Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Films I Love #52: After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985)


Martin Scorsese's After Hours is a wonderful and oft-overlooked film from the legendary director. In fact, it's every bit as much of a remarkable portrait of urban living as any of Scorsese's more famous New York stories. The film is a nightmare, the frenzied documentation of one night in the life of bored, prosaic office worker Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), who against his better judgment accepts the late-night invitation of Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), who he randomly meets at a diner. Paul's spur-of-the-moment but seemingly innocuous decision to go visit Marcy at her SoHo apartment, after midnight on the same night he first met her, turns out to be a down-the-rabbit-hole choice that sends Paul off on a wild and surreal journey of violence and sexual confusion. This is a dark, hysterical comedy of mishaps, misadventures and misidentifications, as Paul encounters one absurd situation after another. It's a kind of cautionary parable, as the staid, square Paul steps outside of the security of his comfort zone and finds himself utterly unprepared for the messiness and insanity of the world that exists outside his familiar circuit from office job to neat apartment.

The result is a skewed vision of New York as a garish, jumbled, confusing maze, a place where chance meetings place Paul into close contact with all sorts of fascinating/frightening characters, from a clingy, desperate middle-aged waitress (Teri Garr) to the aggressive and provocative artist Kiki (Linda Fiorentino) to a gay guy who clearly thought he was picking Paul up, and finds out otherwise much to his disappointment, to Marcy herself, with all her unexpected hangups and eccentricities, to a pair of goofy crooks (Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong) who serve as the film's plot device delivery system. By turns poignant, harrowing and darkly hilarious, After Hours is one of Scorsese's masterpieces, a seemingly light film that in fact gives form to the fears and insecurities of those who would shut themselves off from life in order to avoid risk. In Paul's case, his skittishness turns out to be warranted, or perhaps — and this is quite likely — it's his very fears that, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, prompt the unsympathetic city to chew him up and spit him out, very much the worse for wear, the next morning, back at his job and his familiar life, back to a well-trod path from which he'll likely never deviate again.

14 comments:

DavidEhrenstein said...

One of my very very favroties too, After Hours is a vision of downtown New York of its era -- now alas long gone. It was made after the first attempt at filming The Last Temptation of Christ crashed and burned, and the process brought Marty out of a deep funk. It's also the film that made me fall madly in love with Rosanna Arquette. The scene where she explains why her marriage fell apart ("Surrender Dorothy!") is one of the most hilarious ever filmed.

here it is in all its glory

DavidEhrenstein said...

here's part one of a documentary on the making of the film

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's part Two

Michaël Parent said...

I also love that under appreciated Scorsese. I tend to think that Marty's 1980's films are far better than most people think they are. After Hours, The King of Comedy and The Last Temptation of Christ are amongst my favorite Scorsese. After Hours really elevates itself above the almost mediocre mainstream television oriented Cinema of the 1980's.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks for the doc links, David. And yeah, Rosanna Arquette is awesome in this. The way she says "surrender dorothy," I'm smiling just thinking about it. Such a great scene, and such a goofy/poignant performance.

Michaël, totally agreed about Scorsese's 80s films, especially this one and King of Comedy, another underappreciated classic that's equal parts darkness and hilarity.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Marty's crazy about Rosanna. See also Life Lessons , his marvelous episode from New York Stories.

Rosanna has turned to directing in recent years. Her documentary Searching For Deborah Winger is all about how the business treats talented actresses as if they had a "Sell By" date stamped on them. I ran into her at an event last month and she says she's planning a fictional dramatic feature in the near future.

She says her brother David is doing OK and dealing with his addiction troubles -- despite what the tabs have been saying.

Can't wait to see what her brother-now-sister Alexis is planning next.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's Alexis a few years back.

Sam Juliano said...

"This is a dark, hysterical comedy of mishaps, misadventures and misidentifications, as Paul encounters one absurd situation after another. It's a kind of cautionary parable, as the staid, square Paul steps outside of the security of his comfort zone and finds himself utterly unprepared for the messiness and insanity of the world that exists outside his familiar circuit from office job to neat apartment..."

Indeed, beautifully framed Ed. Made during the time Scorsese was at the peak of his creative powers, there's no doubt this one is sometimes underestimated from the director of GOODFELLAS, TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, MEAN STREETS, GANGS OF NEW YORK and THE AVIATOR. In any case I think it's fair enough to say it's as accomplished as any film in examining NYC urban life, as knowing as a number of the Woodman's efforts. Scorsese captured the city's pulse and the diversity in the population in just about every sense. Your stunning screen cap display makes me want to watch this again right now.

Ed Howard said...

David, Life Lessons is great too, I love that short.

Sam, you're right in your implication that this film is overlooked to some degree because Scorsese has had so many other recognized masterpieces. It's inevitable that a few of his smaller films will slip through the cracks.

Carson said...

I love seeing this on here, as it's probably my favorite Scorsese. We've spoken about it before, but I wonder about your reading of the film as giving "form to the fears and insecurities of those who would shut themselves off from life in order to avoid risk." Doesn't this seem to support a rather passive, ho-hum approach to life, the idea that one should not leave the boundaries of their monotonous existence because it will result in chaos? I don't like to think that Scorsese would engage in such a conformist theme. To me, it's more like he's critiquing the passive protagonist and celebrating the great, frenetic, and sometimes dangerous variety of his local city.

Ed Howard said...

Oh yeah, Carson, I definitely agree with you that Scorsese is critiquing and even mocking his protagonist, I didn't make that clear enough. At the same time, I think the film is partly rooted in Paul's perspective, in the way he sees the city as a place of terror and constant threat - he sees exaggerated visions of urban life that, to him, are alien and frightening, and he experiences everything as a threat or a trial to overcome. That's why I say that Paul's fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy, that he creates his own nightmare New York. If he approached some of these encounters in more of a spirit of openness and acceptance, things likely would've gone much differently. It's Paul's own conformity that prevents him from experiencing this night as anything other than harrowing and awful.

MovieMan0283 said...

This film worked all too well for me - left me feeling burnt-out, hungover, fatigued, and claustrophobic just like its character. The Arquette girl sure is cute though.

Ed Howard said...

Joel, I'm pretty sure that's the intended effect. But no laughter as well? I find it hilarious and harrowing in roughly equal measures.

I don't know if cute is the word for Rosanna Arquette - she's too spiky for that - but she's undoubtedly striking, anywhere she appears.

estelle said...

Just watched this film; I haven't laughed so much for quite some time. Making of videos are are enjoyable, thanx.