Hollywood’s New Yorker: The Making of Martin Scorcese

hollywoods-new-yorkerScorcese came along during a dynamic era, the time period we call the Sixties. It was suddenly acceptable to question authority, take drugs, wear outlandish clothing, support radic-lib causes, and show nudity on stage and screen. The Hollywood Production Code, which forbade breasts, penises, kissing in the bedroom, pot-smoking, and cursing, had vanished. It was now acceptable, after all these years, to portray divorce positively, leading to the hideous scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now. As for the studios, they all got killed by television, and the old outdoor sets looked like old backlots resembled lost cities. Into these studio ghost towns strode William Friedkin, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, and Martin Scorcese; they were known as the New Hollywood, and they would save the industry.

Prior to Scorcese, relatively few movies took place in Manhattan, and those that did rarely made use of outdoor locations. There were exceptions, however, like The Lost Weekend, which takes place under the El and in the panshops. Most films of the time, however, were westerns, and they took place far from the city. Some films, like Rebel Without a Cause, were shot in LA, as were most of the comedies of the time. New York City didn’t seem to be a place for drama or comedy before Scorcese and Lumet came along.

Hollywood’s New Yorker dwells extensively on Scorcese pre-Hollywood career as a college professor, and his first movie was actually his thesis. It wasn’t your typical movie, because the director wasn’t under any deadline and didn’t have to take orders from a producer. Few directors of the time, with the exception of Stanley Kubrik, Howard Hawks, and Billy Wilder, had any creative control. Scorcese’s thesis, titled Whose Knocking At My Door, show what happens when the director has a micro budget and an even smaller set of rules to obey. He did, however, get along well with the studio system, directing Boxcar Bertha, (not a NY movie)with violent scenes that would’ve previously been forbidden by the Production Code. Mean Streets, set in Little Italy and shot in LA, got great reviews from Roger Ebert, as it would from most young critics. The younger they were, the more accepting they’d be, and the more in tune they were to younger audiences. Ebert wrote that Mean Streets was like Marty, but with hoods.

This book isn’t always in praise of Scorcese. After Raging Bull, his next efforts weren’t well received. New York, New York, his wacky period piece, is not appreciated even today, and King of Comedy got mixed reviews. Nobody doubted that Jerry Lewis (who spent the 70’s as a film professor) did a great job, playing against type, but it seems more like an “indy” film that was a little beneath the director’s ability. Critics like Robin Wood weren’t sure if it was an end or a new beginning, and Peter Biskind, in his book Easy Riders and Raging Bulls, makes his dislike of the 80’s very clear. He writes how the directors of the New Hollywood did poorly in the 80’s, like Mike Cimino, destroying his career with Heaven’s Gate. Coppola, praised for his Godfather movies, scared the establishment with his over-budget Apocalypse Now. As for Scorcese, his King of Comedy was questioned by the critics. While they praised Jerry Lewis, who abandoned his old antics for serious acting, they weren’t impressed by the director. Would the movie have been better received if it came out in 1970? Would they have been more impressed if it were the debut of a younger director? After Hours wasn’t well received, perhaps due to the Yuppie characters and the punk rock scene. As for The Color of Money, everyone liked it, but it didn’t seem to have Scorcese’s edge. The 80’s would be the decade of Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, and Sidney Pollack.

Scorcese would make a comeback with Goodfellas, and he churned out more hits over the decade, like Casino and Kundun. Today he’s gone out of New York, with LA (The Aviator) and Boston (The Departed.)

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Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers On Their Unshakable Love For New York

never-can-say-goodbyeRoseanne Cash came here in 1991 from Nashville, Tennessee, her work newly rejected. He artistic music didn’t excite the country music business, at least not like her previous songwriting, but she found herself right at home in the city’s folk music scene. Shopsin’s restaurant, immortalized in the documentary I Like Killing Flies, was a bastion of weirdness and rudeness, quite a change from Southern hospitality. The neighborhood had nice playgrounds, and they weren’t especially crowded. Today they’re usually jammed, thanks to the massive increase in the number of kids, leaving behind all their leftovers, and that attracts snack-loving rats. Twenty years on, everything’s more expensive, and the streets are once again filthy.

Patricia Engel has an interesting story with regard to housing. She preferred to live with violent junkies than live in the NYU dorms. She has a liking for rough trade, so I guess she would’ve preferred the 1970’s New York, but she’s not as tough, hip, or independent as she thinks she is. Engel would run screaming from the South Bronx, where I doubt she’d fit in at all, and I wager she wouldn’t want to live in a housing project. Aside from the danger, there wouldn’t be much for her to do in the South Bronx, at least not as much as there is in downtown Manhattan. Perhaps, like many overconfident young women, she’s just “slumming” for a cheap thrill?

Colin Harrison, map collector, discusses his love for the city, as does Whoopie Goldberg, whose experiences in NYC made her feel right at home in Germany. She grew up in the 26th street projects, where a number of German Jews were living, and her mother encouraged her to pick up on whatever she could.

This book comes along on the heels of another book called Goodbye To All That, where the writers discuss why they left the city. In that book, they all preferred small towns or farms, so it’s no wonder they left. Others, like the writers mentioned here, prefer living in a metropolitan area. John Lennon, for instance, chose Manhattan over London, and became a well-known fixture on the Upper West Side. He lived there when it wasn’t so popular, mainly because the Jewish-Americans who lived there didn’t give a damn who he was. Unlike younger New Yorkers, he lived in the secured Dakota building, not a townhouse in the West Village. You see, while a lot of New Yorkers come here for the experience, they don’t want the dangers.

Something tells me, a lot of these folks would’ve gotten fed up with the city after a few years, had they come here before Guiliani cleaned it all up.