Over the last several decades there have been a number of films that have featured MacDougal Street and some of the famous cafes and restaurants that occupy it. However, these films have not captured MacDougal Street as a breeding ground for the beat movement in the fifties and sixties, nor as a sanctuary for gays and lesbians during the seventies and eighties. Instead, it seems that many of the movies that highlight the street do so in a way that connects it with danger, and/or the mafia. Shaft (Gordon Parks), released in 1971 featured the street as well as Café Reggio and Minetta Tavern. It is at Café Reggio that Shaft meets a mafia contact over an espresso, before walking down the street and passing Minetta Tavern. Additionally, Café Reggio is also mentioned in The Godfather II (Francis Ford Coppola), again connecting the street with the mafia. Mickey Blue Eyes (Kelly Makin) is another movie that features Minetta Tavern and thus MacDougal Street. Again this film has the element of the mob. Hugh Grant’s character is dating the daughter of a mob boss and runs into him with some of his cohorts at Minetta Tavern (“Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations”).
Another movie that features Minetta Tavern and MacDougal Street is called Sleepers (Barry Levinson), a 1996 film about a group of boys who are sent to a jail and “brutalized” after a prank goes terribly wrong (IMDB). About a decade later, a chance meeting leads these men to plot their revenge against the prison guards (IMDB). Two of the men end up killing one of the detention center guards. They get caught and arrested. The movie stars Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Brad Pitt, just to name a few (IMDB). The scene that features both MacDougal Street and Minetta Tavern appears at the end of the film. The men have a celebration at Minetta Tavern after Brad Pitt’s character gets his two friends acquitted from the murder that they committed against the prison guard character (Kevin Bacon) who abused them while they were at the detention center as young boys. The scene shows MacDougal Street at night with people dressed nicely walking up and down the street. The camera then pans to show the very bright neon colored Minetta Tavern sign as Brad Pitt’s character enters the restaurant. As he walks in, he passes the bar on his left and walks back into the larger dining area. The scene seems to show the tavern as it still exists today. The whole scene really has a New York City look and feel with both the shot of the street at night, lit up and busy, and the shot of the interior of the tavern with the large bar. The scene takes place at a table in the back of the restaurant where the men celebrate their victory and have a few drinks.
It is important to point out that every film mentioned above depicts MacDougal Street with some connection to the mafia and/or dangerous crime organizations. As a result, it is important to further explore this idea and the role of the mafia and crime on MacDougal Street. One of the major reasons as to why the mafia frequented MacDougal Street during the twentieth century was a result of prohibition. As mentioned in previous posts, MacDougal Street is home to a number of bars. Therefore, when prohibition was enacted the mob became prominent on the street both picking up and dropping of liquor at speakeasies (Brown, p. 26). Also, in an effort to avoid police ever coming to the street or neighborhood, the mob also worked hard to keep the area peaceful. However, the mob’s illegal involvement with liquor during prohibition led to more illegal actions including “loan-sharking, trafficking in stolen goods, and, in the 1960s, selling heroin” (Brown, 26). The mafia could be both a friend, and an enemy to those inhabiting the street. It seems as though the mafia really did play a role on MacDougal Street and this portion of the village all throughout the twentieth century. It is quite intriguing however, that the only times this street has been featured in films, it is always with this same connection to the mob and to danger, which is not often seen as its most defining historical characteristic.
Brown, Mary Elizabeth. Italians of the South Village. New York: Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, 2007. Print.
“Shaft Film Locations.” The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations. N.p., 03 2012. Web. 19 Nov 2012. <http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/s/shaft.html>.
Sleepers. Dir. Barry Levinson. Warner Bros., 1996. Film
“Sleepers.” IMDB. N.p.. Web. 19 Nov 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117665/>.