Volume 75, Number 32 | Dec. 28 - Jan. 3, 2005

Villager photos by Q. Sakamaki

A look back at the real ‘Rent’

The new movie version of “Rent” offers a look back at the East Village circa 1989 as filtered through the lens of Hollywood. Photographer Q. Sakamaki documented the East Village back then, from Tompkins Square Park’s homeless tent city to squatters to the riots. On this page, from top to bottom: homeless people in the tent city around a fire barrel; a squatter holds a broken phone in his shanty house on a vacant lot as sunlight streams through holes in the roof and walls; during the riot over the park’s curfew, undercover and uniformed police rough up a man on Avenue A allegedly for playing a radio. Opposite page, from top to bottom: throwing a pallet on a bonfire during a protest; homeless people and supporters camp out under American flags to highlight homelessness; at a squatter Christmas Eve party. Sakamaki says he hasn’t seen “Rent.” “I don’t like it so much. People say it’s kind of commercial,” he said. Of that era, he said, “People know each other, so it feels like a real village. People were friendly, very intelligent, but people were also poor. Many people were freelance and activists. Not like now. Most people around here have a job in Wall St. or a high-salary area. Otherwise, people can’t afford to live around here without rent control.”

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