Jacob's Ladder: historically accurate neighborhoods?
April 20, 2010 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Does the movie Jacob's Ladder depict mid-1970s Brooklyn neighborhoods with any accuracy?

According to Wikipedia (which is always completely infallible) the New York scenes in this movie were set in 1975. During the movie, Tim Robbins' character Jacob exits the subway at Bergen St. and it certainly isn't pretty. I've read that they fixed up an unused and deserted lower section for filming, but regardless they wanted it to feel grungy and dark.

I am assuming this is Jacob's neighborhood stop because immediately after the subway scene he is shown at home. His house isn't a complete hovel but it doesn't come across as nice, either.

Today I happened to think to look up the Bergen St. subway exit, and it appears to be at the intersection of Flatbush Ave and Bergen St which is right between Park Slope and Prospect Heights. All I know of Park Slope is that it's apparently one of NYC's best neighborhoods.

So, my questions become these:

1.) Am I looking at the wrong subway station?
2.) If I am looking at the correct subway station, are the filmmakers implying that Jacob really did exit the subway at (and live in) Park Slope / Prospect Heights? Or do you think they just used Bergen St because the deserted section would make for easier filming, and they expected the average filmgoer not to know where it was anyway?
3.) Was that neighborhood as bad in the mid-1970s as the film leads us to believe? We don't see rampant crime, but it's not pretty: there's trash everywhere, and there certainly aren't white hipster parents jogging with baby strollers and taking their babies to bars.
posted by komara to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1975 is 35 years ago. Huge swathes of New York City have undergone extreme amounts of gentrification between now and then.

Watch any movie filmed in NYC in the 1970s and you can see the difference. Hell, watch Annie Hall or Manhattan or even an early 80s movie like Stranger than Paradise, and you can see vast differences between then and now.
posted by dfriedman at 1:18 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: 1) Yes. Judging from the scene in the film, the station was actually this Bergen Street, which the wikipedia article confirms. (Although the train he's shown getting off is a C train, which as far as I know never stopped at that station.)

That said, the filmmakers were probably saying he lived in the Boerum Hill area, which is pretty damn nice now (despite the presence of a couple of housing projects) but was considerably less so in the 70s. Read Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude for a portrayal of what that neighborhood was like in the 70s.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 1:25 PM on April 20, 2010

Watch any movie filmed in NYC in the 1970s and you can see the difference.

There's a shot-by-shot comparison of 1976 vs 2009 NYC from the film Taxi Driver here.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:26 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

1975 was the beginning of the financial crisis in NYC. 1977 was the blackout. And in the 70s heroin was cheap and plentiful.

New York was a different city back then.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:32 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Nothing... and like it: Thanks! That book looks interesting and I may have to pick it up soon. Also I appreciate the confirmation on the station.

dfriedman, burnmp3s: Yes, I understand that places change. I recently did a shot-for-shot comparison for my favorite movie (no self-link, sorry) so I can readily identify with what changes a city goes through. Having said that, I'm looking for specific information about one neighborhood, not just the city as a whole.
posted by komara at 1:33 PM on April 20, 2010

Response by poster: Apologies if that came across as snarky, it wasn't meant to be.
posted by komara at 1:37 PM on April 20, 2010

Definitely read Fortress of Solitude if you have an interest in that area.
posted by activitystory at 1:43 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: Yes - 35 years ago all of brownstone brooklyn ex Brooklyn Heights was considered non-gentrified and pretty tough. Park Slope (the first area to gentrify) was just sort of starting to attract gentrifier's around then. For example the co-op was founded in '73. There is some awesome youtube out there chronically rampaging gang fights in the areas around Boerum Hill in the late-70's. I wish I could find it for you.
posted by JPD at 2:15 PM on April 20, 2010

Hopefully this isn't a hijack, but if anyone comes across good photo sets showing mid-1970s Brooklyn neighborhoods, please add them to your posts. I'm curious to see how gritty it really was.
posted by crapmatic at 2:24 PM on April 20, 2010

Brooklyn 1970s on Flickr

See also the NY Public Library's At Home in Brooklyn: The Nooney Brooklyn Photographs, 1978-1979 (photos by neighborhood here)
posted by Nothing... and like it at 2:34 PM on April 20, 2010

Nothing... 's flickr set Brooklyn 1970's is a bit misleading as its Borough Park - not brownstone brooklyn. While that nabe has changed A LOT - going from Irish and Italian to being synonymous with Hasidim - it never declined the way PS et al did.
posted by JPD at 2:43 PM on April 20, 2010

I'm surprised no one is talkin' 'bout "Shaft" for realistic NYC shots in the 1970s. Gordon Parks did a phenomenal job capturing the street feel.
posted by chairface at 3:28 PM on April 20, 2010

Response by poster: Nothing...: this page shows a C car at the Bergen St. stop.
posted by komara at 4:10 PM on April 20, 2010

Yeah, sounds like the (currently unused for passengers and closed-to-the-public) lower level is used as a layup / turnaround spot for A & C trains that go out of service at Jay Street / Borough Hall.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 4:27 PM on April 20, 2010

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