Brooklyn: What to Watch and Read
To learn more about Brooklyn, before or after you visit, consider these movies, TV shows, books, magazines, and blogs as a primer to the borough’s past, present, and ever-changing future.
Movies can capture time and place so perfectly, sometimes so much so that they quickly become dull and dated: not so these Brooklyn-based films, which both entertain and capture slices of Brooklyn life over time. Hal Ashby's 1970 film The Landlord takes a comedic look at Park Slope real estate and the diverse neighborhood. Hometown hero Spike Lee’s revolutionary debut, She’s Gotta Have It (1986), depicts the now-legendary independent arts scene brewing in Fort Greene in the 1980s. Called Brooklyn Boheme, the movement established the neighborhood—and Brooklyn itself—as a creative destination with global impact. Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989) also harks back to the 1980s, with a riveting portrayal of the racial tensions in Bedford-Stuyvesant at that time. As neighborhood demographics continue to shift through contemporary Brooklyn, the film remains powerfully relevant. Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky's 2000 screen adaptation of Hubert Selby's 1978 novel, is a searing look at addiction, set largely in Coney Island. Revisit 1977's Saturday Night Fever, in which John Travolta got his start as Italian-American Bay Ridgeite Anthony "Tony" Manero, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge plays a significant role. Moonstruck, Norman Jewison's 1987 film, is one of the era's quintessential romantic comedies, set against the backdrop of Brooklyn Heights. Another favorite, The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach’s award-winning 2005 indie flick, captures the fiercely intellectual, vaguely neurotic character of Park Slope. Baumbach's 2015 film, While We Were Young, is a wryly comedic look at very contemporary life in Brooklyn.
With Brooklyn's outsize personality, it's no wonder the borough is more than just a backdrop for many a screenwriter. Several recent series showcase Brooklyn front and center. Girls (2012-present), Lena Dunham’s much-lauded HBO series about four twentysomething women in Greenpoint, is populated by the sort of lovable yet flawed characters that some feel are representative of Brooklyn’s young, creative class. Bored to Death (2009-2011), a neo-noir HBO series created by Jonathan Ames, depicts a Brooklyn-based writer and sometime private detective exploring Brooklyn themes like gentrification in Park Slope, pollution in the Gowanus Canal, and the changing ideas of contemporary parenting and publishing. Look farther back, to shows like Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979) and even The Honeymooners (1955-1956) for different perspectives of the borough.
The number of literary lions who have lived in Brooklyn over the centuries, from Walt Whitman to Norman Mailer to Pulitzer Prize–winning contemporary novelist Jennifer Egan, are far too many to enumerate. A reading list for understanding Brooklyn as a place, though, could start with poetry, including Whitman's “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (1856) and Hart Crane's "The Bridge" (1930). Moving to books, dig into classic American works like Betty Smith’s 1943 novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Alfred Kazin’s memoir A Walker in the City (1978), both of which were inspired by Brooklyn’s immigrant communities. Paule Marshall’s critically acclaimed Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959) focuses on Bajan émigrés and Chaim Potok's The Chosen (1967) delves into Jewish society in Williamsburg. For rich history, David McCullough's The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (1972) is unforgettable. Brooklyn Heights is the setting for “Ghosts,” the second story in Paul Auster’s now-iconic New York Trilogy, from 1987. Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel about a detective with Tourette's syndrome, takes place in Gowanus, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens. Adelle Waldman’s Love Affairs of Nathanial P., published in 2013, covers romance and narcissism within literary circles in contemporary Prospect Heights.
Magazines and Blogs
To immerse yourself further in all things Brooklyn, pick up Brooklyn Magazine, for excellent feature stories, news, and cultural updates. Edible Brooklyn is the borough's food-focused magazine, full of tantalizing stories about food, restaurants, and where to eat. Go online to access the websites of those magazines, then delve into blogs like BrooklynBased, Brownstoner, and Brokelyn to get information about events, news, community listings, events, and local gossip. Neighborhood-based blogs like Brooklyn Heights Blog, Bushwick Daily, Ditmas Park Corner, Free Williamsburg, Greenpointers, and Here's Park Slope get even more granular.
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