Review No. 489
Martin Scorsese is king of the hill once again with “New York, New York”.
DIRECTED BY MARTIN SCORSESE. PRODUCED BY ROBERT CHARTOFF AND IRWIN WINKLER. SCREENPLAY BY EARL MAC RAUCH AND MARDIK MARTIN. STORY BY RAUCH. STARRING LIZA MINNELLI (FRANCINE EVANS) AND ROBERT DE NIRO (JIMMY DOYLE). ALSO STARRING LIONEL STANDER, BARRY PRIMUS, MARY KAY PLACE, GEORGIE AULD, GEORGE MEMMOLI, DICK MILLER, CLARENCE CLEMONS, CASEY KASEM, AND ADAM WINKLER. DISTRIBUTED BY UNITED ARTISTS ON JUNE 21, 1977. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 2 HOURS, 43 MINUTES. NOT FOR ALL AGES, DUE TO SUBJECT MATTER.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK WAS WATCHED ON MAY 27, 2013.
“Do I look like a gentleman to you in this shirt and these pants?” –Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro)
Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) is a womanizing saxophonist who meets his wife-to-be, singer Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli), at a party in New York City. She doesn’t show much interest in him at first, but when they have absolutely no trouble getting a gig as a musical duo, she’s in love with him. The trouble from there on out is when a rivalry arises between the two. Jimmy wants to take control of his wife’s career. If it’s not how he wants it, then he’ll willingly spend hours assuring her that it’s not the way she wants it, either. Francine makes every attempt to show her possessive spouse that she genuinely appreciates him, and his ego has to show disapproval.
There’s no way to explain the story without immediately revealing the formula that sets it into action. The idea that music is first what brings two people together, but later what splits them apart, is something you could find on TV at almost any time. But beyond this, New York, New York isn’t a generic VH1 biopic. It’s a Martin Scorsese film, so there’s much depth added. New York, New York gives us an intricate look at our characters. We feel not what Jimmy is feeling, not what Francine is feeling, but whatever Scorsese wants us to be feeling.
The film is simply beautiful. Admittedly, there’s several exterior sceneries that are undoubtedly fake, purely for theatrical effect. That’s not a sunset, that’s handpainted celluloid. Ditto a train and a row of skyscrapers. But when Scorsese takes his hand off Broadway, there’s a lavishly cinematic sensation before you. New York, New York is a romance that involves its audience, as Scorsese is the one director who can and will make you fall in love with the Big Apple.
The chemistry between De Niro and Minnelli is impeccable, contrary to what one might expect. The ups and downs of their marriage is fun to watch as it begins. Their banter is amusing and seems ad libbed flawlessly. It’s difficult not to love them. Then the screenplay introduces a bit of melancholia as the relationship goes downhill. The climactic scenes feature more sincere looks at what’s been at hand all along: De Niro’s domineering egotism and Minnelli’s submission to him. A scene when he goes berserk on her when she mentions her personal matters, is shocking.
Minnelli’s performance of “New York, New York” is an especially poignant ending to the film. The scene was almost inevitable, but the emotion it offers up was not in the least.* New York, New York isn’t a masterpiece, but it does entertain. At nearly three hours, every minute flies by in a beautiful breeze of 1940s big band music. By the time Minnelli performs the title song, it feels like only an hour has passed.
*Not to knock Frank Sinatra, but that we associate the tune with his cover performance (three years later) is absolute blasphemy.