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Ed Driscoll

Triangulating ‘Nighthawks’

October 9th, 2013 - 1:18 pm

Click to enlarge.

I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but I changed the masthead of my blog on Monday night. The previous design, which I had grown more than a little tired of, contained a close-up from an early Photoshop I made in 2010, when with the help of one of its paint filters and the biggest fedora I own, I inserted myself into Edward Hopper’s iconic “Nighthawks” painting for my Twitter background and pictured above.

Of course, everybody has parodied Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting in one form or another over the years; the stark black backdrop behind the windows makes it particularly easy to swap characters in and out. Like many of Hopper’s works, It’s a stylish, yet utterly haunting painting; according to this Webpage, it can be seen to symbolize America in the depths of FDR’s Great Depression, about to turn down another grim corner and enter World War II. It’s nighttime because it was painted shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked by THESE WORDS CENSORED BY WHOOPI GOLDBERG.

But what was the inspiration for the corner restaurant that Hopper depicted? No sooner did I pull down my “Nighthawks”-inspired banner than I came across this item from James Lileks. After linking to a cartoon that itself is a nifty little parody of “Nighthawks,” James writes:

Brings to mind this: a search for the real location of “Nighthawks.” The best recreation of the painting was in “Pennies from Heaven,” which also did another Hopper scene in a movie theater. Extraordinary art direction. No one loved the movie, though; it was incredibly depressing, and people really expected Steve Martin to be, you know, funny. If you listen to Martin’s old comedy routines, you can understand why he went in another direction. There’s a live performance from the peak of his stand-up fame, and it’s nothing but catch-phrases tossed out like fish to a stadium of seals. He mentions “King Tut” and the roof comes off the joint. He’s a smart guy. He knew he was doing a parody of an insincere performer, and had become a parody of a guy doing a parody of an insincere performer. But I’m babbling now.

Well, it’s always fun to listen to James babble. And the link in the above-quoted text contains a fun, if circuitous detective search to track down the actual building that inspired “Nighthawks.” After a while, you almost expect to find a sled labeled “Rosebud” at the end of the post…

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I believe the scene of 'Williamsburg Bridge' is still there to see from the subway line.
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