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By Felix Vasquez Jr. | October 2, 2006

“What’s messed up is living in the city and dying in the city without realizing your dreams.”- Kenny Legagneur

If you’re ever in New York, go onto the subway. Take it to 42nd street, 52nd street, Penn Station, and basically anywhere in Manhattan. Then, peruse the subways for a while. Walk around, take a gander, bide your time, and eventually you’ll surely know what the experience of New York truly is.

It’s not the Guliani enforced sterilized, merchandised, monopolized, glitz and glamour you see above. The real show is below, and on the side streets. The performers are sure to give you more to talk about than any giant coffee mug from Star Bucks hanging above head…well, there is the “Naked Cowboy,” but that’s the exception.

The defeating aspect of “Downtown Locals” is that while it generally taps into the oddities that everyone is basically familiar with, you won’t fully understand or grasp the film’s amusing and homegrown qualities, if you’ve never been to New York. “Downtown Locals” excels though in reminding me why, tough to live in this city may be, I can’t imagine ever leaving it.

The people profiled in this documentary prefer what they do to an average job and or a minimum wage position at a fast food restaurant. They’d rather be in the crowded, smelly subways, risking harassment and arrest, only to express themselves. They all do it for the love and the passion of the art, and not the money.

And why are the artists featured, accepted? Not because they’re artists only, but because they’re a part of what makes New York so special. New York is one giant Carnival, and these performers are the sideshow you have to stop and look at, even though you’re genuinely baffled.

And much like many attractions in New York, they depend on customers, they depend on curiosity, and they depend on small pittances just to make sure they express their art to you during rush hour, or early Saturday morning. And they can be ignored or watched by onlookers, and they love it just the same.

“Downtown Locals” is a surprisingly entertaining and wonderful piece of humanity, it’s the portrait of the starving artist using the public as a form of their expression, while celebrating what makes New York so damn fun to be in, around, and apart of. You can’t help enjoy the guitarists, dancers, actors, and performance artists.

The most notable profiling of the small artist is Julio Cesar Diaz, the man who dances almost non-stop to salsa and Merengue with the dummy of a woman strapped to his neck and feet, and the dancing is so fluid that for a second you can swear it’s a woman. But that’s only a taste of the talent you’re bound to find if you’re in the New York City Subways long enough.

And they’re the struggling artists, the voices looking for an audience, the unappreciated geniuses, and they’re just working people like us. Next time you’re in New York, drop them some change, and show them their effort was worth it. They deserve that much.

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