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Ion De Sosa
Stations of the Elevated (1981) is a 45-minute city symphony directed, produced and edited by Manfred Kirchheimer. Shot on lush 16mm color reversal stock, the film weaves together vivid images of graffiti- covered elevated subway trains crisscrossing the gritty urban landscape of 1970s New York, to a commentary-free soundtrack that combines ambient city noise with jazz and gospel by Charles Mingus and Aretha Franklin. Gliding through the South Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan - making a rural detour past a correctional facility upstate - Stations of the Elevated is an impressionistic portrait of and tribute to a New York that has long since disappeared.
Set in NYC with background music from Charles Mingus in place of dialog, this film gives us a look several dozen graffiti-laden subway cars.
The graffiti are eye-catching enough, but across the span of the film we come back to the same cars again and again. The repetition seems purposeful, since plenty of other cars were available for shooting if the filmmaker had wanted. But if the repetition was meant to carry a message or effect, it was lost on me.
The images of subway cars are juxtaposed with other images from the same environment--billboards, notably--and here the effect is to show how the train graffiti compare to their everyday context.
Some of the most memorable images are shadows of standers-by, which are shot from unusual angles. These add yet another intriguing visual component. Watching the barely-moving gray shadows of humans, shot from uncommon vantage points, as we look straight on at the colorful trains passing by underlines the fact that the graffiti-laden trains are the focus of the film.
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