New York, New York (1977) Martin Scorsese

Production Budget: $14 million
Worldwide Gross: $13 million
Subsequent Earnings: $6 million

Believe me, this was a bigger disappointment than the numbers let on.  The movie was released two times theatrically so those are the combined numbers.

NY, NY was the first major production by Scorsese after his big success with Taxi Driver.  The movie is modeled after the style of 1940’s musicals and is both an homage and a critique of the genre.  The story is inspired by another 40’s musical about two musicians whose artistic ambitions get in the way of their relationship.  The story of NY, NY is about Jimmy (Robert DeNiro) who is a jazz sax player and Francine (Liza Minnelli) who is an accomplished singer.  They fall in love but they struggle to stay together when their own artistic endeavors pull them in different directions.  The movie was initially dismissed by critics and audiences.  The original intended cut was almost four hours but Scorsese but it got trimmed to two and a half hours.  The film was re-released in the 80’s to a better reception as critics were now understanding what he was aiming for.  But this was Scorsese’s first major flop.

I have watched this film twice back to back.  Once just with the movie and the second was with the director’s commentary to hear his thoughts on the movie.  I think New York, New York is an ambitious failure.  I understand what Scorsese was going for here.  You have two independent, artistic personalities.  They love each other, but they need their independence in order for their art to flourish.  That is the main conflict in this movie and it should be a very psychological drama.  The big misstep (and I hate to say it) is with the casting of Robert DeNiro.  DeNiro is a physically imposing character actor and he essentially plays Jimmy like Raging Bull with a saxophone.  This needs to be a drama with people psychologically tortured and a war of words and when you have Jimmy lording over Francine and physically assaulting her we lose focus of what’s really at stake here.  We immediately side with Francine on any argument because we are not going to take the side of an abusive asshole in any case.  Scorsese is the worlds biggest movie nerd and you can see the love of musicals pouring in every frame.  But he is just not the right person to tell this kind of story in this kind of movie.  Not everyone gets how to direct musicals it doesn’t matter how many you watch.  There is a difference between studying them and translating that same energy in your movie.  Its a shame because I almost recommend this movie, but I think there are problems really holding it back from being a really good movie.  I don’t recommend it unless you are a big Scorsese fan.

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