This moment, too, will pass and become history, just as the moment before it already has. Rachel Shuman’s 55-minute city study One October etches the New York of the fall of 2008 into a permanent record, revealing a time that felt like the culmination of all history as just another moment — and showcasing the city of 10 years ago as already lost to us. Shuman’s sprightly, restless film trails the sprightly, restless WFMU host Clay Pigeon through the boroughs as he checks in with the people he meets. Wielding a microphone and accompanied by a small film crew, Pigeon opens his interviews warmly, with questions like, “How long have you lived here?” and “Do you love the city?” Then he gets specific.
Pigeon invites Harlemites to weigh in on gentrification (“You can’t even go to Brooklyn, ’cause they doing the same thing!”), a former photographer to explain how art school led to construction work, and a mixed-race longtime couple, both former cab drivers, he meets in Washington Square Park to weigh in on the upcoming election. A man named David who once managed Lightnin’ Hopkins sees the truth of the Barack Obama years before their start: “In American politics, change is never complete,” he says. “It’s never thorough. It’s never enough. Even Obama’s not going to give us enough.”
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The election, the 2008 financial crash, the sense that the city is becoming less habitable for the non-wealthy: This is One October’s bracing context. As an interviewer, Pigeon is gently inquisitive and frank. “It’s a bit over,” a young man from Germany tells him, of New York itself.
“What about America?” Pigeon asks. “Is America’s heyday over?’
The man says, “Certainly, yes.”
Shuman, meanwhile, packs the short runtime with well-observed city life, capturing birders and joggers, musicians and demonstrators, a host of animals both tame and wild. We meet huckster hawkers — the dude selling condoms with Sarah Palin’s face on them and the message, “When Abortion Is Not an Option” — and the hopeful. One wondrous shot, captured at the Village Halloween parade, finds two black men, dressed in suits and earpieces, play-acting the role of the Secret Service, saying, “President Obama, coming through! First Lady Michelle coming through!” Seated on their shoulders, also in suits, are a pair of kids, also black, dressed as the president-to-be, both certain one day to think back to this moment of promise as the best of what the city once was.