V-J Day. The end of World War II. Dancing in the streets of New York. With this incredible power the film opens, and we’re transported to a different world. This movie, like much of Scorsese’s works, is a love letter to film, New York City, and a different era. But where his other films are cohesive because of the love he puts into them, this movie suffers for it.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK is the dual story of Jimmy Doyle (played commandingly by De Niro) and Francine Evans (Minnelli, who literally grows in talent before your eyes). The first scene is almost a story unto itself, introducing Jimmy and Francine in the midst of a huge party later that evening. Francine’s in her dress uniform sitting alone. Jimmy, on the other hand, is on the prowl. He wanders through the party picking up women, looking for the biggest challenge. This is a microcosm of what you see the entire film. Jimmy is a jazz saxophone player. He pushes the envelope and improvises in everything he does. Francine, on the other hand, is the ingénue. I didn’t think that would work in this film, but it does, and she grows on you. She is just trying to hold things together.
This was De Niro’s third film with Scorsese. By this time, he’s already finished MEAN STREETS and TAXI DRIVER. De Niro is clearly in his element, chomping the scenery from the very first moment. He’s used to the improvisational style of Scorsese’s films, and while I didn’t enjoy all of the choices they made, he certainly sticks to his guns throughout the film. Minnelli on the other hand was new to the improvisational style. While she seems uncomfortable during a few scenes, she really holds her own as the film progresses and shines in all of the music scenes.
Scorsese was in love with the intimate style he’d developed over his young career. But, he also wanted to pay homage to a different time and style of movie. This is where the film goes wrong in my opinion. While it’s all crazy, tumultuous emotion and some real grief coming through the actors, the style of the film is over the top. He wanted to merge old Hollywood – grandiose films with big names, stylized sets and painted backgrounds – with his style. Honestly, it just feels creepy to me. It’s interesting, but there is a reason that the film just didn’t hit with audiences when it first came out. In trying so hard to mix these two diverse styles he doesn’t make one strong choice, and in the end you are just wondering where you were and what happened.
The real star of this picture is the music. If you love big band, or jazz, or musical theater, or just about any type of music you’re going to enjoy this aspect of the film if nothing else. I’ve let this movie sit with me for a few days before writing this review. I think the severity of De Niro’s portrayal of Jimmy is just too much for me to give it a full recommendation. This movie combines two genres I enjoy with mixed results. I like TAXI DRIVER. I love SINGING IN THE RAIN. But I don’t enjoy seeing Travis Bickle in the middle of my musicals. It’s an interesting experiment though, and I don’t regret watching it.
Video: (1.66:1 Widescreen) Scorsese chose this aspect ratio because he wanted to shoot it like old movies. The transfer is decent, but it’s surprising how grainy the film looks compared to other features. This could be because Scorsese wanted the film to look like an old Technicolor picture.
Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Español Mono, Français, Italiano, Deutsch, Castellano 5.1 DTS) The music sounds absolutely phenomenal, and the audio is delivered through a nice track that brings forth some really great sound elements. The music, the actors, everything sounds like you’re there.
Introduction with Martin Scorsese: (5:36) A really great discussion. Explains some of the stylistic choices – this movie really doesn’t fit any molds that I’ve seen before. It’s old Hollywood (over the top) with real/tense situations and feelings. Not sure I agree, but pretty interesting ideas.
Commentary by Director Martin Scorsese and Film Critic Carrie Rickey: A bit of a turnoff at the beginning – like listening to Ms. Rickey’s Ph.D. dissertation. Picks up momentum when Scorsese comes in and it’s actually a pretty decent juxtaposition back and forth as the movie moves forward. Sadly, there are a lot of long pauses where the commentary stops, and it sounds like Scorsese is being interviewed more than actually watching the film.
Commentary on selected scenes by Laszlo Kovacs, ASC: (10:14) Expected the cinematographer to pull the curtain back a little bit more than he does, but still some interesting tidbits on the film that you won’t get anywhere else.
Alternate Takes/Deleted Scenes: (19:14) Since a lot of the film was improvised, there were lots of takes. This is a collection of some of them – I didn’t really see anything that was ‘deleted’ per say. It appeared that they were more alternative takes than what was in the film.
The New York, New York Stories, Part 1: (25:30) Liza, Scorsese, and others talk about the film and the experience of putting together this film and telling a classical Hollywood story with acting from the new age.
The New York, New York Stories, Part 2: (26:58) Continued discussion of making of the film and discussing the reception. Pretty interesting. I enjoyed these featurettes quite a bit more than the film.
Liza on NEW YORK, NEW YORK: (22:08) Really great interview piece with Liza. She’s a real talent and it’s great to hear how much fun she had.
Theatrical Trailer (3:27) Uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s hard to sustain for almost 2 ½ hours. I’m much more comfortable with the quick take presented in the trailer.
Teaser Trailer (2:07) Not the same as teasers today, but it at least looked like a better movie here.