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The New York that we know from the movies -- a city as much mythic as real -- was launched, Sanders maintains, only after the movie industry left New York for California.

The development of "talkies" made the Hollywood studios hire New York writers to produce the dialogue, and Broadway composers to score the musicals. Lured from their sophisticated city, stuck in the desert, these New Yorkers became lonely and homesick. But the Hollywood money was too much to turn down. The screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, on a visit to a midtown bar, is supposed to have jokingly lamented, "Oh, to be back in Hollywood, wishing I was back in New York."

The New York they created for the movies sprang from a memory enhanced by longing and imagination. In many movies of the 1930's, this meant a New York full of penthouses peopled by witty sophisticates looking out on the glittering skyline. As the film critic Pauline Kael wrote, "every movie-going kid in America felt that people in New York were smarter, livelier, and better-looking than anyone in his home town. There were no Cary Grants in the sticks."

There was no Superman in the sticks, either; he lives in movie New York, as does Batman (though his New York City is under an assumed name), and, later this year, so will Spiderman. So has the monstrous Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man (who looks suspiciously like the Pillsbury Doughboy) in (above, top) "Ghostbusters" (1984), a movie to which Sanders for some reason devotes almost half a dozen pages. In movie New York, as in the real New York, he writes, "the most impossible situations have come to seem not only possible, but downright likely."

This includes the city's destruction, depicted again and again in movies such as (above, bottom) "Independence Day" (1996). When the aliens from outer space attack Los Angeles and Washington, Sanders writes, it is not as shocking as when they knock over the Statue of Liberty. "Independence Day·reaffirmed the city's continuing iconic power."

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