Friday, September 30, 2005

New York Stories

At David Quimby's behest, I rented this movie on Netflix and watched it the morning before my evening flight to Paris. I thought it would be a fitting end to my wonderful summer in New York City, a tribute to my time there, a period to put at the end of that particular sentence of my life story. Having watched it, however, I am comfortable in saying that this movie should never have been made.

A collaborative effort by Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen, the movie is overwhelmingly uneven. The film is divided into three segments, each directed by one of the above. It all starts well with "Life Lessons," the Scorcese segment about a successful but neurotic painter (Nick Nolte) living in SoHo, who uses his studio and the offer of "life lessons" as a means to bag young women to serve as his assistants/live-in lovers. It's a neverending exercise in self-torture for both parties, the girl (Rosanna Arquette, in this case) kowtows to the older, wiser painter until she realizes that he's really no more than a little boy with a paintbrush, at which point the tables are turned and he plays the fool for her until she kicks him to the curb, whereupon he washes his hands of her in a shower of tears and goes on to find the next girl. Humorously and touchingly written, fantastically and innovatively shot in a way that only Scorcese could pull off, and set to a great soundtrack, this segment gives high hopes for the rest of the film.

The next segment, Coppola's "Life without Zoe," however, immediately dashes those hopes to the ground. Co-written with his then 18 year-old daughter Sofia, this piece is tantamount to a cinematic Take your Daughter to Work Day. The story is about a prepubescent Upper East Side princess and simply shouldn't have been written. Sofia was only a teenager at the time and she's more than made up for it with Lost in Translation, but Daddy should have known better.

The final piece, Woody Allen's "Oedipus Wrecks" is something of a recovery (anything would look good coming after Coppola's piece), but in comparison to his other work it's disappointingly one-dimensional. A farce about overbearing Jewish mothers, this short film is the kind of self-hating Jew schlock that only encourages modern-day anti-Semitism.

It's an interesting idea to get a few distinctly New York directors together to make a tribute to the city, each focusing on his/her own neighborhood and lifestyle, but the city and these directors are all too big to limit to just one third of a movie. Scorcese did another movie about SoHo in the 1980s called After Hours that, while of an entirely different style (his one and only comedy), does a better job of encapsulating the atmosphere of Lower Manhattan during that time. Coppola isn't really the New York director that the other two are, but if you want to see his take on the city's overpriveleged elite, look no further than the first two Godfather films. As for Woody Allen, you can take your pick, but for a love song to New York, go with Manhattan. For a great New York comedy, watch Manhattan Murder Mystery.

Just, whatever you do, don't watch New York Stories.

3 Comments:

Blogger Quimby said...

I can't help but feel that I'm partially responsible. I agree, the first movie is far and away the best of the three; the second is unbearable, though would probably be fit for a screening at The Bee; and i think you're very much right about the third. I wonder if Allen meant for the New Yorkers in the street, laughing at the protagonist's misfortune, to be raging anti-Semites.

After all, he's just a communist homosexual pornographer, right?

-d

October 02, 2005 10:23 PM  
Blogger maxim said...

might be testament to all three's diminishing skills,

October 05, 2005 6:17 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Given that this movie came out in 1989 and both Scorcese and Allen have come out with good movies since then, I would only agree with that comment as it relates to Coppola.

October 13, 2005 11:43 AM  

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