FESTIVAL: Concrete Meets Celluloid at Tribeca; Scorsese Presents His Favorite New York Films
by Brandon Judell
(indieWIRE/ 05.14.02) -- The Big Apple has always been the city of dreams, and those dreams have been reflected in cinema from its earliest days. A fine example of this is illustrated in 1991's "Wild Hearts Can't be Broken," when Kathleen York cries out, "I am an actress. Not a circus performer. I am going to New York City. Next time you see me I am going to be a big star. And you will still be shoveling manure." In real life, Ms. York went on to star in "Icebergs: The Secret Life of a Refrigerator."
Well, to celebrate this love story between concrete and celluloid at the recently wrapped Tribeca Film Festival, Martin Scorsese rounded up 10 of his favorite films that take place in the Big Apple, including a few classics, a few forgotten features, and one that might best be forgotten.
Take Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront." Brilliantly acted, written and directed, it's as controversial as ever. Was this film a defense of those who ratted out others during the HUAC hearings like its director did? Of course. But then sometimes great art, like Wagner's and Celine's, comes from people you wouldn't want to break bread with. But snub the art? Who'd want to miss Marlon Brando's performance?
Then there's Alfred Hitchcock's "The Wrong Man," one of the master's must overlooked offerings. This adaptation of a Kafkaesque tale in which a gent is falsely accused of a crime seemed drab to some viewers at the time. But Henry Fonda's performance as the accused and our own current events keep this Wrong Man very pertinent. (Be aware the studios forced a happy coda onto the feature.)
In "Sweet Smell of Success," J.J. Hunsecker, a vicious gossip columnist not based on Cindy Adams, spits out: "I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic." He should know. No one destroys lives with such gleeful restraint as he does. Pauline Kael called this one "a slice of perversity" and added that Tony Curtis, as a flack, "gave what probably will be remembered a the best performance of his career." That Clifford Odets co-wrote the screenplay explains the film's continued ability to fascinate, but not why it was made into a current musical.
Woody Allen, of course, had to be included in any such tribute to Gotham, and his appropriately titled "Manhattan" is a fitting choice. This is the very funny movie about Isaac, 42, who's dating Tracy, 17. Nothing like this could happen in real life but it works in the movies. By the way, Isaac's wife, played by Meryl Streep, has left him to become a lesbian. This wasn't that popular a move back in 1979. In fact, Meryl did it before New York magazine even had a "Lesbian Chic" cover.
Trivia break: two adages from "Manhattan" have become part of our everyday life: "I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics" and "Corn beef should not be blue."
Other films of note in this series were "Side Street" in which a poor letter carrier with a pregnant wife steals $30,000; "A Hatful of Rain," a sympathetic look at heroin addiction; and "Force of Evil," in which a character shrugs and notes: "All that Cain did to Abel was kill him."
One of the biggest surprises to be included is the campy "The Naked City." This horrendously acted, written and directed crime caper tries to discover who chloroformed a beautiful blonde model and then drowned her in her own bathtub. It begins with an invisible narrator high above Gotham opining, "As you see we're flying over an island, a city, a particular city. This is a story of people and the story also of the city itself," and ends with: "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." That could also be the motto of the Tribeca Film Festival itself.