The perceived decline of New York City as a site of diversity and progressive culture is misunderstood. The city is no less vital today than during the oft-romanticized 1970s, when Manhattan was a heterotopia in which avant-garde artists and architects leveraged its social and aesthetic richness. While recent displacements from Manhattan and areas of Brooklyn are real concerns, nostalgia for the city of yesterday is an unfortunate response. Radiant City embraces the New York of today, constructing a critical archeology of its geography, infrastructure, and physical and social fabrics. Part I, "Manhattan," lays bare how communities emerge from, and embed themselves within, ecological and built contexts. It is filmed in winter light with motionless cameras, entirely in outer boroughs. Part II, "Empire," examines the city's physical and social connectivity to global networks. It is filmed in summer light with cameras in motion, primarily on trains and handmade dollies. Part III, "Metropolis," revels in the extraordinary complexity of the street. It is filmed at night, exploiting the abstraction of artificial light. Overall, the film is iconoclastic. It re-images a city that has become invisible because it is so widely known.
Radiant City is a film, not a digital media project, for methodological and historical reasons. The relatively low-tech and high-cost medium of film provokes a distinctly restrained confrontation with the city. Filmmaking distills the image-making process to one of capturing and organizing light, and it raises the stakes of each step and decision. The film image is more viscerally immediate and indebted to the incidents of its making than the digital image, and the historical record of cities captured on film has significant gaps that merit exploration while the medium is still viable. Two such gaps inspire this project: 1) the unrealized film of the plan of Paris speculated upon by Walter Benjamin in his Arcades Project, and 2) the unfortunate marginalization of Post-War experimental film practices within the discourse on the reciprocity between cinema and the city. The story of cinema's engagement with the city is incomplete, and Radiant City strives to write one of its concluding chapters.