Neighbors and Cost of Living
I just had the pleasure of seeing Richard P. Rogers’ films Neighbors (1977) and Cost of Living (1979).
Neighbors catches the moment in Boston’s South End when middle- and upper-middle class families started buying up old rowhouses and brownstones in the inexpensive neighborhood and began the kerchief-over-the-hair, wallpaper-stripping, kid-raising gentrification process. We hear from these new arrivals in the film and we hear from the people who’ve lived in the neighborhood all their lives; lower-income neighbors who are worried about getting priced out of their community.
On the one hand Neighbors is very simple; it surveys opinions, it states the issues at hand and shows slices of people’s daily lives. Rogers works in all of these great, perceptive little juxtapositions though: a scene of homeowners talking about real-estate prices cuts to some kids playing Monopoly in a housing project, a Hood milkman feeds his children breakfast while a lawyer/banker couple feeds their children Hood milk for breakfast – so we get this complicated cross-section of the neighborhood that shows the disparities and the interconnections between the people living in the South End. And it’s funny!
Cost of Living shows Americans of all different classes and income levels, asking them what role money pays in their lives. Again, the premise is simple, but the characters are all unusual and amazing. We get a fireman’s wife with penchant for curtains and credit-cards, a super-wealthy Boston businessman, a single mom with 10 kids, an off-the-grid farmer and a well-off but insecure male hairdresser, among others. My hands-down favorite is the stockbroker with 3 kids and 2 ex-wives to pay for – he walks with a shuffle and he’s recovering from personal bankruptcy but he’s not down since he loves working. I hope he’s still playing the markets today.