Wednesday, November 14, 2018
New York, New York
Directed by Martin Scorsese and screenplay by Mardik Martin and Earl Mac Rauch from a story by Rauch, New York, New York is the story of a jazz saxophonist and a saxophone singer who meet on V-J Day in 1945 as they fall in love where they endure a turbulent relationship onstage and off-stage. A tribute to the old Hollywood films from the 1930s to the 1950s, the film is a musical drama set in the aftermath of World War II where two people try to maintain a relationship through love and music. Starring Robert de Niro, Liza Minnelli, Lionel Stander, Mary Kay Place, Barry Primus, Frank Sivero, Dick Miller, and special appearances from Clarence Clemons, Casey Kasem, and Jack Haley as the master of ceremonies. New York, New York is a lavish though uneven film from Martin Scorsese.
The film revolves around a jazz saxophonist and a USO singer who meet at a party on V-J Day where they become a couple, join a big band jazz group, form a band of their own, and deal with all sorts of things in their tumultuous relationship. It’s a film with a simple premise that is told in the span of nearly a decade from 1945 to the mid-1950s as focus on this couple who bring out both the best and worst in each other. The film’s screenplay by Mardik Martin and Earl Mac Rauch does play into the elements expected in a romantic drama with music yet there is an element of intense drama as it relates to the relationship between singer Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) and jazz saxophonist Jimmy Doyle (Robert de Niro).
Their relationship starts off with Doyle trying to woo and win over Evans as the two prove that they learn they were supposed to meet on a blind date and their relationship develops slowly. Yet, once Evans gets a gig singing for a band where Doyle would find and follow her. He becomes part of the band and eventually form his own band but tries to control Evans’ fate as well as her career. Even when he tries to be the one with the glory and talent while Evans is just the voice but who has so much more to offer. While Doyle prefers to play with other musicians who he felt could match his talents as well as socialize with. It is Evans who is poised for stardom as things get complicated when she becomes pregnant with Doyle’s child.
Martin Scorsese’s direction is definitely extravagant for the world he is creating as it’s set from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s to reflect a period of old Hollywood where musicals were the thing. Shot largely at the MGM soundstages in Hollywood as well as parts of New York City and Los Angeles, Scorsese would create a setting that is lavish and filled with a lot of grand set designs to play into a world that was rich and innocent. Scorsese would create some unique wide and medium shots to get a scope of the nightclubs and places the characters go to while using stock footage to create that world of post-war New York City. Scorsese’s compositions do have elements of style that play into the way Scorsese would frame Evans and Doyle in a scene and the few moments where they are equal such as a scene of the two rehearsing with the band as they both share critiques on the drummer as well as a scene of the two arguing with a couple who are trying to park who were interrupting their own argument. Still, Scorsese also play into the craziness of their relationship such as their first meeting of Doyle trying to use his pick-up lines on her only to fail constantly unaware that they’re each other’s blind dates.
For all of the visual tricks and compositions that Scorsese creates in the film, it is clear that Scorsese is trying to make a film that is a homage to old Hollywood as some of the set backdrops do have that sense of artificiality that was prevalent from the past. Yet, to match it with some of the drama and the infighting between Evans and Doyle for some reason doesn’t mesh. Even as the attempts to blend both end up meandering the film a bit at times while Scorsese would be able to create some entertaining musical numbers though its attempts to infuse some drama ends up feeling messy. Still, the film’s climatic musical number that involves Evans in this massive set piece with top-notch dance choreography by Ron Field is a joy to watch as it play into what Evans could achieve that Doyle couldn’t deal with. Despite the shortcomings in its attempts to blend genres as well as wanting to be a homage to classic Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s. Scorsese still manages to create an enjoyable but uneven film about a tumultuous romance between a singer and a jazz saxophone player in the post-war era.
Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs does amazing work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of some stylish lights for some of the interiors including a hallway scene as well as creating moods for some of the exterior scenes in day and night as it’s a highlight of the film. Editors Irving Lerner, Marcia Lucas, Bert Lovitt, David Ramirez, and Tom Rolf do terrific work with the editing as it some elements of styles including transition wipes, montages, and a few jump-cuts. Production designer Boris Leven, with art director Harry Kemm plus set decorators Robert De Vestel and Ruby R. Levitt, does incredible work with the set design as play into the look of the nightclubs and homes of the characters including the backdrops for some of the exterior sets.
Costume designer Theadora Van Runkle does fantastic work with the period costumes of the times from the blue shirt Doyle wears in the film’s opening scene to some of the dresses that Evans wears. Hair designer Sydney Guilaroff does nice work with the different hairstyles that Evans would sport throughout the entirety of the film. Sound editor Kay Rose does superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of the clubs and venues that the characters go to. The film’s music by John Kander and Fred Ebb is brilliant for its big-band jazz score with some woodwinds and big sound along with songs that Evans would sing while music supervisor Ralph Burns would provide that mix of different jazz sub-genres as well as vocal pop and other styles of music that was around in those times.
The casting by Lynn Stalmaster is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Casey Kasem as a jazz radio DJ, Jack Haley as the master of ceremonies for the film’s big climatic number, Dick Miller as a club owner, Clarence Clemons as jazz trumpeter Cecil Powell, Adam David Winkler as Doyle and Evans’ son late in the film, Frank Sivero as Doyle’s friend Eddie DiMuzio, Harry Northup as an agent named Alabama, George Memmoli as a friend of Doyle in Nicky, Georgie Auld as the musician Frankie Harte, and Mary Kay Place as Evans’ replacement in Doyle’s band Bernice Bennett who later sings for another band. Barry Primus is superb as musician Paul Wilson who is a pianist for the band that Doyle is also in as he would later lead his own band with Bernice as the singer. Lionel Stander is fantastic as bandleader Tony Harwell who leads the band with Evans as the singer and Doyle as one of his saxophone players where he knows how talented both of them are but sees Evans as something special.
Robert de Niro’s performance as Jimmy Doyle has its moments where he displays a lot of charm and energy into the role as well as showing he can play saxophone. Yet, his character is unfortunately one of the vilest individuals on film as he doesn’t have many redeeming qualities often thinking more about himself where he can be possessive and selfish. He also tries to maintain his sense of pride and thinking he knows what Evans wants as it’s a performance that doesn’t give de Niro enough to show the good qualities in his character. Finally, there’s Liza Minnelli in a phenomenal performance as Francine Evans as a USO singer who falls for Doyle and sings for a band with Doyle as it’s a performance that is filled with a lot of comic timing and charisma. Although there’s moments that will make anyone wonder why she is still with Doyle as there’s moments where de Niro and Minnelli don’t really click. Minnelli still gives it her all when she sings and dances as she is the best thing in this film.
New York, New York is a good but messy film from Martin Scorsese. Despite its great visuals, amazing set design, incredible music soundtrack, and Liza Minnelli’s radiant performance. It’s a film that wants to be all sorts of things including this love letter to old Hollywood of the post-war era yet struggles to be intense and engaging yet it has a lot of faults in its execution. In the end, New York, New York is a terrific yet extremely flawed film from Martin Scorsese.
Martin Scorsese Films: (Who’s That Knocking on My Door?) – (Street Scenes) – Boxcar Bertha - (Mean Streets) – Italianamerican - Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Taxi Driver - American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince - (The Last Waltz) – Raging Bull - The King of Comedy - After Hours - The Color of Money - The Last Temptation of Christ - New York Stories-Life Lessons - Goodfellas – Cape Fear (1991 film) - The Age of Innocence (1993 film) - (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies) – (Casino) – (Kundun) – (My Voyage to Italy) – Bringing Out the Dead - (The Blues-Feel Like Going Home) – Gangs of New York - (The Aviator) – No Direction Home - The Departed - Shine a Light - Shutter Island - (A Letter to Elia) – (Public Speaking) - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Hugo - The Wolf of Wall Street - (The Fifty Year Argument) – The Silence (2016 film) - (The Irishman (2019 film))
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