The Flipside Of “Scorsese’s New York”

Martin Scorsese is 69 years old today. In celebration of the birth of the World’s Greatest Filmmaker™ we’ve decided to take a look at some of the filmmaker’s lesser celebrated works, each of them based around his beloved New York.

While Scorsese might be to New York what Fellini is to Rome or Dumont is to Flandres there are a number of the filmmakers New York pictures that arent held in as high a regard as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and are left to lurk beneath the surface of the filmmakers oeuvre.

After Hours

After Hours marks what is arguably the biggest diversion in Scorsese’s feature film career. Originally intended for Tim Burton, Scorsese took the mantle of After Hours after funding on The Last Temptation Of Christ fell through for the 307th time. Possibly the ultimate example of a cinematic happy accident, the resulting film is one of the most downright entertaining of Scorsese’s career. Charting a night in the life of Paul Hackett (An American Werewolf In London star Griffin Dunne) After Hours traces the hapless protagonist’s continuous spiral of misfortune. Arguably most notable for featuring the only time the names Cheech and Chong will feature in a Martin Scorsese Picture, After Hours is a superior high concept comedy epic, channeling the spirit of Homer et al.  

New York Stories – Life Lessons

Very much a counterpart to After Hours, Scorsese’s entry in this anthology feature feels very much a part of the animated, heightened world of Griffin Dunn’s nightmare NY. Nick Nolte is Lionel Dobie, a successful artist, as he struggles with completing his latest work against the backdrop of complications between his relationship with his assistant (Rosanna Arquette). Steve Buscemi also turns in a memorable performance as a note-perfect pastiche of a performance artist, although with Life Lessons its the sound that is the most effective aspect of Scorsese’s repertoire, with the recurring use of Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ and Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ amongst the directors finest use of music.

Notably, Life Lessons was loosely based around Dostoevsky’s The Gambler, a work which Scorsese is said to be revisiting with the planned remake of the Karel Reisz movie.

The Age Of Innocence

While it’s arguable just how highly regarded The Age Of Innocence actually is (it’s become something of a by-word for modern depictions of a New York gone by in some quarters) one cannot ignore the shock of the new upon the release of Scorsese’s first costume drama. While New York, New York, Raging Bull and Goodfellas straddle several time periods, and Boxcar Bertha is set during the great depression, The Age Of Innocence marked the directors first time working on a tale set in an aesthetically unrecognisable New York City (although admittedly, this ignores The Last Temptation Of Christ, which is arguably more fantastical than it is an attempt to historically ground or recreate a story ground in a specific time. The same goes for Boxcar Bertha). 

While the period in time might be somewhat alien when compared to the rest of the directors work up until that period, the film itself certainly isn’t. The extravagant camerawork, courtesy of long-time collaborator Michael Ballhaus is unmistakably Scorsesian, as is the subject matter itself, which is essentially an exploration of moral values, a subject matter that runs through all of Scorsese’s works. 

American Boy – A Profile Of Stephen Prince

Hidden away amongst the reams of documentary material produced by Marty on the history of the cinema is this gem, a 55-minute long portrait of one of the figures that inspired the world of Taxi Driver. Stephen Prince is an extraordinary figure, a former junkie and one time road manager for Neil Young, his situation and associates make for a unique and wholly engaging documentary setting. 

In turn the work itself becomes something of a kindred spirit to those aforementioned films about films, with the presence of Prince in Scorsese’s life as integral to the filmmakers work as much as any lament on Satyajit Ray or Elia Kazan.

Bringing Out The Dead

A belated follow-up of sorts to Taxi Driver, Bringing Out The Dead charts the same underworld presented in the 1976 film, albeit twenty years later. Nicholas Cage is Frank Pierce, a proto-Bad Lieutenant and all round conflicted figure. As he saves the lives of others (alongside a never-been-better John Goodman) Frank’s own life spirals further and further out of control, a happenstance portrayed by some of the most experimental visuals of Scorsese’s career. Bringing Out The Dead is also notable for featuring an early performance from Michael K. Williams, in the brief but pivotal role of a dying man. The two would later work again on Scorsese’s foray in to television, Boardwalk Empire

Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second will be marking Martin Scorsese’s 70th Birthday next year with a very special, year-long event. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks. 

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3 Comments

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  1. Thank you! Easy to forget some of these compared to the “greater” works, but there is greatness in so many of these films – Life Lessons has stuck in my mind for years – that paint-spattered loft, and Whiter Shade of Pale – got to see that again.
    What else can you say? Hats off to Marty…

  2. Lovely stuff. Not seen American Boy yet, on the list.

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