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New York Stories (1989)

by on 2012/08/11

“It is the only city.”

* * *

This compilation of short films is jam packed with ghosts and memories for me.

I saw it on my very first proper date. He was six foot four, very quiet, and had, moments before the movie started, spilled an entire movie theatre-sized Sprite on his crotch.

(There was no second date.)

Mostly, the memories are of my time in New York. I’ve had to travel to Manhattan frequently over the years. During my very first trip as a junior reporter, some colleagues lured me to a seedy boxer bar, complete with a display of splattered boxing gloves, at 10:00 in the morning, because, as they continually shouted, “We are in New York!”

There is something about it. I’d read all the clichés about the city being alive, crackling with energy, never sleeping and whatever. In this case, none of the clichés are wrong. Even my grimmest business trip in New York was exciting.

Walking down the broken pavement, wading through surging crowds, even in the filthy subways, you feel like you are really somewhere, and something amazing is going to happen. More often than not, it does.

That is what New York Stories is all about. Each film short is a love letter to this great city by some New York’s most respected directors – Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island), Francis Ford Coppola (Godfather) and Woody Allen (Annie Hall).

Like a ride on the 4 train uptown, it is an occasionally bumpy and uneven ride. Scorsese’s contribution is the most serious of the lot – a brooding interlude with a tortured painter, played by a filthy and disheveled Nick Nolte (Hulk). At the end of a filthy, tortured, disheveled love affair with aspiring painter Rosanna Arquette (Crash), Nolte is burnt out and extra growly.

The film is raw, like the abstract paintings Nolte’s character creates out of piles of paint poured into trash can lids, take-out containers or slopped on with his hands.

At the other point of the triangle is “beautiful boy” Steve Buscemi (Miller’s Crossing), a performance artist. It is, at points, in this short film, one of the best music videos you’ll ever see, a gorgeous showcase for songs like Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale.”

Francis Ford Coppola’s piece, Life With Zoë, is a self-indulgent affair, forgiven only by the fact that he wrote it with his daughter, a young Sofia Coppola. Think Eloise At The Plaza meets the 80s excess of a G-rated Less Than Zero, and you’ve got a bit of the picture. Like a doting, permissive father, Coppola allows the story to race around like a sugar-crazed toddler at a wedding.

It is loaded with little Coppola-signature references and familiar cast. Talia Shire (Rocky) plays the wayward mother, and a biography of Robert Duvall lays before Zoë as she sasses back some armed hoodlums. Overall, it is a beautiful, silly, little confection of a film like the chocolate Mi-Cuit at the Russian Tea Room.

My favourite of the collection by far is Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks, about a lawyer with an overbearing mother. This flick is crammed full of New York goodness in the way a Katz’s Deli Reuben is stuffed with hand-sliced corned beef. The film features performances from Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby), Julie Kavner (The Simpsons Movie) and Larry David (Whatever Works) in bit part as a yelly stage director.

When the beset-upon lawyer loses his mother in a magic show mishap, he experiences a short-lived reawakening. That is, until his mother returns as a giant entity looming above Manhattan. I think the scene with Woody carefully unwrapping a vile boiled chicken drumstick dangling with aspic, and looking wistfully off into the middle distance with love, is a scene I will always cherish.

All and all, the real star of all of these films is the great, broken-down, majestic, gloriousness of New York. What a city. I’ll take whatever chance I can get to see it.

* * *

124 minutes

Rated PG

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