Title: New York, New York
Genre: Drama, Music
Director: Martin Scorsese
Earl Mac Rauch
Cinematography: László Kovács
Robert De Niro
Mary Kay Place
Even NEW YORK, NEW YORK is Scorsese’s notorious box-office snafu, it is still branded with his undeniable virtuosity of camera compositions and sleek cinematography which can feasibly best most of the films made by his peers in retrospective, the version I watch is a 163-minute re-issue in 1981, it is a veritable ode to the golden era of jazz standards.
Along with a chronic but episodic story-telling, our two leads are Francine Evans (Minnelli) and Jimmy Doyle (De Niro), she is a promising lounge singer while he is a saxophone player and they first meet in a party on V-J Day where Jimmy’s brazen flirting meets with Francine’s feckless cold-shoulder, it is ever a stereotyped gambit to anticipate their romance blossoming although the ill-feeling exuded from a rakish scoundrel ever since Jimmy’s very first appearance overtly portends that they’ re a misfit match. A more problematic hiccup is Scorsese’s unmethodical narrative strategy (with most dialogue impromptu), which meshes with random sappy moments, fails to elucidate what really goes wrong in their rocky relationship, superficially it is just an tiresome story of a poor girl falls for a giant pain-in-the-neck, and Scorsese and his screenwriters merely stick to this surface, as if all they want from viewers is to generate enormous sympathy for Francine and give Jimmy a free pass since he is so charmingly irresistible despite of his horrendous personality. If it has failed to do that in 1977, roughly forty years later, it is still a failure in this regard.
Be that as it may, if the love story bores me to death and even comes off as a shade intolerable, the musical numbers have the exactly opposite effects, in addition to a haute couture parade for Ms. Minnelli, her renditions of BUT THE WORLD GOES ‘ROUND and the sensational THEME FROM NEW YORK, NEW YORK are timeless earworms and Diahnne Abbott’s performance of HONEYSUCKLE ROSE in the Harlem club is irresistibly soothing and enchanting, not to mention a young Mary Kay Place is also a brassy songbird. Albeit the inadequate character setting, Minnelli is the one who offers a positive momentum for the film to roll in the right direction, to be a star under the spotlight one has to make other sacrifices, in some way, it is her version of A STAR IS BORN (1954, 8/10), a homage to her mother’s road to fame. Francine may be a dumb chick who inclines to make wrong choices in selecting her man, and too blind to see it, but thankfully, her rationality finally catches up with her in the ending scenes.
But the same cannot be referred to Mr. De Niro, whose Jimmy is like a ticking time-bomb ready to go off anytime anywhere, it is not a cinch to establish such an off-putting egomaniac persona, which frankly speaking is quite praiseworthy for his acting chop, but on the other hand, ultimately viewers are prone to a certain perturbation generated by an assumption that all the acting may implicitly betray the thespian’s real life temperament. There is also sheer contrast between his perfectly camera-friendly poise and the soused foreheads of his big band members during his show-stopping fanfare, as we have to swallow the fact that De Niro is just faking it whereas Minnelli has the bona-fide artistry.
It is plain painful to see Ms. Minnelli’s following silver screen career peters out rapidly after the failure of this project, no second chance or whatsoever meanwhile things go more kindly for men and it doesn’t stop Scorcese and De Niro from ascending to their apex and maintaining their credibility up to this day.