Sunday, February 7, 2010

"After Hours": A Late Appreciation of Not Only Scorsese, but Joe Frank

SAVAGENYC does not own a television. SAVAGENYC does, however, own a lap-top computer.

If one owns the latter, then one doesn't really need the former, because everything on the former is available, for free, on the latter, usually within minutes of said content's distribution via "Premium Cable", whatever that is.

Just read whatever it is you're interested in seeing, 'Google' it, and voila: there it is on YouTube, ready for your delectation. Awesome. And free. This extends to forgotten "Night Gallery" episodes, interviews w/ Bette Davis, and even the most recent episode of "Project Runway".

Case in point: SAVAGENYC recently became re-obsessed with Martin Scorsese, after reading all the hype around "Shutter Island".

Yes, we succumbed to the hype, but it was Sunday, it was cold, and there was nothing going on anywhere, so we bought the NYT and read the A&L section, which featured a front-page profile of Scorsese, written by Terrence Rafferty.

Rafferty's profile homed in on Scorsese's adrenaline-fueled aesthetic and compared the director's new film to his 1991 remake of "Cape Fear", one of SAVAGENYC's all-time favorites. We Googled the trailer, read the reviews, and we didn't even have to watch the Superbowl, where Scorsese's 30-second commercial for the film was hotly anticipated to debut within the commercial break scheduled for the game's 3rd quarter.

Scorsese fans are known to hotly debate the director's best and worst films, and "Cape Fear" usually falls into the latter category, due to its B-movie plot and pronounced moral relativism.

As for SAVAGENYC, you can have "Casino" (gratuitous) and "The Age of Innocence" (dull and pretentious): just give us a good, old-fashioned noir thriller/police procedural, with claustrophobic cinematography, rabid editing, and a scary Jessica Lang, and we're happy.

"Shutter Island" looks...okay (if a bit silly), but, from the bits we've seen, it seems too stylistically indebted to "Silence of the Lambs", and we've never been too thrilled w/ pudding-faced actor Leonardo DiCaprio. However, it looks as though Scorsese has been commercially obliged to hitch his wagon to DiCaprio in order to get Hollywood studios to "green-light" his movies. Whatever. It's annoying to see such a visionary director compromise his aesthetic with box-office superstars who will only dilute his projects. Benicio del Toro wasn't available? SAVAGENYC takes cold comfort, however, from the fact that Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, and Max von Sydow are given prime roles in the thriller.

All of this got SAVAGENYC to thinking: why were Scorsese's "worst" movies always our favorites? Did we have "bad taste"? Of course we grew up w/ "Taxi Driver" (overly long, and gratuitous), and "Raging Bull" (overwrought) but what really first turned us on to Scorsese was "After Hours". More on that in a second, after the digression below.

"Looking for Mr. Goodbar" actually kicks "Taxi Driver"'s ass in terms of its evocation of paranoiac NYC ennui and self-immolation (despite the fact the movie was shot on an LA sound-stage) ,and Woody Allen's "Broadway Danny Rose" is a smarter version of "Raging Bull", smartly sending up NYC's machismo-Mafia culture by examining it from the perspective of a nebbishy, z-list theatrical agent.

Hands-down, "After Hours" is one of Scorsese's worst, according to film bloggers, but this film was the first of Scorsese's to touch a nerve w/ SAVAGENYC, when it was screened to students in a Film Analysis course curated by Greg Durbin.

Scorsese's frenetic tracking shots, in Midtown offices, on lonely SoHo streets, and in late-night diners certainly resonated with SAVAGENYC, but it was the film's Pinter-esque dialogue and happenstance plot turns which really captured our attention.

So we were surprised to learn that the main plot for the "After Hours"'s script had actually been lifted, according to, from a performance piece written for radio by Joe Frank, the venerable LA radio personality.

Joe Frank reportedly settled out of court w/ Scorsese, for a handsome fee, according to various web sites, but SAVAGENYC was interested to find out more about the mind behind such inimitable lines as:
Sorry, I guess I'm really putting you through the ringer tonight.
It's okay. I'm used to it. Can we get the check?

Turns out, Joe Frank has, at least, as big a cult following as "After Hours", and after listening to some of his radio monologues, SAVAGENYC was thankful for the lawsuit he brought against the producers of "After Hours". Otherwise, we're not sure we would have discovered Frank's surreal but deadpan and ripped-from-the-headlines monologues, which are nothing short of brilliant, and influenced by Kafka, Richard Foreman, and Beckett. And Pinter, of course, Pinter.

So, thanks to Scorsese for inadvertently putting Frank on the map w/ "After Hours", and for alerting this cultural commentator to the brilliant, twisted mind of Joe Frank.

Check out "After Hours" here.

And check out Joe Frank here.