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In (top) "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), Al Pacino plays a man robbing a bank in Brooklyn to pay for a sex-change operation for his lover. The heist goes wrong and he winds up taking hostages at gunpoint. The film was shot on location in Park Slope, a few blocks from the bank where the actual robbery took place a few years earlier.

In "Death Wish" (1974), Charles Bronson plays a liberal New Yorker turned vigilante gunslinger shooting 93 minutes worth of muggers (such as (center) three who confront him in Central Park) as revenge for the brutal attack on his wife and daughter. Audiences cheered as each bad guy was offed, and the film spawned four, increasingly violent sequels.

"The Warriors" (1979) was a stylized film, transposing an ancient Persian story onto the New York City subway system. The members of a youth gang falsely accused of assassination, must make their way back from the Bronx to safety in its home turf of Coney Island, taking time out (bottom) to spray some graffiti on the wall and otherwise disturb other passengers. The film provoked incidents of violence in several movie theaters

These and a number of other films from the 1970's had several things in common. They were all shot on location in New York; filmmakers had returned after World War II to use the actual streets of the city as they had been used at the birth of cinema. The films all offered an edge, an edginess, an excitement that might not have been possible in the studio.

And they do not make the city look too good.

There is no question that this was not in fact the best time for New York, with fiscal woes, racial tension, a rising crime rate, the physical destruction of whole neighborhoods, and even graffiti all offering New Yorkers themselves a sense that things were out of control. But many of the city's problems, including the rising crime rate and racial tensions, were common throughout America; judging strictly from the statistics, New York City was far from the worst off. New York, in the words of the movie critic Vincent Canby, was being used as a metaphor for "the last days of American civilization." The air of authenticity that shooting on location gave to these violent films helped confuse audiences into seeing them not just as metaphor, but New York's special reality. "Thanks largely to movies," Sanders writes, "crime and urban violence were now uniquely associated in the public's mind with New York, as glamour and sophistication had once been."

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