Libidinous gentrification: SoHo in Hollywood’s erotic narratives of the 1980s

Authors: Johan Andersson*, King's College London
Topics: Cultural Geography, United States, Gender
Keywords: New York, Cinema, 1980s, gentrification, sexuality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Maryland C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


From the late 1970s onwards, SoHo in Lower Manhattan was repeatedly deployed as a setting for erotic adventures in Hollywood and independent cinema. The spatial trope of SoHo as sexy features across genres ranging from erotic thrillers to romcoms and was firmly established by 1978 in The Eyes of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner, 1978), Fingers (James Toback, 1978), Girlfriends (Claudia Weill, 1978) and An Unmarried Woman (Paul Mazursky, 1978). In particular the latter film, which was critically and commercially successful, started a mini-trend by contrasting SoHo’s artistic bohemia with the materialistic conformity embodied by the protagonist’s former stockbroker husband. In this paper, I analyse variations of this theme in a string of films from the mid-1980s – Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985), After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986), Parting Glances (Bill Sherwood, 1986), 9 ½ Weeks (Adrian Lyne, 1986) and Legal Eagles (Ivan Reitman, 1986) – which vary significantly in tone and genre, but tend to celebrate the area’s eccentric, arty and sexy inhabitants as a source of escape for more conventional protagonists (or in some instances warn against their seductive appeal). Adding to foundational work on the role of fine art and artists in the transformation of downtown Manhattan (Zukin, 1982; Deutsche and Ryan, 1984), this paper uses these erotic Hollywood narratives to bring the frequently downplayed libidinous aspect of gentrification and its associated imagery to the fore while also highlighting the role of cinema in the rebranding of 1980s New York

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