Appellate Judge James A. Stewart reassures viewers that Three Card Monte is not featured.
"Before cellphones, Blackberries, and Facebook…Before a neighbor's doorstep required an invitation…Before 'playdates,' there was play…"
I vaguely remember playing Red Rover as a kid, the rules set down by a gym teacher. In an earlier era, though, the rules for Red Rover—and a lot of other street games—were handed down to kids by kids. New York Street Games celebrates that era.
It was an era when New York city was more kid-friendly and an extended family watched over the neighborhood children. Kids played handball, stoopball, stickball, Leapfrog, and Blind Man's Bluff, among other games. Street Games doesn't pinpoint exactly when that era ended, but it features lots of memories from people who lived in it. Celebrities like Regis Philbin, Whoopi Goldberg, C. Everett Koop, and Joe Pantoliano have their say, and so do some people you've never heard of. It's short, but it touches on lots of games and packs its 76 minutes with those quotes, vintage photos and footage, and footage of people keeping games like stoopball and stickball alive today.
Street Games makes its points effectively, often showing an old Fleming painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder that demonstrates that many of the games the interviewees are talking about were played five hundred years ago. I've seen a lot of documentaries that rely on graphic elements recently, but this one has to be the neatest—and the simplest. That's appropriate for a doc which celebrates games that were usually played with factory seconds Spalding balls.
The picture quality is all over the map, since there's a lot of vintage film in there, but the modern stuff looks good. The ambient sound comes over well, giving you a convincing feeling of being there. Hector Elizondo's narration fills in gaps while letting the sounds and voices speak for themselves.
There's only one extra, but it's a good one: a booklet that explains the rules to many of the games mentioned. The explanations are short and clear.
The one imperfection to New York Street Games is a circumstantial one. If you're a parent, you'll be watching with your kids and egging them on to try the games it features. If somehow the kids stumbled on Street Games themselves and passed around the rules from the booklet, that would bring the world a little closer to the world the movie recalls and celebrates. Bringing them to it may be as good as it gets in this world, but it's not the same. Paradoxes like that aside, though, this is one you should watch with your kids or grandkids.
Not guilty. Who knows? Your kids might learn something about Pieter Bruegel
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