Saturday, November 8, 2008
Accomplishment #002: New York Stories
Directors: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Woddy Allen
Edition: Touchstone DVD
Imagine you're making a sandwich. You start with two great pieces of bread, maybe pantofolina (my favorite). Then, between these two slices of sumptuous, crusty bread you place... a big steaming pile of shit. That's what New York Stories is like.
I'd actually seen the first third of this film (Life Lessons, by Scorsese) twice before. It seems to be pretty standard film school viewing; and for good reason: it's great. The characters are fascinating and very complex. In just over thirty minutes Scorsese is able to craft characters with more depth than most you see in a movie running over two hours. It's one of the great things about this shorter format, that you're able to really focus on the meat and bones of the story; cut the fat.
Nick Nolte plays Lionel, a very successful, but creatively frustrated New York artist with a sprawling live/work loft. Sharing his quarters is Paulette (Rosanna Arquette), his live-in assistant and ex-lover. Tensions between the two rise to boiling point as they try and redefine their mentor/student relationship. I love Scorsese's use of the iris wipe (seen as recently recently as The Departed) to reveal Lionel's obessions, ie. his work, Paulette, Paulette's feet. As the two's relationship degrades Lionel becomes more and more unhinged, but at the same time it seems to benefit his work. I really love the ending to this portion of the film. In a very short scene it completely sums up the Lionel character and explains his cyclical nature.
Life Without Zoe by Francis Ford Coppola is terrible and I'm certain there is one reason for this: Sofia Coppola. The daughter of Francis is given a writing credit for this sack of putrid shit and it shows. The short of this story: a spoiled condecending brat who is over the top in love with her father and insulting to her mother runs about with her other spoiled brat girlfriends in the elite society of New York. She ignores her mother's instructions and becomes incredibly excited about the "new boy" at school who happens to be the richest child in the world. Blah blah blah, something about a stolen jewel, who gives a crap? The writing is aweful, the acting is deplorable. It was obviously a sign of the impending doom of Copolla's directing career. After this he made Godfather III and Jack (I'm not mentioning Dracula cause I love it even though Keanu was pretty retched in it).
After the turd burger in the middle comes Woody Allen's Oedipus Wrecks. I've been known to talk some smack about Woody Allen in the past, but I loved this piece. It's the story of a New York lawyer named Sheldon and his overbearing Jewish mother. The mother, played by Mae Questel (voice of Betty Boop and played Aunt Bethany in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) is pure comedy gold. This film has a really great turn that I don't want to give away. It's a gimmick, for sure, but one of the best I've ever seen.
So who else has seen this flick from '89? What do you think Nick Nolte's character says about artists and where they look for inspiration?