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BAM's 'Retro Metro': Subway History Through Film

Sunday, August 31, 2014

subway, silver cup A 7 train in Queens (Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin/flickr)

The New York City subway system is a staple of life here and a quintessential part of movies based in the city.The Brooklyn Academy of Music will be showcasing the rich history of the subway on screen with their "Retro Metro" film series.

The 16 films take viewers on a wild ride from the jazzy roaring ‘20s to the hip hop-tinged '80s and ‘90s. They portray cultural and social changes that evolved side-by-side with the transitions of the subway system. "Speedy," a 1928 comedy directed by Ted Wilde, features a cabbie fighting to save the city’s last horse-drawn trolley from the evil forces of the mass transit monopoly, while the hip hop, cult classics "Beat Street" (1984) and "Style Wars" (1983) showcase graffiti-covered subway cars.

In those two films, the subway is stage for break dancers and a canvas for graffiti artists. The other films in "Retro Metro" also display how the country’s largest transit system takes on many guises: it’s an incubator for love in "The Clock" (1945), a hostage in "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1974) — remade in 2009, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta — and a conduit for an acid-trip for Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in "Dames" (1984).

Movie director and writer Leslie Harris, whose film "Just Another Girl on the I.R.T." is featured in the series, said the the subway is also a catalyst for new experiences.

"It's the heart of the city; it's what makes our city unique," Harris said. "There are so many different people, and I believe that we can learn a lot from different cultures. It's where all of us are kind of together in one place."

BAMcinématek's "Retro Metro" will take place at BAM's headquarters in Brooklyn and will run for 10 days beginning Sept. 26, before making its last stop on Oct. 5. 

Below are clips from some of the movies featured in the subway film series.  

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