DVD Talk
Release List Coupons Shop Reviews SUBSCRIBE Forum DVD Eggs Video Games Advertise
DVD Talk
Reviews & Columns
International DVDs
All Male
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
The Blue Room
DVD Savant
HD Talk
Horror DVDs
Silent DVD

DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info

DVDTalk Info
Review Staff
About DVD Talk
Newsletter Subscribe
Join DVD Talk Forum
DVD Talk Feeds

Search: For:

Man on the Street
Josh Pais' 7th Street Maps the Life of One City Block
Josh Pais
Josh Pais

February 10, 2003 | A neighborhood can be like a living, breathing organism, changing and growing over time. Urban neighborhoods in particular can develop quickly, thanks to the often volatile mix of ethnicities, races, languages and nationalities that share their space.

Actor Josh Pais watched his corner of the Lower East Side - 7th street between avenues C and D - change and change again from childhood on. In 1992 he decided that 7th street, or at least the version of 7th street that he knew, deserved a bit of immortality. So he got a video camera and started interviewing his neighbors. The finished film, aptly named 7th Street, covers a decade of the block's complex history with assistance in delving deeper from some of the block's older residents.

Rino Thunder, one of 7th street's
most interesting residents
Pais begins his film with a quote from a woman named Jackie: "There are two ways to learn about the world. One way is to travel all over the planet and see all the different lands. And the other way is to stay in the same place." While Pais has indeed left 7th street at times (he studied acting in London and lived in Los Angeles) there is a way in which he seems to have learned about human nature from his neighbors.

"Part of the reason I made the movie," says Pais, "was to figure out what it means to me to live so much of my life on one block. Part of the way [I did that] was talking to people who had been on the block longer than me. Those were the people that were around me as I was growing up. I sensed that once these people were gone a history of New York would be gone, an oral history and a character history. And I wanted to hold onto that and to capture that because to me a very important part of the city is just these characters that have the map of New York City on their faces."

7th Street features interviews with a lot of different people from the neighborhood but Pais picked a few stand-out characters to develop in more depth. Perhaps most memorable is Manny, an elderly holdover from the block's years as a Jewish center. Manny, who in the film calls Pais and his generation "sissies" for not having grown up in the rough-and-tumble decades when he was young, was a real New York character.

"Manny was somebody that everybody in the neighborhood knew," remembers Pais. "He was a rascal. Full of stories. He just loved to interact with everybody. A little playful, a little condescending. He'd kind of insult you in a way that would make you feel great to be part of his world." In the original 3 hour cut of the film, Pais says, a full hour was devoted to Manny's story. "He was in the Jewish mafia. He was a hit man. He had gone through large amounts of money, gambling it away and building it back up. He was in the more corrupt side of the law. He wasn't afraid of anybody. The loveable gangster, absolutely fearless."

Another memorable face belongs to Merlin, an alcoholic homeless man who smiles and greets passers-by during his interviews. Merlin is the kind of guy with which most New Yorkers are familiar: Always around, usually sitting in the same spot, a bottle by his side. But Pais takes the time to sit down and listen to him, first about how he came to 7th street looking for the hippie utopia, then about the unbearably tragic events that lead to his living on the street. "He ran away from home and came to 7th street. He was an amazing guy, an incredible storyteller. NYU girls were always surrounding him and giggling. He never asked for money but everyone gave him things. He always said 'I'm not homeless. I'm houseless.'"

As for Pais, his love for the neighborhood has weathered some turbulent times. When he first moved to 7th street in 1967 the block was a mix of abandoned buildings, hippie communes and the city's forgotten low-income citizens. During his young life he saw drugs and violence overtake the neighborhood, although many of those interviewed talk about a sense of safety created on their one block turf by the tight community and the watchful eyes of neighbors. Pais isn't afraid to build his film out of the contradictions that inevitably spring up when people live close together. One older woman lists the times she's been attacked; moments later someone else calls the block "safe for families." There are as many different experiences, he seems to say, as there are people in the messy, lively world of 7th Street.

Josh Pais
After years of living on the fringes of Manhattan the residents of 7th street, however, got a shock. In the mid-90's the police swept the drug dealers out and the gentrification began. As Pais reflects on the changes to his neighborhood (and countless others like it), he grows concerned for both his neighbors and his city. "As we pursue what we call progress," he says, "we need to have awareness about what the impact is on everybody. I'm not saying that any of the new inhabitants of the neighborhood are a bad thing but to have progress at the cost of character is something that I'm concerned about. It's also moving more towards a shopping mall. But then New York has gone through so many evolutions and this is just the evolution it's going through now. I think the city will always be a special place. Whatever is happening now is not permanent and so to resist it doesn't quite make sense either. But I think just having awareness can make a shift so that the city don't just evolve to the same six stores everywhere."

Pais ends his film with the neighborhood in a state of flux, with financial stability and improvements driving out some of the area's long-time residents, including some of the film's subjects. But he's hopeful that this is indicative of an ongoing process. "The shift that happens in end of the movie is continuing. It's becoming more up-scale, rents are still high. But what's characteristic of that block and area is it'll stay one way, then a huge shift will happen and it'll become something completely different."

UPDATE: 7th Street is back for a second NYC at Cinema Classics
332 East 11th Street Between 1st and 2nd Avenue
Starts May 24th and will play Sat, Sun and Mon nights at 8pm: May 24th-26th, May 31st-June 2nd, and June 7-9th.

7th Street web-site



New Review:

All Reviews

Special Offer

Home Release List Coupons Shop Reviews Forum Video Games Price Search Advertise
Copyright 2006 DVDTalk.com All Rights Reserved. Legal Info, Privacy Policy