New York, New York
Between the artistic triumphs of Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980), Martin Scorsese directed two documentaries and a little feature named New York, New York (1977). "Little" would typically be an inappropriate descriptor for a three-hour long musical starring Liza Minelli, but if it weren't for the movie's eponymous theme song, and Frank Sinatra's subsequent signature rendition thereof, New York, New York would most likely have slipped into an obscurity usually reserved for the lesser works of less talented filmmakers. Yet, Scorsese in his prime devoted extraordinary effort to this lavish stylistic experiment, fusing the grand visual flair of Golden Age Hollywood musicals with the improvisational "new realism" of the 1970s. As such, this Star is Born-derivative could well have succeeded, with its vivid cinematography by László Kovács bringing out the best in Boris Leven's exquisite production design and Harry Kemm's evocative art direction and with Minelli's theatrics paired with Robert De Niro's "method"-informed acting style. Sadly, while the visual splendor of New York, New York can be bracing, the narrative is a complete disaster (the script is credited to Earl Mac Rauch and Mardik Martin), and De Niro compounds the problematic scenario with an intensely threatening performance that overshadows all else. De Niro stars as hot-head saxophone player Jimmy Doyle, a musician so personally loathsome he makes Travis Bickle and Jake La Motta seem like ideal houseguests by comparison. Despite Jimmy's effusive criticism, insults and temper tantrums, Minelli's Francine Evans is weakly bullied into a doomsday relationship that, for the first two hours of the movie, feels like backstory to a domestic-abuse incident on a post-WWII episode of "Cops." Unable to control Francine's every move and thought (and contemptuous of her attempts at an individual singing career), Jimmy explodes into incoherent rages with such tedious predictability that a half-hour short on the subject would more than suffice. New York, New York goes on for 164 minutes (including the full "Happy Endings" sequence left out of the first two released cuts) and is salvaged only by its opulent visuals and its fine music, which mixes standards with original songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Scorsese claims in the introduction to this DVD that his film is about two creative people whose relationship doesn't work because of traits related to their creativity. That rationalization may explain Scorsese's own spotty marriage record, but it ignores the fact that, on this evidence, Jimmy deserves nothing more intimate than a restraining order and Francine is simply a singing bruise waiting for the right abuser to bring out her color. As doomed epic romances starring odd-looking singer-actresses go, The Way We Were (1973) is exponentially more effective and satisfying; fans of Scorsese might enjoy the film as curiosity, but casual film buffs may want skip this one. New York, New York gets fine treatment on this DVD from MGM, with the feature presented in an attractive anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) and the choice of the original 1.0 mono audio mix or a Dolby Digital 5.1 re-mix. There is an optional five-minute introduction by Scorsese, as well as a commentary track with thoughts from the director interspersed with insights from film critic Carrie Rickey and long periods of silence. There also is a 10-minute reel of deleted scenes and alternate takes featuring some improv that didn't make the final cut, as well as a photo gallery and trailers. Keep-case.