these spaces is that the spacesthemselves are not romanticized and have a level of “anthropologicalauthenticity”.In films that examine New York life from an often neglected perspective,“the neighborhood is introduced in the film before any of the majorcharacters “
Film Case Studies:Street Scene (1931)The Landlord (1970)Do the Right Thing (1989)
Street Scene takes place in front of a brownstone in New York andexamines the goings on in the brownstone during a 24 hour period.
The Landlord centers around Elgar Enders, a white upper young manwho decides he no longer wants to live with his parents wealth anddecides to buy a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1970. At the timethe neighborhood has yet to be gentrified and is populated by low-income black residents.
Do the Right Thing takes place during the hottest day of the year inBedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Tensions are growing between localbusinesses, Korean grocery and Sals Pizzeria. Mookie, Salsdelivery boy stays in center of the action.
ConclusionsStoops as buffer spacesStoops as audiencesStoops as witnessesStoops as barriersStoops as living rooms for the working class