For three days in Brooklyn it was 1969 again.
Men in Black III was filming in New York, and a second unit working on Court Street in Carroll Gardens remade 1969, filling the street with the vehicular glory of the sixties. Apparently part of a ‘traveling back in time to save/destroy the world by killing/protecting a pivotal figure’ (think a very funny Terminator plot) the chase scene includes a phalanx of classic American cars parked and rolling down 6 blocks of Court Street, a few false subway entrances with period ads and the local residents dressed in a slight exaggeration of their usual big hair and heels. That’s all it takes to create a living flashback for the whole neighborhood.
1969 is not just the end of the sixties, and it’s not just any random year in that decade. ‘69 is the year of the moon landing, Woodstock and Altamont. It’s the beginning of Nixon’s presidency and the death of Eisenhower, as well as Chappaquiddick, the end of Ted Kennedy’s presidential aspirations. It’s the year of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Chicago 8 trial and Charles Manson’s murder spree. It’s the first episodes of The Brady Bunch, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Sesame Street. It’s the year of Abbey Road, the first Led Zeppelin studio album and the Mets World Series win. 1969 was, until 2001, the most transformational year in the memory of anyone under 60.
One MIB3 movie prop gave away the exact day of the shot; newspapers in a rack on the sidewalk (one that will never be seen in the movie) show the moon landing headline of July 21, 1969. But it was the cars that had the whole neighborhood abuzz.
Designed and built before computers allowed the highly manipulated surface geometries now in play, these cars were a catalog of shapes so distinctive that they achieved iconic status in numbers greater than has been seen before or since. Ironically, the computer-driven ease with which today’s car are shaped has created a class of nondescript, look alike forms. Will we ever remember the 2011 Toyota Highlander in name or shape? Are the ‘new’ Jeeps or what’s left of the GM lineup going to be the nostalgic cars that today’s 18 year-olds will remember? I can’t even picture them now.
I spent the evening of July 20, 1969 watching the moon landing on a snow-filled black and white television with utterly ineffective rabbit ear antennas. The transmission from the moon to NASA was better than the one from the Empire State Building to my TV.
I watched the fuzzy action with our closest family friends, and my best friend, Mark Weinrod, in what was then the working class section of the Hamptons, Shinnecock Shores in East Quogue. Less than a month later Mark, a couple of his sisters, a cousin and I we were on our way to Woodstock in a gigantic gold Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight convertible with MD plates.
Mark’s father (the obstetrician who delivered me and my brother) was concerned we might take our own unreliable beater cars. He offered us his gold boat that caused a constant stream of comments as we inched along the traffic jam leading to the festival site. We parked in a field and made our way on foot and when we returned after the soaking rains the car had sunk in the mud and its bottom was resting on the ground. It took the help, instantly offered, of about 8 people we never met before to dislodge the car. That level of community was everywhere at Woodstock, and our 16 year-old suburban-born-and-bred eyes took in sights we never imagined.
That Oldsmobile and many, many more populated Carroll Gardens for a few short days (and Cobble Hill the next week). These pictures are true to the times, shot on film (there was nothing remotely digital in 1969) and developed a week later. Waiting for images, and the uncertainty of exposure, framing, color, focus, is entirely behind us now, inconceivable even after the demise of Polaroid.
These cars have a horizontal Goya effect. They seem unbelievably long, impossible to park and use so much gas you can smell the combustion in the air. On a warm summer night in Brooklyn that smell is a fine vintage of the past.