Monday, August 16, 2010

DVD Review: New York Street Games

New York Street Games DVD & Street Games Rule Book [Home Use]Before cellphones, Blackberries, and Facebook…
Before a neighbor’s doorstep required an invitation…
Before “playdates” there was play.

New York Street Games, a documentary from director Matt Levy expounds on the almost forgotten pastime of street play.  In days gone by, children would not find their entertainment in front of a glowing screen, but outside on the streets with their friends.  Much has changed over the decades, and several reminiscing, now-grown children share their stories with the viewer, opening a window into their beloved past.

The first to offer his recollections is none other than Regis Philbin.  Like the others in the film, he remembers those days with great fondness.  “The things that we remember the best about our childhood were those games out on the street.”  Other celebrities follow, and they all seem to share the same affection for those days and the camaraderie that those activities held.

Among many benefits, street games allowed the many immigrant kids of New York to learn how to play with others of different ethnic groups and countries.  Language was no barrier if you knew how to play together.  Actor Hector Elizondo stated that although they were from different cultures, the games were something they had in common.

Communities and children were trusted to allow the free play, with little to no supervision. More often than not, it was the elder kids, neighborhood matrons, retirees and family members who would keep watch over all the children, not just their own.  This built a strong sense of community, as they were densely packed in some areas.  Entrepreneur Bert Brodsky estimated that as many as 50,000 people could have been living within the 5 acres of his neighborhood.  One might wonder if camaraderie and peace would have been less prevalent without the cohesion brought by the positive street culture!

Levy’s film also examines some groups who are still keeping games alive, including the Stoopball League of America in Clinton, Wisconsin.  This small but growing association enjoys a game that few remember, and they enjoy sharing it with a new generation. During their annual Stoopball event, they proudly declare, “You won’t see a TV all week.”  This echoes a similar sentiment from actor Ray Romano, who recalled the predominance of playtime during his childhood.  He states, “That was it—you were your own Nintendo.”

New York Street Games also examines other components of this world.  The predominant ball used in the games was a reddish-pink rubber ball called a “Spaldine”, produced by the Spalding Company and was ubiquitous in New York street play games.  They were highly prized, and children would go to great lengths to recover ones temporarily lost.

Other aspects of street play are profiled, giving the viewer a great view into a world that has somewhat died out, but in some corners lives on.  I found New York Street games to not only be educational, but entertaining as well.  The stories shared in the film brought a smile to my face, somehow transmitting to me the joy of those days.   There’s much humor here, as well as warm, but not syrupy nostalgia.

This program would be excellent to share with a very divergent audience.  Adults will enjoy reminiscing about our past childhoods.  Young people can see that there’s more to entertainment than sitting in front of a screen (as I ironically do so now).  Street play wasn’t just “Nintendo unplugged,” it was vitality itself.

As the end of the film mentions, there’s a reason that childhood obesity has become so prominent today.  Our kids just aren’t moving enough.  Some of this is due to unfortunate changes in our culture. This mother of two would never allow the latitudes given to me 30 years ago as I freely roamed my neighborhood. There are safety issues to consider.  However, many scenes in Street Games show opportunities for these same games to be played in parks and other areas where proper modern supervision could be given. Viewers can also purchase an actual rulebook for the most common street games, produced in association with this documentary.

The childhood that those like Regis Philbin enjoyed may never return, given the world we live in. However, New York Street Games allows those days to live on in this film, in an enjoyable and educational way.  Hopefully it will inspire some to take a step out of their doors to see what a little Spaldine can do.

This title was provided by Falco Ink.  No obligation other than an honest review was required. 

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