NARRATOR: New York Movie shows the inside of a theater, the audience illuminated by the light of a film. But the real focus is the usherette leaning against the wall in the aisle, her arms crossed and her chin resting dreamily on her hand. She appears to be lost in her own imagination—transported to another place, just as the audience has been drawn in to the world of the film. Hopper was a real believer in the escapist power of the cinema—in fact, movie binges were his preferred method for dealing with creative block. And 1939—when Hopper completed New York Movie—was a great year for Hollywood film. New releases included the Technicolor pioneers Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.
The film projected on this screen is black and white—notes left by Hopper’s widow indicate that we’re seeing a fragment of snow-covered mountains. Hopper’s done a remarkable job making the screen seem to glow. In fact, the lighting throughout the painting is fascinating. Ceiling lights project dramatically from overhead; a wall sconce lights the usherette; there’s an unseen light in an exit stairwell. Hopper once said that it was quite difficult to bring all of these different light sources together successfully.
New York Movie may look simply like an image of a movie theater, but in fact it’s a synthesis of several theaters. Take a good look at the drawings in this gallery. They allow us to begin with Hopper’s first tentative ideas for the painting, and to follow him all the way through to its execution. They’re a great case study for Hopper’s creative process.