New York, New York (1977)

New York, New York (1977)

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"Do you want to blow on my saxophone?"
“Do you want to blow on my saxophone?”

Twitter Plot Summary: A love story set amidst the rough and tumble of an exaggerated New York.

Five Point Summary:

1. The man just doesn’t give up, does he?
2. He’s a touch jealous.
3. Arguing in a car whilst driving? Bad idea.
4. Things work out for everyone, Kinda.
5. That song was going to be heard eventually.

Martin Scorsese hails from New York City, and the film New York, New York is the director’s love letter to the city he calls home. Into the city are dropped a pair of lovers who sing and perform their way through several years of their lives, undergoing the trials and tribulations of relationships, careers and life in the big city.

Jimmy (De Niro) is short tempered and prone to snapping at everyone, which is a shame because he is a darn fine saxophone player. He’s a mostly unlikeable guy who hides it initially through his smooth talking charm. His persistence and way with words is what ultimately allows him into the life of Francine (Minnelli) on VJ Day 1945, a small time singer who he takes a shine to. Through his persistence, and a little bit of circumstance, the combination of her singing and his sax playing results in them forming a stage partnership.

Scorsese has stated that the style of the film was intended to mix the look of Hollywood’s golden era – that slightly unrealistic, exaggerated and colourful look popularised in the 1950s – with the more gritty style of cinema that was common from in the 1970s. It’s an approach that works really well indeed, the two styles competing against one another to form something that doesn’t fit in either category. It’s also a musical in disguise, stylishly produced and those sequences again acting in contrast to the real world relationship between Jimmy and Francine.

The tone starts lighthearted, in particular the lengthy sequence at the beginning where Jimmy tries desperately to get Francine to agree to meeting up again. Once their relationship develops and their marriage takes place, it slowly becomes a darker tale of relationship woes, alcoholism and conflicting interests. Jealousy is the main emotion from Jimmy as Francine’s star starts to outshine his own.

No Liza, the audience are the other way.
No Liza, the audience are the other way.

The extended version of the film manages to generate some deep character development, and also permits additional time to let scenes play out naturally without forcing the dialogue or the story. The performances from De Niro and Minnelli are typically strong, De Niro is powerful and intense, whilst Minnelli manages to convey deep levels of vulnerability mixed with inner strength and resilience. One scene in particular, where the pair argue in the car, is powerful and perfectly captures how good a performer they both are. Sadly it’s the only real example of engaging with the audience on an emotional level – if the rest of the film had this amount of power and intensity the final score would be much different.

The real winner here of course is music, becoming a real celebration of musical theatre, those Hollywood musicals of the 1950s, and the jazz era. Scorsese’s direction is another reason for this story working so well. Francine and Jimmy are united in creative ambition, but ultimately destined to go their separate ways much along the same lines as the residents within New York itself – they may all practically live on top of one another but everyone has their own goals and ambitions. Mistakes will be made along the way, but the city will always remain, a constant backdrop against which the trials and tribulations of our every day existence can play out against.

Score: 3/5

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