New York Stories
Three different stories by three different directors, held together only by the fact that all three take place on Manhattan Island.
- Life Lessons. Martin Scorsese’s contribution, and naturally, being Scorsese’s, it is the most serious of the trio. Nick Nolte is an abstract painter of some repute and wealth. Rosanna Arquette is his much-younger paramour-student-paintbrush-cleaner, and she’s fed up, she’s leaving him. He hasn’t been able to paint, but as the tensions rise and he obsessively tries to keep her, his creativity rises, too. He splashes paint around with abandon as everything else falls apart around him. He eventually realizes that he needs that jealousy and conflict to be his muse. He’s already run through an unknown number of Rosannas before this one (he mentions he’s been divorced four times before she was even born), so as the old one leaves, he makes contact with another sweet young adoring muse. It’s a good story, and visually it is a knockout as we see him painting a vast canvas that looks like nothing at all, then begins to take shape, and finally looks damned interesting. One of the better studies of the creative process.
- Life Without Zoë. What was the name of that little rich girl who lived in the Plaza Hotel in New York? Can’t recall. This must have been based on that story in some way. Zoë lives in the Sherry-Netherland almost alone as her globetrotting flute player father and photographer mother are seldom there. But don’t worry, they have their own personal butler, and all the staff adores her and caters to her. We follow her through a few hectic days of learning how to be a useless society woman with more money than she knows how to get rid of, indulging every whim, with some trivial plot about stolen jewelry thrown in. It is obviously meant to be a silly little bon-bon, a trifle, these vast sets of Fall of the Roman Empire parties, but I found it terribly unappealing. For some reason, Zoë brings chocolates to a bum living in a cardboard box. What was that all about? This being Francis Coppola’s contribution to New York, naturally it’s a family affair, with his sister Talia acting, his father doing the music, and his daughter Sofia doing the thousands of costumes. This was just distasteful.
- Oedipus Wrecks. This being Woody Allen’s segment, naturally it’s about Jewish mothers. Or at least, a Jewish mother, but this one can stand in for a million of them. She is a horror, unable to open her mouth without criticizing him or humiliating him. So she’s already more horrifying, to me, than any Godzilla. Then she vanishes inside a magician’s box and appears hovering over the Manhattan skyline, still kvetching about every little thing in Woody’s life. She manages to drive away Mia Farrow, his shiksa fiancée. In desperation, he goes to a psychic, Julie Kavner, to exorcise the bitch. But she’s incompetent … except in one department. She’s the perfect Jewish wife to take care of her boy after she’s gone, God rest her soul. She will move right into Mom’s shoes and support hose. It’s a very funny bit. Woody shows that he can act well, if he stays away from his annoying nebbish screen persona. His reaction to Mom’s first appearance, where she is already regaling everyone on the streets of the city with stories of what an incompetent ingrate he is, is just priceless.