Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day- Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio battle over the Five Points
York (‘ity and everything I read seemed to fit with my impression of the period.~ .\Iarty cotrld feel a movie coming on. liven though he had only one under his belt so far. it‘s trnlikely he imagined it wotrld take over three decades to make (iangs o/Nen' link.
The IS—I0s~o0s are not well doctrrnented. Apart from a few books such as the one written by Asbury and a few blurry photographs. there‘s not a lot to go on. The centre of gang activity from this period. an area known as the Iiive I’oints was buried beneath the earth long ago.
Luckily for Scorsese. while his planned film was still in development. a team of archaeologists excavated the area of Manhattan's I.ower Iiast Side where the Iiive I’oints had existed. What they found - a collection of over 850.00 artefacts furnished him with enough information to pull off a pretty accurate recreation of the period. Sadly. only IS of the artefacts survive: the remainder were destroyed in their archive when the World Trade (‘entre (i btrilding partially collapsed on II September.
Sheer luck might have unearthed the past for Scorsese and his team. btrt to realise old New on film. they had to start from scratch. "I'he Iiive I’oints resembled a wild west town more than a New York (‘ity neighbourhood of today.' says Scorsese. Screenwriter Jay ('ocks says what his director wanted was ‘a western on Mars‘. In other words. a film about a New York none of us are familiar with.
So the boys went to Italy to make their movie. to Rome's legendary ('inecitta Studios. built by Mussolini and. at its busiest time during the 1950s. home to both the country‘s leading auteurs and epic lilrn prixluctions shipped in from Hollywood. ‘I‘ve always felt that ('inecitta had a special kind of magic because of all the
'THEY ARE STORIES OF
TESTING OF AMERICA, OF OUR ROOTS'
great films that have been made there.’ says Scorsese. In his other guise as film historian. he followed his 1995 doctrrnentary. A Personal Journey with Martin .S'eorsese throng/I American Movies with the 200] sister doc. My lovage to Italy. ‘Iior the many years that I had been thinking about Gangs o/‘Nen' York. I always imagined it would be created with an aspect of Italian artistry that I saw in Italian films when I was growing up.‘ he says.
In a way it‘s apt that Scorsese should go to Italy to recreate old New York. Partly because his ancestors hail from there. partly because the old country has made such an impression on his filmrnaking and partly because Gangs ol'Nen' York. the movie. details the experience of Iiuropean immigrants arriving in America.
At (‘inecitta. Scorsese‘s crew constructed one of the largest sets in film history. It included the Five Points with its wooden shacks. brick tenements and saloons. (‘ity Hall. the 'I'ribune Building. I’I' Bamum‘s museum. part of New York harbour (with sailing vessels). a stretch of Lower Broadway and a (‘atholic church. It's an impressive sight. I know. I‘ve been to (‘inecitta and walked its fake cobble streets. It might be fake. btrt on screen it looks more realistic than the digital reconstructions used ever more in modern lilrnrnaking. Iixpensive. too. You're unlikely to see hammer and nail set construction on this scale again anytime soon.
So. Scorsese finally realised his 33-year-old dream. Maybe with (iangs ol'Nen- York. he‘s closed the book on the city’s goodfellas and wiseguys. ()n the other hand. there are e'ght million stories in the Naked (,‘ity . . .
Gangs of New York is on general release from Fri 10 Jan. See review, page 27
OTHER GANGS OF NEW YORK
Scorsese ain’t the first to make movies about New York’s gangs. Here’s the top five you need to see. Words: Miles Fielder
98, I"? i" thyme.
West Side Story In this musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. a guy and a doll from rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks fall in love and cause all kinds of trouble on NYC's mean streets. And. courtesy of choreographer Jerome Robbins and director Robert Wise. they sing and dance. too — bonus!
The Warriors Ultra cool. crunchineg violent late 19708 flick directed by action auteur Walter Hill, the brilliant execution of which operates on a neat premise: at a meeting attended by all the street gangs of New York. the Warriors are framed for the murder of gang messiah Cyrus. Thereafter, they must battle their way back from the Bronx to Coney Island. Cool music. cool duds. smart ass dialogue and one blistering street fight after another.
Escape From New York Another great premise: in the near future Manhattan has been turned into a giant maximum seCurity prison with all exits from the island blocked and America’s most wanted left to their own devices within. When the unlucky US president's plane crashes into the former city. convicted criminal Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent in to retrieve him. Within various gangs. including a bunch of razor toothed flesh eating subway dwellers. do battle for supremacy. although Isaac Hayes' Duke of New York runs the show.
Black Caesar Blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson plays an over—reacher who knocks off Harlem's white gang bosses in order to set himself up as the top cat and give the brothers a better deal. but finds instead he becomes the white man's nigger. Lord Larry Cohen, another blaxploitation hero. directs, while Sir James Brown belts out the theme tune. ‘The Boss'.
The Bowery Director RaOul Walsh was an inspiration to Scorsese. This 1933 film Is a colourful portrait Of New York City's low lifes circa the 1880s. George Raft 's gambler and Wallace Beery's saloon-owner go head to head for the title King of the Bowery (on the Lower East Side. not so far from the Five Points) and the affections of a girl. Now little seen. because of its racist attitude to the Chinese community.
2—16 Jan 2003 THE LIST 13