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This was a real change of pace for director Martin Scorsese--he decided
to do a drama/love story with music set in the 1940s. But he wanted a
DOWNBEAT film. It was released in 1977 (after about 20 minutes were cut
out by the studio) and was torn apart by the critics. It was reissued
in 1981 with all the cut footage restored (it now runs 165 minutes) and
the critics raved about it! Go figure. After that, however, it seemed
to disappear. Too bad--it's actually good.
It's about clarinet player Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) falling in love with Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli). She's a singer and they preform together in the same band. But Jimmy has serious temper problems and when Francine gets pregnant things go out of control.
The film is certainly stunning to look at--the sets and cinematography are just great. Some of the sets are (quite obviously) fake but it actually works in this movie. It seems to be a homage to the big, splashy Technicolor musicals of the 1940s and 1950s--but has its characters act like real people and deal with adult situations. The direction by Scorsese is (of course) wonderful. What's especially surprising is his directing of the big "Happy Endings" musical number (which was originally completely cut)--who knew Scorsese could direct a musical?
The acting is good--almost too good. Minnelli is very good as Francine--she's just magical when she sings and there's a powerful sequence when she just explodes in the back of a car. De Niro plays Doyle as an insensitive jerk--and that's the main problem with this film. His character is loud, immature, obnoxious and always pushing Minnelli around. More than once I wanted her to turn around and punch him out. His character is so unlikable it's hard to really give a damn about him. But Minnelli is beautiful and likable and the sets are unbelievable. The music is great and when Minnelli sings "New York New York" you can't take your eyes from the screen. Also old time stage actor Larry Kert (who sadly died on AIDS in 1991) pops up at the "Happy Endings" sequence--what a voice!
A lot of people find this film sick and too dark--it is, but it IS a Martin Scorsese film. It should be reissued again and find a new audience. It's been over 20 years. Well worth seeing.
Released in 1977, Martin Scorsese's NEW YORK, NEW YORK instantly
divided critical response--and, facing box office competition from no
less than STAR WARS, proved a major financial failure. A significantly
edited re-release followed not long afterward but proved even less well
received and even less profitable. Although a double VHS release
eventually brought the film to the home market, the film remained
unpopular and made barely a ripple in public consciousness. In 2005,
however, NEW YORK, NEW YORK received an unexpected release to DVD. At
long last it may begin to reach a significant audience.
As a story, NEW YORK, NEW YORK draws from a number of oddly "Noir-ish" musicals made at Warner Bros. in the late 1940s. Most particularly, according to Scorsese's commentary, it drew from MY DREAM IS YOURS, a film that not only starred Doris Day but actually reflected her life in its tale of a talented big band "girl singer" trapped in an abusive marriage with a musician. Although the film force-fed the audience a happy ending, later films would not. In the mid-1950s, Doris Day's LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and Judy Garland's A STAR IS BORN offered stories of a gifted female vocalists locked into disastrous romances that played out to a very distinctly unhappy ending, and NEW YORK, NEW YORK draws from them as well.
Scorsese not only repeats the basic stories and themes of these films, he also repeats the artificially heightened visual style typical of Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s--it is no accident that Liza Minnelli looks and sings remarkably like mother Judy Garland in this film--but he does so to an entirely unexpected end. The bravado performing style of such films is completely snatched away, and the characters are presented in an almost documentary-like realism. In theory, each aspect of the film would emphasize the other; in fact, however, this was precisely what critics and audiences disliked about the film when it debuted. They considered it extremely grating.
But perhaps the passage of time has opened our eyes on the point. I saw NEW YORK, NEW YORK in its 1977 release and, music aside, I disliked it a great deal. I expected to retain that opinion when I approached the DVD release, but I was greatly surprised. It holds up remarkably well, and most of the time the balance of artifice and reality works very well. But there are significant flaws. In a general sense, the film has a cold feel to it that occasionally becomes so downright chilly you begin to detach from it. But even more difficult is the character of Jimmy Doyle, the abusive husband of the piece.
The recent DVD release includes a noteworthy director's commentary, and Scorsese states that both he and actor Robert De Niro sought to push the character far beyond the extremes of MY DREAM IS YOURS, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, or A STAR IS BORN. They were perhaps more successful than they expected. The result is a character you actively do not want to watch or hear, and although we are eventually allowed to see beyond his annoying qualities that moment comes much too late in the film to make him acceptable in any significant way. It makes for more than one bout of uphill viewing.
Overall, I recommend the film--but it is very much a "Hollywood Insider" film that is probably best left to those who know a great deal about film history and who can recognize the numerous antecedents from which it draws.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
New York, New York is Scorcese's most underrated film. Ahead of its time, out of the mainstream of mundane tastes, and both a tribute and a criticism of the musicals of the 40s and 50s, New York, New York is constantly misunderstood - especially by a culture weened on Rambos and Die Hards. DeNiro is a misogynist; Minnelli, a codependent. The characters are not necessarily supposed to be likeable or easily understood. They are consciously not written to be cozy, comfey typical boy-meets-girl characters. Like any couple caught in the disease of romantic addiction and career obsession, Jimmy Doyle (DeNiro) and Francine Evans (Minnelli) depict flaws that approach hyper-visibility within the context of fake scenery, big brassy musical numbers, a slow pace, and sparse dialogue. It's not that there isn't any normative plot; there just doesn't NEED to be one. Through its minimalism, NY, NY breaks boundaries for musicals in the way that Ingmar Berman films broke ground for European movies. In the 70s, people were tired of musicals and Star Wars had been released. Out with the "old," in with the new. NY, NY only LOOKED like the old movies that modern culture was trying to get away from. Had people looked at it as parody (a trend that was to consume 80s cinema), NYNY would have been seen through a truer lens. DeNiro is tempermental, insensitive, and bombastic. Minnelli is shy and patient. DeNiro is jealous and insecure. Minnelli is focused and self-assured. Minnelli, in fact, not only evokes the period, she IS the period. Her doe-shaped eyes are not lost behind her extravagant custumes, and Minnelli's voice is the best of her career, displaying everything from subtlety (in songs like "You are my Lucky Star," and "There Goes the Ball Game") to power and emotion (in "But the World Goes 'Round," and "The Man I Love"). Minnelli's classic rendition of the title song is a show stopper, coming on the heals of a 15-minute production number entitled "Happy Endings" that takes the film into a three-dimensional surreality, for within "Happy Endings" (the movie within the movie) is a ANOTHER movie called "Aces High," where a sequined Liza combines the personas of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russel into a single glamorous diva. The film's downbeat ending is actually a sign of strength for the Minnelli character, and DeNiro's Doyle is left alone to ponder the love he left behind.
There *are* things to love in NYNY. But over and over again I kept coming back to this thought: does director Martin Scorsese (a genius storyteller) really love musicals, or is he, in fact, satirizing them here? I can't find any other explanation for the creation of a leading character (DeNiro) so self-absorbed, rude, brutish, and jealous of his future wife's (Minnelli) growing fame, while at the same time trying so hard to establish his own fortune with a tenor sax. It's like there's a highly pitched voice of reason trying to remind the audience that in real life, people aren't so happy as they always seem to be in musicals. I know everyone doesn't love (some of you proudly hate) musicals, but usually one can find something redeeming in the characters who populate the stories. For 2 1/2 hours of film, we are presented with a love story which borders on spousal abuse, and somehow be expected to care about the husband. It doesn't work. And yet, Scorsese bends over backward to recreate the 1940's musical/big band atmosphere, from Hawaiian shirts and two-tone spectator shoes to sumptuous big band pieces, not to mention a charming pair of dancers (channeling Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen?) spotted on a subway ledge or a sultry torch singer in a Harlem nightclub (a cameoed Diahnne Abbott, whose 11th-hour performance of 'Honeysuckle Rose' tips a well-fitted hat to Billie Holiday). One critic seemed to personally resent the channeling of mother Garland through daughter Minnelli (particularly in the supper club where the title song is stunningly performed with all guns blazing), but I think that was very much on purpose. Even though she got much bigger acclaim for "Cabaret," I think Minnelli reached the peak of her musical talents in this film. I loved her. I just didn't love them, and unfortunately, that kept me from loving the whole project. Watch it on DVD, and skip to your favorite parts.
I have not seen any of Martin Scorsese or Robert De Niro's other, grittier films, but I definitly enjoyed their work in this under-rated 1977 musical drama. Scorsese certainly came up with a brilliant idea - Contrasting the glitz and glamour of the 1940s and 1950s movie musicals and jazz nightclubs with a harsly realistic story about a can't-live-with, can't-live-without relationship between a charming but abusive jazz saxophonist and a vulnerable but strong singer - and in many ways it pays off. De Niro gave a great performance; he can go from likeable to dispicable in a breath. Really fascinating to watch, and I can certainly see why so many people consider him brillian. Liza Minnelli, as his wife, is also great. Of course, her singing is incredible - in standards like "The Man I Love," the delightful "You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me," which in true Hollywood fashion she launches into out of nowhere and performs so well (Backed up by De Niro on sax) that they both land a job at a club, and "You Are My Lucky Star" and new songs written for the film by Kander and Ebb like "But the 'World GOes Round" and, of course, the title tune - and her acting is also subtle, shaded, and sympathetic. Not to mention how fetching (And eerily like her mother, Judy Garland) she looks in Theordora Van Runkle's period costumes. She is just as good as, and perhaps even better at times, than she was in her more famous performance in "Cabaret." SHe and De Niro really should have been Oscar-nominated for their powerful performances here, and Scorsese really should've gotten a nod as well. But the film flopped, so the Academy didn't notice. Which is really too bad, because this movie definitly deserves another look, especially in its restored version which includes a fantastic production number cut from the original print, "Happy Endings," performed by Minnelli and Larry Kert, Tony in the original Broadway production of "West Side Story," that does a great job of reiterating the movie's themes. True, the film is a little too long and slow at times, and there's more than a little unneccessary footage that didn't really need to be there, but all in all it's a very interesting, under-rated gem. It certainly has gotten me interested in Scorsese and De Niro's other films...
New York, New York is a marvel. The beautiful production design of this dark chamber musical helps us see a side of post-War America many of us are unfamiliar with. The destructive relationship of lead characters Francine Evans and Jimmy Doyle (Liza Minelli and Robert DeNiro) does not obscure their obvious love for each other and their music. The film is a burgundy-tinged valentine to the musicals of the 40's, and there is frequent wonderful humor and a delightful supporting turn by Lionel Stander. Do not listen to the nay-sayers; this is Martin Scorsese's finest film.
What is fantastic and wonderful about this film is the music, the sets and when Liza Minnelli sings. Liza is superb in her performance and Robert DeNiro plays a character that is arrogant, brutal and slightly erratic in a way that only DeNiro can perform. His character is quite disturbing to watch as the film takes a serious turn. There are several twists and turns in this film. Try to see the 2 hours + 44 min. version that includes more of the "Happy Ending" musical number that features Larry Kent. Beware of prints that have been cut down to 153 min. and 137 min. This film is at its best in the 164 min. form. I enjoy the performance of the woman who sings "Honeysuckle Rose". Whether this movie has a happy ending is something to behold. It can be best interpreted by the viewer. Some woman (and men) may say "hurray" for Liza while Alpha-males may be on the DeNiro's character's side. Watch Liza for her excellent, dramatic performance. This is one film I wish they could have made a sequel to.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
New York, New York is an ambitious failure. There are a lot of good things in it, but rarely do they ever seem to quite fit together into a consistent whole. You have to give Scorsese credit for trying to do something new, as he has done throughout his career despite the oft-repeated charge that he does the same thing over and over again. In this case, however, his gamble didn't pay off. Some of the tensions inherent in the "New Hollywood's" attitude towards Hollywood's past can be seen in New York, New York. With this movie, Scorsese sought to create a tribute to the big-band musicals of the 40s, while placing at its center a typically hard-to-like protagonist. Robert De Niro plays a talented but abrasive saxophonist who seemingly can't get along with anyone for any length of time, least of all his wife, played by Liza Minnelli. In the extended opening sequence, they meet cute at a V-J celebration, though, in a sign of things to come, the way in which De Niro tries to pick up Minnelli is distinctly creepy in its aggressiveness. She turns out to be a gifted singer, and they become partners, first singing together at a nightclub, then going on the road with a band, before his jealousy of her success finally drives them apart. After the low-budget success of Taxi Driver, Scorsese was riding high, and he was given the chance to mount his follow-up on a big scale. Just as the story and situation mimic those of old musicals, New York, New York's production design aims to recreate those movies' stylized, artificial sets and visuals. The sets are spare and designed in bold colors, while the car scenes utilize obvious rear-projection. At the same time as he is replicating the world of Hollywood musicals, Scorsese is also trying to subvert it's sentimentality by introducing his own brand of gritty emotional realism. Coppola tried to do something similar in One from the Heart; Scorsese's movie is much better, but it still doesn't work. At times, he seems to be doing a run-through for his next and much better movie, Raging Bull. In both films De Niro plays a volatile, jealous character who makes life difficult for everyone around him and never learns from his mistake. Of course, Jimmy Doyle is a little more bearable than Jake La Motta, but the fact remains that the character is just too unpleasant for the context of a musical. As despicable as he was, La Motta seemed to belong in the tough world of tenements, nightclubs, and boxing rings in which we saw him. If his character never really changed, then that was one of the main points of Raging Bull. In New York, New York, though, the characters are similarly unchanging, but they also remain strictly on the surface, as superficial as the studio-built world they inhabit. Scorsese seems to have mistaken unpleasantness for profundity.
Good musical with De Niro and Minelli giving excellent performances as a pair of aggravating people. Both of them constantly had me grinding my teeth over their silly inability to get along with either each other or, in De Niro's case, with most anybody else. This sax blowing moron couldn't get his mind off himself long enough to notice that there were other folks in the world along with his royal presence. What a s**t! Francine Evans, Minelli, hacked me off about as much as the donuthead she married because he was so transparently phony and she still fell for his every line. Are women stupid? Even though I despised Jimmy Doyle and was aghast at Francine's glossy eyed belief in every thing that came out of this con man's platinum tonsiled throat, I still enjoyed the film, especially the big band music....and Liza can really belt out a song...besides being pretty.
Martin Scorsese's deconstruction of the golden Hollywood musical is a
"New York, New York" is damn near unwatchable. It tells the VERY slight story of a jackass saxophone player (Robert De Niro) who falls in love with a nightclub singer (Liza Minelli) and proceeds to emotionally abuse her until her life is miserable. De Niro is consistently one note in his performance, creating a character without a single redeeming feature. In his early scenes, I think we're supposed to be charmed by him, and by extension understand why Minelli's character would fall for him in the first place -- unfortunately, he comes across more as a creepy sociopath than anything, Travis Bickle with some musical talent. Minelli's role is utterly thankless, but she's absolutely the only thing that kept me watching. The last 40 minutes of the film is practically a Liza Minelli concert. Her character has vaulted to film stardom and left her loser husband in the dust; Scorsese devotes what feels like half an hour to a movie within a movie featuring Minelli in one of those epic ballet scenes that always derailed Gene Kelly musicals. It does the same to this film, but the diversion was welcome, since it meant we could enjoy a nice break from De Niro.
The movie grinds on for 163(!) minutes. At the 120 minute mark I wanted to cry. At the 150 minute mark I was beaten into submission by indifference. By that point, the film had been going on for far too long, yet at the same time I couldn't believe it would be ending in 10 minutes because it didn't seem to be moving toward any kind of resolution.
Scorsese seemed to be unaware that this story had already been told -- maybe he'd never heard of "A Star Is Born." More likely, he was paying homage to that film, but he created something that on its own terms has no reason for existence.
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