Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

Posts Tagged ‘de Niro

On Location: New York!

with 2 comments

King Kong 1933

King Kong 1933

The five boroughs of New York having always been the stuff that movie dreams are made of. The American film industry may have been born across the Hudson River in New Jersey, but quickly moved to Manhattan and by the 1920’s, the city was buzzing with studios producing silent films. Then in 1926, Hollywood sprung up virtually overnight in the California desert and sucked the industry west. In less than two years, film production dropped nearly 60%. When tinsel town made the full conversion to ‘talkies’ in 1932 it vacuumed up the rest of the business, along with hundreds of Broadway-based New York writers, administering a last, mortal blow the city’s film industry.

Dead End Kids set, 1938. All Hollywood

Dead End Kids set, 1938. All Hollywood

Those writers, collecting fat paycheques in the California desert became homesick for the cafes, lights and glamour of Manhattan and set many of their films ‘back home.’ Hollywood’s answer to the missing skyscrapers was sets. At its peak, the studios had more than twenty standing sets recreating entire New York neighbourhoods, most notably Paramount’s five-acre ‘city’ including Fifth Avenue, Beekman Place, the Upper West Side, Greenwich Village and Soho.

As a result, many classic “New York” films such as King Kong, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and almost all of Humphrey Bogart’s early films with the Dead End Kids were shot entirely in Hollywood. When Samuel Goldwyn showed up on the set of Dead End, he became enraged that the set designer had littered the rundown buildings with rubbish and ordered it cleaned up, yelling, “There won’t be any dirty slums in a Goldwyn Picture.” Even Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Citizen Kane, was shot in California with location shots added for authenticity.

Until the 1970’s, virtually all moviegoers saw was an idealised vision of New York ‘City’.

How to Marry a  Millionaire, 1953

How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953

Of course there were some notable exceptions. Marilyn Monroe’s 1953 dazzler, How to Marry a Millionaire was shot in a Sutton Placeapartment and glimmers with the lustre of old New York money. Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954) stunned moviegoers with a wretched, filthy city bereft of glamour; and Marlon Brando’s tortured cry, “I coulda been a contenda!” evoked a desperation that still echoes.  In 1961, audiences got a taste of the ritzy East Side with Breakfast at Tiffany‘s, falling in love with Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly; and on the other side of town, a glimpse into the city’s racial problems with Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story.

Midnight Cowboy, 1969

Midnight Cowboy, 1969

While these films captured a sense of the city that could not be duplicated on a back lot, they retained many standard Hollywood production values, a gloss that separated the ‘real’ New York from its widescreen counterpart. Then in 1969, John Schlesinger’s X-rated Midnight Cowboy exposed an out of control urban jungle where a sickly indigent cripple, Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) and displaced Texas gigolo, Joe Buck (John Voight), struggle to survive in a rat-infested tenement. LA born Hoffman spat the ultimate NY line, “Hey! I’m walkin’ heah!” The film had an almost documentary quality, gritty and dark, its characters too lifelike to dismiss. Midnight Cowboy took Best Picture that year and New York shrugged off the Hollywood sheen.

Annie Hall, 1977

Annie Hall, 1977

While Schlesinger never made another New York film, the city brought forth three young filmmakers of its own who wrestled their hometown back from the celluloid imagination and ushered in a revolution; Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese. What these three knew was that a New York film has nothing to do with a beauty shot of the Statue of Liberty. It’s when the traffic and the rhythm of the subway beat in the script and the grime and glitter of the streets are the real leading lady. And she had two favourite co-stars, Al Pacino and Robert de Niro. Separately and together, these five defined the 70’s New York movie.

Serpico, 1972

Serpico, 1973

The 70’s were tough times for New York. The city was financially bankrupt. With the explosion in heroin and cocaine traffic, violent crime escalated out of control. The South Bronx became a burned out, bombed out war-zone. Feminism, gay rights, disco, the punk scene, Son of Sam, racial tension, the advent of the Yuppie… It was a city under siege; and Allen, Coppola and Scorsese, along with Sidney Lumet, opened their lenses and got it all down on film: Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Annie Hall, Taxi Driver, The Godfather I & II, Manhattan, Network, Cruising, to name a few. In the eighties they were joined by Spike Lee who set his films in black neighbourhoods and raised the real issues faced by minorities in the land of plenty with She’s Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing.

She's Gotta Have It, 1986

She's Gotta Have It, 1986

And the more they filmed, the more Hollywood sent production teams back east. In the early 70’s there were only a handful of films shot in New York each year, by the end of the decade, it was more than fifty. That number tripled by the end of the eighties and doubled again by 2000. These days a visitor can’t help stumbling across a film set. I was there last July, strolling through Greenwich Village on a hot summer night. Turned a corner to find mountains of ‘snow’ on the sidewalk and piled up in front of a grocery; a half dozen actors ‘freezing’ in heavy winter coats while the rest of the crew sweated in shorts and jandals. That ain’t Hollywood. It’s all New York.


200 Cigarettes (1999), Risa Bramon Garcia
25th Hour (2002), Spike Lee
Annie Hall (1977), Woody Allen
Basquiat (1996) Julian Schnabel
Cotton Club (1984), Francis Ford Coppola
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Susan Seidelman

Desperately Seeking Susan,

Desperately Seeking Susan1985,

Do the Right Thing (1989), Spike Lee
Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Sidney Lumet
Fame (1980), Alan Parker
Godfather I & II (1972 & 1974), Francis Ford Coppola
Goodfellas (1990), Martin Scorsese
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Jean Negulesc
In America (2003), Jim Sheridan
King of Comedy (1983), Martin Scorsese
Manhattan (1979), Woody Allen
Midnight Cowboy (1969), John Schlesinger
Network (1976), Sidney Lumet
On the Waterfront (1954), Elia Kazan

Requiem for a Dream, 2000

Requiem for a Dream, 2000

Requiem for a Dream (2000), Darren Aronofsky
Saturday Night Fever (1977), John Badham
Serpico (1973), Sidney Lumet
Shaft (1971) Gordon Parks
She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Spike Lee
Taxi Driver (1976), Martin Scorsese
West Side Story (1961), Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise

Thanks to Randolph Mase for inspiring me to dig this out!


Written by Titirangi Storyteller

31/05/2009 at 2:16 am

New York, New York

with one comment

new-york-new-york-posterMartin Scorsese has made more than a dozen films set in New York, New York, but the one that bears the full name of the city was shot on a Hollywood lot – an homage to the MGM musicals of the 40s.
You can’t help wondering what he was thinking. It was 1977. The previous year he and Robert deNiro stunned critics and audiences with Taxi Driver and Travis Bickle’s improvised “You talking to me?” soliloquy. They return with DeNiro clad in oversized shoulder pads and spats, noodling a saxophone and bullying America’s sweetheart. This against a background of 40’s big band lounges and painted sets, with a full half hour of Liza Minnelli ‘starring’ in a musical movie-within-a-movie.
It bombed. The studio withdrew it, axed 40 minutes of music – and it bombed again. When it came to musicals, audiences wanted Saturday Night Fever or Grease. And if the story was brutal, Scorses himself had taught them to expect reality, not rough stuff mixed up in glossy sets and glitzy costumes.nyny3

30 years down the road, the timing of its release is irrelevant and Scorsese’s  musical passions have extended to docos The Last Waltz with The Band (1978), No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005) and last year’s Shine a Light with the Rolling Stones. He’s more than paid his musical dues and New York, New York is worth another look.

nyny5If it’s not one of Scorsese’s finest efforts, this movie takes chances, many of which play very well. DeNiro is loathsome as Jimmy Doyle, gifted saxman and borderline sociopath who sweeps the equally talented singer, Francine Evans (Minnelli) off her feet and marries her before she fully understands what she is getting into.  Their on and off-screen chemistry is palpable and much of their banter is improvised with the cameras rolling.

The two-disc set includes and introduction and commentary by Scorsese as well as interviews with Scorsese and Minnelli and the producers reflecting on what they loved about it as wnyny3_jpgell as why audiences hated it, alternate takes and alternate ending, deleted scenes, storyboards, a photo gallery and more. Best though, it comes with both the edited and original versions. If you’re a musical lover, glory in the Busby-Berkeley extravaganza. The rest of us however will enjoy studio’s cut much more.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

29/04/2009 at 12:23 am

%d bloggers like this: