Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New York, New York (1977)

Title: New York, New York (1977)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Liza Minelli


Considering the legendary status of filmmaker Martin Scorsese, it is extremely difficult for me to fathom that any of his films have tanked at the box office, i.e. made no money, i.e. flopped. To me, each Scorsese film is like a gift from the film gods. But low and behold, even an epic love story like New York, New York can fail. I guess a lot of it has to do with the fact that New York, New York was made early in Scorsese’s career and he still wasn’t a house hold name yet. Apparently back then, even though he’d already made Taxi Driver (1976) and Mean Streets (1973), Scorsese still had a ways to go before becoming the Scorsese we know today, before reaching legendary status. Maybe New York, New York failed at the box office because audiences expected something grittier from Scorsese? Or maybe it was the 155 minutes of running time that scared audiences away? Or maybe it was the fact that it was a musical? Maybe it failed because it was a bleak out look on love? Whatever the case, this film failed to capture audiences’ attention back in 1977. It failed to make its money back upon its original release, so much so that it threw director Martin Scorsese in a downward spiral of depression and drug abuse.

Scorcese checks out the dailies with Minelli

It’s too bad audiences didn’t flock to check this one out in theaters, it is such an epic love story! The films catch phrase is “A love story is like a song, it’s beautiful while it lasts” and in my book, it this catch phrase that captures what New York, New York is really all about. New York, New York is a film that covers all the different phases that one goes through when falling in love. The first meeting, the excitement of the first kiss, the passion that follows, glimpses of true love. But there’s also that bitter sweet time when two people fall out of love, when two lives aren’t clicking anymore; when peoples lives start heading in different directions. But oh, the joy of those first few moments when it works! Maybe this is what scared audiences away from discovering this film, how it isn’t your typical love story.

New York, New York is a film that was made in a very old school sort of way. Some of you might know that Scorsese is not only a filmmaker, he is also a true film lover and with New York, New York he was paying homage to all those Hollywood musicals he grew up loving, those old Hollywood films with fake looking sets and actors who over acted. This is the reason why some of the backgrounds in New York, New York look fake; the film was emulating the old Hollywood productions and it was doing it on purpose. Scorsese was trying to capture that certain look and feel, that certain artificiality of old Hollywood films. At the same time, New York, New York was a film that was very truthful about love. Not all love stories have a happy endings, not all films end with the couple kissing, fade to black. This being Scorsese, he offers us a film that pays homage to his favorite films, while at the same time infusing it with a bit of his own dark side, so the film is bitter sweet that way.  

It’s no secret that Scorsese loves The Red Shoes (1948) and considers it to be one of his favorite films ever, which is why it didn’t surprise me to see him tackling some of the same themes that The Red Shoes addressed. New York, New York is a film that explores that dichotomy between the dedicated and sacrificed life of an artist vs. the all too familiar path of love, marriage and a family. Same as ballerina Victoria Page in The Red Shoes, Jimmy Doyle and Francine Evans are torn between becoming parents or living the life of an artist. Jimmy is a saxophone player and Francine is a singer, both are looking for a way to make it. For a while, the film explores the competition that derives between the two. Who is better? Who is bigger? Who’s in charge? Ultimately, the love between the two is stronger, but what happens when a baby comes along? Will they sacrifice it all to become parents? Are they willing to sacrifice what defines them as human beings? These are the themes explored in this fantastic film.

The colors in this film are amazing, I devoured the way the film looks. Scorsese never just makes a film, with Scorsese it’s always something special and you can tell it’s obviously a Scorsese movie because of those special shots, the way he swoops that camera, the way he sets up the lighting, the colors, this film was just eye candy for me. There are these scenes that take place inside of a Jazz Club, just colorful, colorful visuals. And some scenes just scream “classic”, like the scene with which the film opens up with; this grand party right smack in the middle of a ballroom somewhere in the middle of New York City, just as every American was celebrating their victory over the Japanese. The party atmosphere is really absorbed here. These are scenes with hundreds of extras, confetti flying everywhere, people dancing, a ballroom full of life, a scene ripped right out of a Fellini film. It actually brought to mind a similar scene in Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953). Same as in Fellini’s film, these scenes in New York, New York are all about a huge party going on with a big band playing as everyone is going on about their respective debaucheries. And the debauchery continued even behind the scenes, where Scorsese was having an affair with Minelli. It was not a peaceful shoot that’s for sure, there’s nightmare stories about the making of this film, and yet, the results where amazing in my book.

Finally, De Niro and Liza Minelli are magic together. With their characters you can feel a relationship developing in a rather rocky fashion. De Niro’s Jimmy Boyle is that ultimate macho dude from the 50’s, you know, the kind that loves his wife but will have no trouble smacking her around in order to knock some sense into her; you get the feeling he’s the kind of guy who’s about to blow up any second. Minelli is beautiful, extremely talented and always questioning, always defying Jimmy’s authority. Sadly, though they love each other intensely, their lives begin to drift apart. You feel the love, but you feel fate tearing them away from each other. It’s a sad tale at the end of the day, but all the more realistic because of it. And even though one of the final musical numbers in the film is called “Happy Endings” we soon discover that, same as life itself, this just isn’t so. A word about the music in this film: the song “Theme from New York, New York” composed by John Kender went on to become one of the most famous songs ever. Liza Minelli sings it on the film, and later Frank Sinatra did a take on it as well. The song went on to become world famous. Who doesn’t know the lyrics to it? “I want to be a part of it! New York, New York!” It’s not very often that a song becomes so closely associated with a place itself, when people think of New York City; chances are this song will pop into their heads. The film itself captures the magic of the city, glamorizing as is to be expected from Scorsese, a director enamored with The Big Apple. So for all these reasons stated above my friends, it feels to me that New York, New York is a true classic of American cinema, the kind of film you want to watch before you die.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Unknown said...

Wow, you've been on a real Scorsese kick lately. Very cool. Yeah, this is a film that isn't regarded to highly even by a lot of Scorsese fans. I think it's because musicals are hard to pull off, let alone pull off well. He took a big risk much like Coppola did with ONE FROM THE HEART and look how that turned out! Beautiful film as well but a commercial flop. I think that musicals are a hard sell for the most part. They used to be popular years ago but most people aren't interested in seeing people break into a song. Of course, there have been exceptions of modern musicals that have been successful but they are few and far between.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey J.D., about the musical aspect of the film, what I liked about New York, New York is that it didn't feel like a musical to me. The film just happened to be about a singer, so she sang in her clubs, but it's not like in regular musicals where characters start singing out of the blue no matter where they maybe.

I liked that about it, it's a musical, but doesn't really feel like one because the film is about a singer, and of course, she has to sing when she's on stage.

Agree, musicals are a always a gamble which is why they rarely get made, I mean, look at the recent Rock of Ages, it seemed like it was going to be a sure fire success considering it was a rock musical that used tunes from the 80's, but it fell flat on its nose and made way less then its budget. And it came from the same director who made the ultra successful Hairspray, so it's really a mystery as to which musicals will work and which wont.

I need to check out One from the Heart, I've been meaning to do so for a while now, thanks for reminding me! And yeah, I have been on a Scorsese kick, I just wanted to see all of those films of his I had not seen yet...I've got a couple more coming, I guess I'm in one of those New York Grooves.

Gustavo Z. said...

yeah man, nice Scorsese run! your source it's really delivering! lol

Franco Macabro said...

JD, question, why would you suppose it's not regarded as highly as other Scorsese films? I was having a hard time seeing anything wrong with it. Ebert thinks its not perfect, other reviewers seem to think its some sort of a mess? I didn't find any of these qualities save for the fact that it was not a film with a happy ending, it was very unpredictable in a sense, the ending sort of leaves you hanging, perhaps that is it, but I think its what makes the film different, and in that sense refreshing.

Thanks for commenting by the way!

Franco Macabro said...

@Gustavo: Okay, props to my good friend and fellow film buff Guztavo Z. for lending me New York, New York and The King of Comedy! I'd been meaning to see those for a while now! I'll be lending you After Hours and return the favor my friend! But theres another Scorsese film I will be reviewing in the next couple of days, possibly this thursday, keep your eye out for it!


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