Roman Holiday

A snapshot from my recent trip to Rome

I just got back from a trip to Italy, Rome and Spoleto.  After a few hectic days in the capital, we drove to a lovely country cottage in the hills of Umbria.  Andrea, the guy who owned the property, told me he had been to New York once, for two days, and he felt like he was an extra on a film set and was waiting for a movie star to walk by.  That is exactly how I felt walking down the streets of Rome.  I felt like I was on the set of one of my favorite movies of all time, Roman Holiday (1953) and I kept waiting for Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck to whiz by on a Vespa.

Film, often even more than fiction, has the power to shape our “memories” of places we’ve never seen.  There have been scores of films shot on location in New York City, but not too many that depict life in SoHo pre-1985.  Only one film that takes place in the 70’s that is shot, at least in part, in SoHo comes to mind (although I’m sure there are others), Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978), in which, if I remember correctly, a newly divorced Upper East Side woman finds romance and freedom with a downtown artist.

It is not until the mid-1980’s that we see a glimpse of everyday life in SoHo at the movies, first, in Martin Scorcese’s After Hours (1985), in which a man gets trapped in SoHo with a bunch of off-the-wall characters with whom he gets involved in a series of unlikely sticky situations.  The film was hugely popular, and I admit it has its moments, but the idea that this man was “stuck” downtown with no cash, when he could easily just walk to the Upper West Side irked me to no end.  Being so close to the situation depicted made it impossible for me to suspend disbelief.

And then there is Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), in which a man falls in love with his wife’s sister who lives with a painter in SoHo.  Allen’s SoHo is the already-spifified SoHo—not the dark, subversive SoHo of Scorcese or the even more exotic industrial SoHo of Mazursky.  All three films, however, use SoHo to represent the unknown, where the protagonist is the outsider in uncharted territory, much like Rome is used in Roman Holiday for the princess of the unspecified country.

So there I was, a SoHo native in Rome, a stranger in a strange land, not the Rome of princesses and journalists falling in love, but Rome in 2011.  And now that I am back in New York and am thinking back on my trip, I still recall not Berlusconi’s Rome, but the black and white Rome of Audrey and Greg.  After AT LEAST fifteen viewings of Roman Holiday and merely two actual visits to Rome in my life thus far, my experiential memories are still proving to be far less vivid (and thus less REAL?) than my cinematic ones.

A scene from An Unmarried Woman (1978), directed by Paul Mazursky (especially between 5:00 and 8:00):

The trailer from After Hours (1985), directed by Martin Scorcese:

A scene from Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), directed by Woody Allen (especially through 2:20):

The trailer from Roman Holiday (1953), directed by William Wyler:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses to “Roman Holiday”

  1. SOHO MAN Says:

    What does Rome have to do with SoHo??!
    That was one heck of a transition, from being in Rome, to a an Italian in New york feeling like being on a film set, to SoHo movies, then back to Rome! LOL

    Instead of that you could have a more real connection by writing a topic about when SoHo, in reality, …. served as a wedge in the Italian-American community of downtown Manhattan.
    To the east was Little Italy and to the west was the Lower West Side/Village. Two solidly Italian neighborhoods on both sides of SoHo’s borders.

    • Yukie Says:

      Apologies for being vague. I meant to discuss the power of film on memory and to illustrate this with clips from the few films that use old SoHo as a backdrop. For many who did not live in NYC, these scenes are the only “memories” they have of the neighborhood in the 70’s and 80’s.

  2. James C. Taylor Says:

    Yukie, I think I understand what you are saying with this post. So many people’s experience of New York is based entirely on what they’ve seen in movies. I sometimes feel bad for those born in New York since they don’t get to enjoy the city in this fun and vicarious way. For New Yorkers, perhaps other cities, such as Rome, serve a similar purpose. For me, part of the challenge of moving here was reconciling the city that I experience everyday with the other New York that exists solely in my head.

    • Yukie Says:

      That is precisely what I was TRYING to say, though I do not think I completely succeeded.I was walking down the street with my sister-in-law who lives in Paris recently, and she said that she kept feeling as if she’d been to all of the places we visited though she was new to New York. I feel the same way about Paris and felt the same in Rome. The power of cinema on one’s visual memory is quite strong, I find.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: