A Year: Day to Day Men: 26th of October

Slow Moving Water

October 26, 1825 marks the opening of the Erie Canal.

From the days of the birchbark canoe, the early trade routes of the Northeast utilized New York’s waterways. The Lake Champlain-Hudson River Route and the Lake Ontario-Oswego River-Mohawk River Route were utilized by native Americans, fur traders, missionaries and colonizers. The birchbark canoes used earlier were supplemented by longer heavier boats rowed or pulled by several men, which by 1791 was able to haul a two ton load.

In March of 1792, the Western Inland Lock and Navigation Company came into being and improved navigation on the Mohawk River. Also in that year, this company built small canals 3 feet deep with locks of 12 feet by 74 feet around the falls and rapids of the river. By 1796, Durham boats with capacities of 15-20 tons were able to navigate the route. Although business was brisk, maintenance on the wooden locks and channels depleted revenue and the operation folded a few years later.

In 1817 the Erie Canal was established under the management of a New York State Commission. Federal funds were not legislated; so this canal and all subsequent canals in New York State were built and maintained exclusively with state funds. The canal was dug from Albany to Buffalo, 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide, with stone locks 15 feet by 90 feet. The locks were the limiting factor on boat size and their efficiency of operation dictated the allowable traffic flow.

Additional canals were dug from the Hudson River to Lake Champlain, from Montezuma to Cayuga and Seneca Lakes and from Syracuse to Oswego. This canal system proved to be so successful that almost every community in the state lobbied for a link to the system, resulting in a network of canals. These lateral canals proved to be of marginal value at best:

In 1836, an enlargement program commenced on the main Erie Canal system. The canal was straightened a bit, the channel was increased in size to 7 feet by 70 feet, and the locks were enlarged to 18 feet by 110 feet. This permitted boats of much greater size on the Erie, Champlain, Cayuga-Seneca and Oswego canals, and further diminished the importance of the smaller lateral canals. Most of the lateral canals were closed by 1878 with only the Black River Canal lasting until the eventual close of the entire system in 1917.

The growth of steam power on the canal and steel boat construction eliminated the need for a waterway as protected as the old Erie Canal. A twentieth century canal of grand dimension with cast concrete structures and electronic controls was begun. This Barge Canal system, utilizing canalized rivers and lakes and enlarged sections of the original Erie Canal, opened in 1918. Several of the old routes are still utilized today.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 7th of October

Light Green Shirt

October 7, 1971 was the date of the New York City and Los Angeles premieres of “The French Connection”.

“The French Connection” is a 1971 American crime thriller film directed by William Friedkin, who began his career in documentaries and is closely identified with the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s. The screenplay by Ernest Tidyman is based on Robin Moore’s non-fiction book of the same name. It tells the story of New York Police Department detectives in pursuit of a wealthy French heroin smuggler.

William Friedkin noted that the film’s documentary style realism was the result of his having seen the French film “Z’, a political thriller film. He credits his decision to direct “The French Connection” to director Howard Hawks who thought Friedkin’s previous films were bad and recommended that Friedkin make a movie with a better chase scene than any previous films.

The casting of “The French Connection” ultimately was one of the film’s greatest strengths; however Friedkin had problems with casting choices from the start. He was strongly opposed to the choice of Gene Hackman for the lead; he was considering Paul Newman, Jimmy Breslin, and Charles Bronson, among others. For different reasons these choices were not available, so Friedkin chose Hackman for the role of Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle..

The choice of the French heroin smuggler was the result of a mistaken identity. Friedkin was impressed with the performance of Francisco Rabal in the film “Belle de Jour”; but he could not remember the actor’s name, only thatt the actor was Spanish. The casting director contacted another Spanish actor named Fernando Rey for the role. After Francisco Rabal was finally contacted, Friedkin discovered that the actor spoke neither French nor English; so Fernando Rey was given the role of Alain Charnier.

“The French Connection” contains one of the greatest car chase sequences in film history. The detective Popeye played by Hackman commandeers a civilian’s car and frantically chases an elevated train, on which a hitman is attempting to escape. Some of the chase scenes were filmed from a bumper mount camera on the car, resulting in a low-angle view of the streets racing by. The speed of the camera was set a 18 frames per second to enhance the sense of the car’s speed. Stunt drivers were supposed to barely miss the speeding chase car, but accidental collisions occurred and were left in the final film.

“The French Connection” was the first R-rated movie to win an Academy Award for Best Picture since the rating system started. It also won Best Actor for Gene Hackman, Best Diredtor for William Friedkin, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Ernest Tidyman won for his screenplay a Writers Guild of America Award, a Golden Globe nomination, and won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his screenplay.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 30th of September

The Roses and the Cross

September 30, 1919 marks the premier of Avery Hopwood’s play “The Gold Diggers’ in New York City.

“The Gold Diggers”, a play by Avery Hopwood, was produced by David Belasco, an American theatrical producer and playwright. Belasco, the first writer to adapt the short story “Madame Butterfly” to the stage, pioneered many innovative forms of stage lighting and special effects to the stage. He staged “The Gold Diggers” on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, now the oldest continuously operating legitimate theater in New York City.

“The Gold Diggers” popularized the term ‘gold digger’ to reference women who seek wealthy partners, as opposed to the earlier usage meaning gold miners. The plot centered on wealthy Stephen Lee, played by Bruce McRae, who is convinced that the chorus girl who is engaged to his nephew Wally, played by Horace Braham, only wants his nephew’s money.

The reviews for the play were mixed; but the opinions of the reviewers did not stop the play from becoming a hit. It opened at the Lyceum Theatre on September 30, 1919 and ran until June of 1921, with 720 performances. The long-running play then went on tour across the United States until 1923, earning almost two million dollars. One result of its long run was that after the other plays Avery Hopwood had written opened in 1920, Hopwood had four shows running on Broadway simultaneously.

Avery Hopwood was an American playwright of the Jazz Age in the United States, a period in the 1920s and 1930s when jazz music and dance styles rapidly gained popularity. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Hopwood graduated from the University of Michigan in 1903 and started out in journalism as a New York correspondent. However, within a year, he had a play, “Clothes”, produced on Broadway. He became known as the “Playboy Playwright”, specializing in comedies and farces, many considered risqué at the time. Among the plays were: “Ladies’ Night” in 1920,; the famous mystery play “The Bat”, later filmed in 1926; and the 1927 “Garden of Eden”, filmed in 1928.

In 1906, Avery Hopwood was introduced to writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten. The two became close friends and sometimes sexual partners. In the 1920s Hopwood had a tumultuous, but abusive, romantic relationship with fellow Cleveland-born playwright John Floyd. Although Hopwood announced to the press in 1924 that he was engaged to dancer and choreographer Rosa Rolanda, it was confirmed later that it was a publicity stunt.

Avery Hopwood died of a heart attack while swimming on the French Riviera on July 1, 1928. The terms of his will left a substantial portion of his estate to the University of Michigan, establishing a Creative Writing Award, encouraging new, unusual and radical writing. Recipients of the award have included poet and essayist Robert Hayden, poet and social activist Marge Piercy,  playwright Arthur Miller, and gay novelist and essayist Edmund White.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 1st of September

Vacation Spot

September 1, 1954 marks the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 ‘Rear Window’ is a film full of symbolism, narratives, voyeurism and characterization. Hitchcock, a strong filmmaker, used similiar themes and specific signature motifs, such as character parallels and heavy use of vertical lines, as well as a strong protagonist. Hitchcock made a career out of indulging our voyeuristic tendencies. “Rear Window” is perhaps his most skillful and gleefully self-aware production.

“Rear Window” focuses around the main protagonist Jefferies, a photographer who recently broke his leg and is restricted to a wheelchair. In the opening scene where the credits are shown, the forthcoming storyline is presented and Hitchcock has created an opportunity to set the tone of the film. He also creates a great ambience, as a bamboo curtain is raised and the courtyard is shown, around which the whole film revolves.

The audience is shown life through Jefferies’ eyes. His window looks out onto a courtyard and displays a number of different windows representative of different lives in America in the 1950s.  Each window represents a different style of living; and snippets of these characters lives with their different backgrounds are presented to Jefferies’ viewing.

These characters of “Rear Window”, although living so close to each other, barely interact or ever meet. All the actions of these different people through the windows and their stories flow together seamlessly:  the music proceeding each scene leads the viewer to what will happen next. The noises and sounds in the film are a narrative device: a radio blaring or playing music, an alarm clock ringing, which shift the attention of the viewer from one apartment to another. Shots of panning and zooming by the cameramen make it more realistic as Jefferies shifts his binoculars from each apartment scene to another.

“Rear Window”s audience is constantly shown natural framing, which is a well-known theme in Hitchcocks films and truly represents him as a master filmmaker. There are constantly shots which are framed by openings such as; window frames, door frames and hallways. The use of binoculars by Hitchcock is symbolic; they intensify what Jefferies is seeing and isolate him from the actions that he observes. The setting in the film is also symbolic; Jefferies’ apartment, the courtyard, and the small alleyway are the only areas he can see, ultimately confining and trapping him.

The whole film was shot inside a Hollywood studio: yet the sense of the city’s atmosphere, noisy and breathless with its humid air, still is conveyed strongly to the viewer. The everyday domestic dramas unfold and James Stewart is their captive audience. The intensity of Stewart’s helplessness is subtly shown in one small ominous film scene unfolding before his eyes: the tip of the wife-killer Lars Thorwald’s cigar glowing red in the darkness of his living room after the neighbors’ strangled dog is found in the garden.