‘New York, New York. it’s a wonderful town!’ chirp unleashed sailors Gene Kelly. Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin in the exuberant 1948 musical On The Town. That exuberent statement has become almost a truism for movie-makers who‘ve found the city that never sleeps the most adaptable of filmic locations. But while the Statue of Liberty may remain the gateway to the land ofopportunity. and the Big Apple's towering buildings and glittering Manhattanites represent the ultimate American success story. the extent ofviolence and deprivation in the city‘s less salubrious areas make it the incarnation of the contemporary urban nightmare. The city‘s melting pot of racial and ethnic communities offers a microcosm of the United States, the tensions simmering between those groups is an indication of the big country‘s continuing unease with itself.
Attempting to capture all these diverse aspects ofa vital. exciting. troubling metropolis has been a task to involve film-makers ofevery stylistic inclination right through the history ofthe cinema. and their efforts have left their mark on the consciousness of movie audiences all round the world.
That producer Robert Greenhut has been able to marshal the talents and schedules ofthree ofAmerica‘s major film-makers into creating the triptych ofshort pieces making up New York Stories will probably go down as the film‘s most lasting achievement. for artistically it is certainly uneven. Martin Scorsese contributes Life Lessons. a familiar-looking situation with Nick Nolte as a famous artist and Rosanna Arquette the beautiful assistant he is hopelessly besottted with; Woody Allen chips in Oedipus Wrecks. a vignette that attests to the overwhelming awfulness ofJewish motherhood in the kind ofjokey. insubstantial manner the director cultivated in the early Seventies; and Francis Coppola offers. . . well. let's
move on. suffice to say that it features a horde ofobnoxious children and seems to have been 'scripted by one of them.
Having opened the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. New York Stories seemed to effortlesst fall below the high expectations everyone seemed to have for it. and it has. in fact. been another film to be premiered in Cannes that‘s given us the most-talked about images of today‘s city. Spike Lee‘s Do The Right Thing has won both admiration and scorn for its portrayal ofconﬂict between the Italian-American owners ofa pizza joint. and the Afro-Americans who provide most of its customers in the downbeat Bedford-Stuyvesant (or Bed-Stuy) district. Culminating in an all-too-real scene of riot and destruction. and the murder ofa black kid by police. Do The Right
Thing with its basis in real events. has been attacked as unnecessarily incendiary but for many viewers comes uncomfortably close to the truth.
The screen portrayal of New York as nightmare city however. is a familiar theme. Martin Scorsese‘s De Niro movies Mean Streets and Taxi Driver refuse to pull their punches in exploring sudden death and sleaze. while his dark comedy After Hours is a vision of downtown paranoia with Griffin Dunne‘s yuppie type adrift after dark in boho weirdsville. John Schlesinger‘s 1969 Oscar winner Midnight Cowboy has hick Jon Voight dicovering some home truths about the city ofhis dreams with consumptive hustler Dustin Hoffman. Check out Walter Hill‘s effort too The Warriors. another picture controversial in its
With top directors Scorsese, Allen and Coppola teaming up to create a picture of their hometown in New York Stories. Trevor Johnston looks back at the Big Apple’s many and varied appearances on the big screen.
time (1979). for a stylised glimpse at disaffected youth‘s clannish penchant for cracking each other‘s skulls open with baseball bats. The film‘s poster alone. a panorama of thousands of nasty young folk. was
enough to put the wind up the powers that be.
You have to go as far back as 1948 though. to Jules Dassin‘s pioneering The Naked City. which has dedicated lrish cop Barry Fitzgerald leading the manhunt fora brutal killer, for the first film which actually used the streets of New York for extensive location shooting. Before then Hollywood had preferred to use the more controlled confines of the studio. with King Kong himself causing the kind ofhavoc that was entirely setbound. but nowadays the New York Mayor's Office has its own Film Department to co-ordinate the myriad of movie and television crews seeking to capitalise on the authenticity ofthe pavements.
Numerous police procedural movies and TV cop shows have made The Naked City seem ordinary now. but its impact freed film-makers to put together a slew ofgreat movie moments that have taken place on the thoroughfares of NYC over that past forty or so years. ()n The Town saw the traditional studio musical liberated with dance routines on the docks. the precursor ofmetropolitan
terpsichorean delights like West Side
Story and Fame. Movies as d
iverse as Alexander McKendrick‘s 1957 media story The Sweet Smell of Success. Blake Edwards‘ 1961 Truman Capote adaptation Breakfast At Tiffany '3‘ and Oliver Stone‘s recent Wall Street have all attested to the dubious attractiveness ofmonied Manhattanites. while Woody Allen in Annie Hall. Manhattan and others has made the worried. arty. bourgeois flock his very own.
Harold Lloyd turned the place into thrill city with hair-raising comic stunts like his clock-dangling number in Safety Last. while William Friedkin’s artfully edited suburban underpass sequence in The French Connection remains one of the great white knuckle car chases. While Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Shoedsack virtually invented the monster movie with Kong. others have since attempted to equal his appetite for destruction. like the malevolent trio of Kryptonites in Superman II. Larry Cohen 's determinedly tongue in cheek Q The Winged Serpent. which nested on top ofthe Chrysler building. and of course the spectral slimerama of Ghostbusters (whose second instalment opens 1 December).
Yes indeed. all kinds ofcelluloid life are here. They could change the words of that song to become a moviepersons' anthem: ‘Ifyou can't make it there. you can‘t make it anywhere. . . New York. New York!‘
New York Stories (/5) opens at the Glasgow ()deon and the Edinburgh Cameo on Fri 24 November. Full details and a review of thefilm in our next issue.
4 The List