After Hours (1985)
Is there any doubt in any one’s mind that this is Martin Scorsese’s weirdest film? Channelling Henry Miller, Franz Kafka, Neil Simon, Paul Auster and Alfred Hitchcock, the inescapable neighbourhood of After Hours is a threatening urban wonderland of surreal distress, where every inhabitant seems to be on the verge of explosive psychosis.
There’s an incredibly dark streak of bizarre humour running through Scorsese’s most under appreciated movie along with a superbly crafted atmosphere of unease, paranoia, and creeping malevolence.
Kicking off with a signalling quote from Tropic of Cancer and ending with Griffin Dunne being indivertibly abducted by Cheech & Chong, it takes the all too familiar scenario of missing the last train home to comedic extremes.
An eccentric ode to big city chance encounters of the nocturnal kind, Griffin Dunne’s office minion stumbles from one demented situation to the next, so preoccupied with returning to the safety of his dull existence he remains oblivious to the fact that he’s actually experiencing the kind of strange and sordid adventure his favourite author Henry Miller would have revelled in. It’s the essential Lost In New York tale.
2) The Warriors (1979)
The Warriors may not be the most authentic depiction of inner city gangs and the dark hidden corners of crime fuelled seventies New York, but it certainly beats the shit out of West Side Story (1961). Walter Hill does everything in his power to give the film it’s own distinct, stylish and otherworldly mood with a unique visual grittiness achieved from being shot entirely on location.
Sol Yurick’s 1965 source novel was inspired in equal measures by his experiences as an investigator for New York City’s Department of Welfare and Ananbasis by Xenophon of Athens, an historical account of Greek mercenaries retreating from the Persian war and their adventurous attempts to reach home.
Hill took all of these elements and turned The Warriors into a seminal comic book adventure and one of the earliest examples of a genuine cult classic rooted in the home video revolution. Whenever The Warriors make it back home to Coney Island, legendary status is bestowed upon them by the first generation of film fans educated by VHS who have their own mythology.
3) Quick Change (1990)
The first adaptation of Jay Cronley’s comic novel Quick Change was French/Canadian production Hold Up (1985) starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Kim Cattrell desperately trying to escape Montreal after taking part in a bank heist. Bill Murray’s early nineties crime comedy – co-directed with screenwriter Howard Franklin – brings the action back to the location of the original novel.
Quick Change succeeds as a pretty decent heist movie whilst updating and warping the framework of The Out-Of-Towners, depicting the big apple as a concrete labyrinth of episodic weirdness. It’s during these random confrontations and incidents that the film works best, my favourite moment involving two men jousting on push bikes. It’s definitely up there with Murray’s best movies and it’s unfortunate that it seems to have been lost down the back of the cinematic sofa when it comes to reappraising the decades finer films.
4) Brother From Another Planet (1984)
John Sayles early eighties allegorical, socio-political, sci-fi urban parable on space, race and class is what you might refer to in scholastic film theory terms as being funky fresh. On the run from inter galactic slave traders a mute alien crash-lands from outer space into inner Harlem. Despite having three toes, removable eyeballs, the power to heal, and the ability to experience past incidents by touching surfaces and objects, he’s still the least strange character in the neighbourhood.
John Sayles takes a bizarre concept and films it with an endearing naturalism. The most memorable scenes being the hilarious verbal interactions between the patrons of a local bar that the extra terrestrial protagonist initially takes refuge within. In fact their memorable banter is so believable and quick witted you begin to hope he never leaves.
A million miles from home, isolated and on the run in a seemingly uncaring, brutal and desolate landscape, despite having strange mystical powers the alien doesn’t save mankind or become a comic book super hero, he just tries to get by the best way he can in the hope of finding somewhere to fit in, eventually becoming just another face on the subway.
5) The Out-Of-Towners (1970)
It’s hard to dream in a city that never sleeps so there’s always the chance of falling into a waking nightmare. Within the space of twenty-four-hours an otherwise simple journey can quickly evolve into an epic and terrifying quest for survival, which is the essence of all good Lost In New York tales.
Neil Simon’s The Out-Of-Towners set the blueprint for this odd sub-genre that perceives one of America’s greatest cities as an omnipresent force, a hostile, bewildering metropolis of serendipitous peril and incidents of random abnormality where it’s never quite clear if the protagonists are being destroyed out of sheer spite or shaped for the better.
Simon’s screenplay feeds into every uptight suburbanite’s fears, assumptions, and snooty reservations about the big smoke and takes an almost sadistic delight in tormenting Jack Lemmon’s highly strung executive with immense comic effect. Desperate to reach his career defining job interview and treat his wife to a meticulously planned evening of regimented fun, his agendas are constantly stomped on by adversity. By the time he reaches his planned destination he’s worn down and dishevelled, but thick skinned and totally confident; an archetypal New Yorker.