Saturday, April 16, 2011
#103: New York, New York
The year was 1976 and Marty Scorcese had not only become a bankable director but also had critics eating of his hands. The man had already impressed with Mean Streets in 1973 and then to follow it up with a movie like Taxi Driver was not a mean feat. It was colossal. He was the guy you would go to to make a movie on street fights, gangs and murders. So when out of nowhere he decided to direct New York, New York - a musical drama, it must've raised a few eyebrows in the industry. The fact is, the reason Marty took up the project was because he wanted to get away from from his trademark style of filmmaking that revolved around battle-hardened characters.
If you saw any of Marty's movies you will know that the man knows how to pick his music. So with help from writers Earl Mac and Mardik Martin (a frequent Scorcese collaborator) he directed this 1976 musical drama based on two interesting characters. Francine (Liza Minelli) and Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) play a talented singer and a mercurial saxophone player respectively. If Francine is steady and headstrong, Jimmy is all impulse and flair. Their first chance meeting is mastered-minded by Jimmy. He tries to dominate Francine in having her believe that he is a good guy to spend time with but she will have none of it. It's an elaborate 15 minute conversation but it's important because this is where you get to know about both of them- how they react when put in a spot.
From here on, we see of their gradual ascent in show business as a successful boy-girl combination. But seldom does anything go right in a Scorcese movie for long. Soon enough, Francine is pregnant and wants the baby. Jimmy doesn't but accedes to Francine's wish to stop touring. This is classic conflict between two people who love each other but have irreconcilable differences. One gulps it down, only to let it all out at a later date. It's the peak of filmmaking when two people who inseperably love each other want to part ways because they're getting on each other nerves. New York, New York is one such story woven with the fabric of music. For music has as much of a center stage as the characters themselves. As the story progresses, there's enough to keep you interested but soon it begins to get tiresome. The musical performances of Francine and Jimmy become a substitute for dialogues and their songs reflect their state of mind. Here is where Marty loses a bit of the plot. In his attempt to make this movie a tribute to the music he grew up with in the 40s and 50s, Marty seemed to have fallen in love with his own idea. In the process, the execution suffers.
New York, New York had a wonderful premise when it began. With such superb actors as De Niro and Minneli, the movie has everything going for itself in the first half. The drag that it becomes towards the later half could've been handled better and quicker. At 163 minutes, it could put you to sleep, especially with that extended version that has the segment of Happy Endings.. I suspect if it just were probably smartly edited, this review would've been a tad different.
At any rate, it's Scorcese, De Niro and Minelli in one movie- why miss it !