Thursday, July 8, 2010

New York, New York 1977 A Movie A Day Day 37

The title tune for this movie became Frank Sinatra's signature song in the last couple decades of his life. Liza Minelli still performs it and It brings the house down. In the movie "Lost in America" the advertising firm is creaming their pants because they secured the rights to the song. Yet in 1977, when the song was the theme from this movie, it did not win an Academy Award for best song. Hell, it was not even nominated. How could that happen to a song that became and remains so popular. It's simple, Academy members must have seen the movie.

Martin Scorsese is probably America's greatest living director. His movies are widely praised by critics, fawned over by industry types and beloved by film fans. May all of those people be spared having to sit through this horrible mess of an idea, in search of a movie. I told Dolores as I was watching it, that it reminds me of the scene from Raging Bull where Jake LaMotta is arguing with his wife in the kitchen over how long the steak should be cooked. That was a good dramatic scene. Now take it and stretch it to almost three hours, add music and make the main character even more loathsomely hateful than LaMotta, and you have New York, New York. This is a bad marriage displayed for people to be entertained by. "Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf" at least had some tension and humor and good performances. This movie has the one song, they save it for the end, it is the only effectively presented musical sequence in the film, but the last 10 minutes cannot erase the memory of the turgid dramatics of the preceding 153 minutes. I took Dee to see this when we were dating in 1977. I think we saw it at a theater in Cerritos or the Norwalk area. I'm surprised that she married me after this.

There are two things about the movie that I liked, (other than the fact that it finally ended and I will never have to see it again). The art direction is really nice at evoking the post war period as we remember it from movies. The night clubs are spectacular and the lighting is atmospheric. Some of the outdoor sets are deliberately designed to look fake in a Hollywood back-lot fashion. The colors pop out at you and the wall decorations make you wish that you had an artist like that available to do murals in your house. The other thing that works are the costumes, they are lush and quite entrancing. Liza has some terrific suits she wears and the hats and gloves are really classy ways of emphasizing a different time. DeNiro starts off in a Hawaiian print shirt that is tacky as hell but shows how he is trying to throw off the drab Army clothes he has been burdened with. Later he has some suits that are loud but stylish, they are the flamboyant kind of clothes an entertainer might very well have worn in those days. OK, that's all I liked.

There are scenes that go on for painful minute after painful minute. The first half hour of the movie is practically a conversation where DeNiro's character tries to pick up the girl. He is so obnoxious that I can't figure out why she doesn't have the manager of the club throw him out. (The reason is that if she had any sense at all there would be no movie and we could cut straight to the music video at the end. The DeNiro character gets progressively more annoying, alienating every one else in the story. The final shot of the film must be intended to be ironic, she decides not to meet him after all outside of a party where they briefly re-connect after he has abandoned her and their newborn son for 7 years. If only she had given him a fake phone number at the beginning we could have been spared this waste of time.

I read that Scorsese was despondent over the failure of this film. He had intended it to be experimental and to take him out of the grim urban dramas he had been making up till that point. This movie was grimmer than Taxi Driver, how was it going to get him out of his rut? Apparently, the lack of success lead him into a period of drug use, but from what I saw here, he was already under the influence of something. If you ever want to break someone of the movie watching habit, I suggest a double feature of Nashville and New York, New York. They may never want to see another film and you will understand what killed musicals for twenty years.

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