Screening tonight as part of the Beyond Cassavetes series at Anthology Film Archives is the only known print of Strangers in the City by 20th century renaissance man Rick Carrier. A decorated soldier, inventor, author, and artist, the film showcases many of Carrier’s impressive talents, as he wrote, directed, and shot it all himself on a very low budget, going so far as to even write the film’s theme song.
Comprising a mostly unknown cast, the film follows the trials and tribulations of a Puerto Rican family adjusting (and failing to adjust) to life in New York’s Spanish Harlem in the early sixties. From the father who is too proud to get a menial job, to his teenage children who are exploited and forced into either gang violence or prostitution, the film is a tragic and gritty affair interested in showcasing the difficulties of assimilation.
Shot only one year after West Side Story, the film stands as a worthy foil to its well-known predecessor, as it captures a more authentic version of not only New York, but the immigrant experience overall. And while the acting and the script are not exactly top notch, the film sometimes sometimes feeling too melodramatic, the cinematography more than makes up for these shortcomings. Shot on location in Harlem, Manhattan, and Coney Island by Carrier himself, the film is beautiful to watch, as it captures a New York that is rarely, if ever, seen on film. Each scene unfolding a neighborhood and a reality that was actively ignored at the time, making the film an important and precious time capsule for years to come.