Sunday, July 24, 2005

New York, New York (1977)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Martin Scorsese is arguably the greatest American film director living today. Yet, his greatness, like anyone's greatness, should never be mistaken for infallibility. Recently Scorsese disappointed many of those succumbing to GANGS OF NEW YORK and THE AVIATOR pre-"Oscar" publicity campaigns. Those who remember old days are probably aware that Scorsese had failed films in the past. Most notable among them was 1977 musical drama NEW YORK, NEW YORK.

The plot of the film starts in 1945, with the Americans celebrating the end of World War II. Saxophone player Jimmy Doyle (played by Robert De Niro) tries to take opportunity given by mass delirium and take aspiring singer Francine Evans (played by Liza Minelli) to bed. Francine initially rejects him, but two of them discover each other's talents and join the same big band that tours the country. Gradually they fall in love, marry and have a child. As their band becomes successful, Francine begins to yearn for solo career. Differences in temperament and musical tastes between Jimmy and Francine lead to inevitable separation.

Martin Scorsese envisioned NEW YORK, NEW YORK to be homage to classic 1940s and 1950s MGM musicals, which he had liked to watch in his formative years. The idea was to have a film with spectacular music and dance numbers, obviously fake sets and unrealistic costumes, but the plot and characters were supposed to be dark and realistic, more in tune with the sentiments of New Hollywood expressed in Scorsese's previous films like MEAN STREETS, ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANY MORE and TAXI DRIVER.

The amalgam between those approaches to filmmaking - symbolised in the casting that paired New Hollywood icon Robert De Niro with Liza Minelli, accomplished singer and daughter of MGM musical icon Judy Garland - didn't achieve what was supposed to do. De Niro with his Method acting looks alien to the film better suited to the talents of Liza Minelli. Some of the scenes are overlong, especially Doyle's failed attempt of seduction at the beginning. Others, like the one about parking dispute, should have been left on the cutting room floor. Because of that, NEW YORK, NEW YORK often looks uneven and incoherent, and it is easy to understand why it turned out to be both commercial and critical flop.

On the other hand, the Scorsese's talent in many of the scenes is undisputed. This is especially evident in "Happy Endings" number - which was introduced in 1981 version of the film. All those patient enough to sit through De Niro's theatrics and Earl Mac Rauch and Mardik Martin's uninspired dialogue are going to be rewarded with some scenes very pleasing to the eye and ears. The best thing in NEW YORK, NEW YORK are songs. The title song later became one of the popular pieces of music of all times. Because of that Scorsese deserves praise, although his film still should be viewed as failure.

RATING: 5/10 (++)


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