Gangs of New York
I first saw this picture a few weeks before it’s premiere at THE SCREEN in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I went to college. The widescreen picture was truly amazing. THE SCREEN actually had a real 2.4:1 or 2.35:1projection system- so the picture could NOT get any bigger! From the first frame, I was hooked. The scraping of the blade, the father/son talk “Blood stays on the blade”, the lighting looked like Michael Ballhaus (the cinematographer) doing a Rembrandt- I knew I was in for a treat. But nothing could prepare me for THE BUTCHER. A few steps, the sound of his boots tapping on the snow, quick cuts right into his glass eagle eye. This is what America’s SHADOW* looks like: angry, mean, funny, charismatic, racist, ready to kill and greedy for revenge and more. This is the most powerful performance I’ve ever seen.
For me, there is the ultimate Acting scene in Gangs. Bill the Butcher has draped himself in a flag and he talks to Amsterdam about how he’s still alive after all these years. The camera simply observes this conversation, masterfully I find. I will never forget- as we were watching this in my film class, the projectionist had snuck down to watch the movie. During this scene, there was a Reel change right after this speech (see Fight Club if you don’t know what a cigarette burn is). As a theater, we were all so caught up in this monologue, projectionist included, that the Reel ran out and we saw black with no sound! The movie had STOPPED. Quickly, as we heard “Oh shit!” echo thru the theater, the projectionist ran back down the aisle and dashed up the steps to start the next reel. I will never forget this moment in the film because we were all hypnotized as an audience and suddenly awoke from our trance. Daniel Day-Lewis just sits and rocks and delivers what I think is my favorite speech ever in a movie. Amidst all his violence, what he respects most is his enemy: Priest Vallon who he calls a great man. This wonderful, Walt Whitman accented dragon fires words and emotions as weapons, but yet here he has such a simple human moment of connection. The great irony is unbeknownst to The Butcher; he’s actually talking about Amsterdam’s father. Even Amsterdam, whose father The Butcher killed, mentions how comfortable it is under the wing of a Dragon.
In all of these great American Movies- from Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver to Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull to Rupert Bumpkin in the King of Comedy to Henry Hill & Jimmy Conway & Tommy DeVito in GoodFellas to Ace Rothstein/Nicky Santoro/Ginger McKenna in Casino to Howard Hughes as The Aviator- Scorsese has not only shown us the darker parts of the human soul we don’t like to talk about; he shows us directly the allure, the humor, the irrationality and the un-sustainability of such greed, hatred & ignorance. Not to mention the enormous suffering these characters cause themselves and others. His characters may not always learn about their own shadow until it’s too late. But I think I have learned about my own shadow- that which I deny, suppress and hide- by watching these movies, so I am so very grateful. It’s never too late for us to learn about ourselves, no matter how hard and difficult it is to look at. This is why I’m writing this review.
I’ve seen Gangs of New York every 4th of July since the film came out. The performances, the use of camera movement particularly during the Draft Riots, the costumes, the lighting, the soundtrack, the sets and design, the 2nd unit photography and how it’s all edited together- this is just a masterpiece for me.
Happy 4th of July everyone
SHADOW*- In psychological terms the shadow is that part of the psyche that hides out of sight, countering our aspirations, virtue, and vision with qualities we are ashamed to face: anger, fear, revenge, violence, selfishness, and suspicion of "the other.” — Deepak ChopraRead less