Thursday, January 12, 2006

photos by Bruce McBloom

Saturday, April 09, 2005

David Denby

“.... New York, New York begins like a big-scale '40s-musical: it's V-J Day and crowds are surging through Times Square.... When we first see De Niro's Jimmy Doyle, he's just another ex-GI hunting for a girl… [H]e pursues Liza Minnelli's Francine Evans in the boyishly eager, won't-take-no-for-an-answer style of the young Gene Kelly. A USO singer in uniform with broad shoulders and ruby lips, Minnelli has been made up to look like Betty Hutton or Lucille Ball in her MGM, jolly-good-Joe period….

“.... When we take a second look at De Niro we see he's edgy and reckless, and not in the lovable scoundrel style of Kelly or Dan Daily.... [A]t this point (and many others) we can't tell if he's meant to be an appealing jerk or a semi-psychotic egotist. And Minnelli, poor Minnelli! I don't know what Scorsese wanted from her, but she looks terribly confused, out of it. Staring at De Niro's frantic convolutions, she can barely conceal her dismay, and her mouth falls open in that unfortunate, hurt-animal expression of dumb bewilderment we all know only too well.

“.... In order to understand this romance, we need to see what the lovers had going for them when they were together so we can appreciate what's lost when they fall apart, yet aside from the musical interludes that's simply not on the screen. Minnelli never catches up to De Niro; throughout the movie he's speeding ahead of her, two or three turns around the corner while she's still puzzling over the first thing he's said. There's an element of unconscious cruelty in his work with her: he's so much more flexible and decisive than she, and he almost seems to be using his actor's speed as a form of taunting (listen, you singing lady, don’t' try to act with me). It's a cold, clever repellent performance that is likely to kill (for the moment) De Niro's chances of becoming a box-office hero; the audience simply doesn't warm up to him.

“The forces that drive the couple apart--his lack of success, her sudden pregnancy while on the road--might seem less banal if we sympathized with the characters, but Scorsese's peculiarly manic style of direction further alienates our affections....

“…. [T]he protest against male chauvinism--banal and conveniently modish in itself--doesn't carry much conviction in a film whose female lead is little more than a punching bag who sings....

“It remains to be said that Liza Minnelli finally claims her revenge. Early in the film she sings some big-band standards in a surprisingly cool, pure and low-keyed style. But that's not really what the audience wants from her; they want her to belt it out in her own style. Thus at the end, when she turns into a big recording and Hollywood-musical star and begins singing songs written for her by John Kander and Fred Ebb (responsible for Cabaret and most of her new material of the last five years), the audience sighs happily (even though the transformation makes no sense), because at last Liza gets a chance to do her thing. In a number called "But the World Turns Round" that is almost identical to the show-stopping "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret, Minnelli, finally free of De Niro, comes completely alive. Starting softly, she works herself up to a delirious frenzy, her voice soaring and soaring, almost out of control. Normally I resist her high-powered, Judy-at-the-Palace hysterics, but coming as it does after two hours of repression, the number is overpowering. Such knock-'em-dead emotionalism may have little to do with art or good singing, but it's the soul of show business and it saves the movie. Scorsese tries to stage a "touching" semi-reunion between the two principals, but you're long past caring--you only want to listen to Minnelli sing still another big number (the title song), and it's almost as spectacular as the first one. Formally and dramatically, New York, New York is a catastrophe, but it's juicy enough to keep moviegoers arguing excitedly throughout the summer.”

David Denby
Boston Phoenix, date ?

David Thomson

"...Add to that the film's uncommon interest in a female character, and the exceptional use of music as a dramatic element. In short, I love New York, New York....

"....Minnelli sings beautifully in a great range of styles and gives a lovely, stupefied performance. Indeed, the barrage of mannerisms in Robert De Niro seems to have left her plain and simple for once...."

David Thomson
"Have You Seen?...." A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films (2008), p. 595

(post originally published 8/26/2013)

David Ansen

“…. At the worst moments, Scorsese's strategy seems to consist of playing back old Hollywood scenes longer and louder than they've ever been done before.

“If you saw Lucky Lady, you might expect that Liza Minnelli is the shrillest of them all, but the surprise is her remarkably subdued performance. Indeed, she's so subdued she's frequently wiped off the screen by the super-charged DeNiro. The Minnelli moments you remember tend to be her solo turns--like the show-stopping Kander and Ebb set-piece called "But the World Goes Round" belted out in an empty recording studio. It's a pastiche of every Kander and Ebb number you've ever heard, and her voice has lost some of its range and strength, but it certainly delivers. I might have like her final "New York, New York" number better if she hadn't been clothed and choreographed as a carbon copy of her mother. This Judy/Liza nostalgia mongering has become too incessant and incestuous for comfort. Give the girl a break already!”

David Ansen
The Real Paper, date ?

Pauline Kael

“.... [T]he improvisational, Cassavetes-like psychodrama that develops between the stars (Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli) seems hollow and makes us uneasy, and sequences go on covering the same ground; the director seems to be feeling his way through a forest of possibilities … The effect is of desperately talented people giving off bad vibes.... Trying to be subdued, Minnelli seems somewhat dazed--openmouthed and vacuous, and unpleasantly overripe. She pushes her scenes; in her hyper way, she's as false as Julie Andrews. Her two big numbers ("But the World Turns Round" and the title song) are, however, in their own wildly hysterical show-biz terms, smashing (and she's in superb voice).”

Pauline Kael
5001 Nights at the Movies, 521
date ??

Stephen Farber

“.... Jimmy Doyle emerges as a great movie character....

“The character of Francine isn't as complex or as richly developed, but Liza Minnelli's performance is surprisingly restrained and effective. Scorsese has given her the confidence to hold back, and for the first time, she involves us without aggressively grabbing for our sympathy; her vulnerability is deeply moving.

"....Scorsese, De Niro and Minnelli all stretch their talents in New York, New York and that's why the movie ignites.”

Stephen Farber
New West, July 18, 1977

Andrew Sarris

“…. Scorsese's movie [is] … mostly highlights with very few transitions. I don't mean just musical highlights, mind you, but behavioral highlights as well. This is the link I sense between Scorsese and Bertolucci: neither director has any cinematic small talk, neither director can reduce the emotional energy in one scene to increase the impact of the next.

“Scorsese's sensational opening big-band-on-V-J Day scene is a case in point…. [Doyle and Francine] don't meet "cute" like musical leads are wont to do, they meet nasty. In her period WAC uniform, piled-up hairdo and frou-frou makeup, Liza comes on like one of the Andrew Sisters, but with real-life suspiciousness, not regular gal playfulness…. The whole point of the scene seems to be for Francine to keep saying no without Doyle ever really saying please, but it is never made clear why these two abrasive people ever think they will find happiness together.

“Of course, they are both musicians in a movie musical and their union is preordained by backstage poetics, but the mysterious tensions between them persist. They never make any real progress as two human beings getting to know each other. Every scene builds from emotional ground zero, and heats up to a new frenzy. Halfway through the picture everyone seems to be paralyzed [?] by a fear of banality. Motives are mumbled, motivations are muddled. One cannot criticize the scenes themselves. De Niro is consistently brilliant, and Liza has developed a distinctive personality apart from memories of her mother….”

Andrew Sarris
Village Voice, July 4, 1977

[Note : my copy of Sarris is incomplete]

Stanley Kauffmann

“.... Laszlo Kovacs doesn't know how to photograph his two stars…. Liza Minnelli, difficult to like at best, comes out looking like a giant rodent en route to a costume ball….

“…. [T]he picture is clobbered from the start. The long first scene is at a victory dance in a hotel ballroom. De Niro is trying to pick up girl and makes his strongest pitch for Minnelli. The scene absolutely depends on charm, but Minnelli has none, ever, and De Niro is not a personality actor, he's an actor…. De Niro … becomes a nuisance in the scene, somehow degraded in taste because he zooms in so ferociously on this pokey-looking girl.

“A great deal more in this picture absolutely depends on charm; from both; supplied by neither.

“Martin Scorsese, the director, says that some people complain that Minnelli reminds them of her mother, Judy Garland, but there's nothing he can do about that. Two things he could have done in her last song are: not give her, or permit, hyperdramatic Garland gestures; not give her a costume that strongly suggests Garland's costume for the "Get Happy" number of Summer Stock. [The costume notwithstanding, isn’t it possible that Minnelli performs in her own, albeit inherited, style? Does it matter that Garland did it first?]

“…. Minnelli ... seems to have interested [Scorsese] much less [than De Niro] although she has an equally big part….

“Charm. This picture, faults and all, might have been pleasant if it had some. De Niro doesn't sell it. Minnelli doesn't have it. Scorsese doesn't comprehend it. So NY, NY is NG, NG.

Stanley Kauffmann
New Republic, July 23, 1977
Before My Eyes, 203-205