New York, New York, Blu-ray (1977/2011)
Starring: Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro, Lionel Stander
Director: Martin Scorsese
Studio: Fox/MGM [6/7/11]
Video: 1.66:1 for 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish DTS mono, French DTS 5.1, also Dolby audio
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Extras: Commentary track by Martin Scorsese and film critic Carrie Rickey; Extensive intro by Martin Scorsese; Alternate takes/deleted scenes; “The New York, New York Stories,” Parts 1 & 2; “Liza on New York, New York;” Commentary on selected scenes by cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs
Length: 163 minutes
Most critics and movie audiences didn’t like New York, New York in 1977, though it was up against Star Wars. It was re-edited a couple times and finally came to DVD in 2005. Scorsese explains in his introduction how he strove to create a stylized studio-shot musical in the style of the big MGM musicals of the past – he was after all shooting it at MGM. His approach comes from some of the quite noir-ish musicals Warner Bros. did in the late ‘40s. At their center is the story of a talented girl vocalist in a big band who is in a terribly abusive relationship or marriage with a musician. Doris Day’s Love Me or Leave Me is a prime example, but Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born is even more to the point since Liza looks and acts very much like her mother Judy.
One can appreciate Scorsese’s idea about playing up the artificiality of the studio setup, the overly-colorful costumes and sets. The acting of both Minnelli and De Niro is also often stylized and over the top. Minnelli especially is the perfect star for such a setting since her performances are always so extremely and exaggeratedly theatrical. However, at the same time there are drawn-out gritty scenes of strife between the two stars in their relationship – mostly due to De Niro’s character being a ruthless self-centered idiot. His is a character you don’t want to be exposed to in any way, and watching the scenes he’s in eventually become horribly grating. It’s hard to accept that this film is on some 100 Greatest Films lists.
It’s supposed to be a musical, and during the musical numbers the film does shine with a wonderful recreation of the big band era, including the De Niro character often being the only white player in a black band and club, because his one positive quality seems to be that he is a good saxist and appreciates their musical prowess. Liza’s musical peak in the film is her super-theatrical delivery of the title tune near the end of the longish movie. There is also a big dance production titled “Happy Ending” – a big contradiction of course, since the film doesn’t have one. One authority points to the film emulating the long dance sequences of music classics such as The Red Shoes and An American in Paris, though none of the musical numbers go on to those lengths, and it comes nowhere near the high quality of those two classics.
There are some technical problems too. De Niro never really looks totally convincing playing his sax in the closeups. Some of the shots hold too long at their end, like everyone was patiently waiting for Scorsese to yell “Cut!” Certain shots are extremely grainy, in a distracting way, and contrast noticeably with the majority of the film which isn’t that grainy. Some of this may again just be due to the unavoidable fallout of the transfer to Blu-ray. But the biggest drawback is probably the conflict between the happy Hollywood musical world and the uncomfortably cold and realistic situation in which the two main characters are stuck.
— John Sunier