In 1983, Martin Scorsese was planning on directing The Last Temptation of Christ, but when outside forces intervened, he made a relatively obscure entry in his filmography, one with an indie spirit that showed Hollywood he had the will to go back to his roots and return to the "mean streets" of New York City, specifically a pre-gentrification Soho. Click below to watch a great documentary on how Scorsese made one of the oddest entries in his filmography, the little known surrealist comedy/nightmare, After Hours.
After Hours is one of those movies that most people have never heard of, but, if they have, possess an abiding affection for (yours truly included). Written by Joseph Minion, the film cost only 4.5 million dollars (a pittance for a major movie) and generally flew under the radar, though it did get positive reviews, garnering four stars from Roger Ebert:
This is the work of a master filmmaker who controls his effects so skillfully that I was drained by this film - so emotionally depleted that there was a moment, two-thirds of the way through, when I wondered if maybe I should leave the theater and gather my thoughts and come back later for the rest of the "comedy."
Unlike his previous film, The King of Comedy, which used a flat lighting style to reflect the TV world in which it was set, After Hours is a highly stylized, kinetic experience:
Before getting to the documentary, let's take a journey through Martin Scorsese's Manhattan, circa 1985:
The film begins with Griffin Dunne (a wonderful and underrated actor) as Paul Hackett, instructing Bronson Pinchot in the mundanities of word processing in their midtown office:
That night, he meets cute with Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) at a diner (bonding over a love of Henry Miller) and decides to head downtown for a date that he will never forget. After losing his last $20 when it flies out the window of his cab:
...he finds himself in the loft of artist Kiki Bridges (Linda Fiorentino), a sultry sculptress who lives with Marcy, but doesn't seem to think much of her. When Marcy unexpectedly commits suicide, a (very) black comedy of errors ensues as Paul wanders around Soho, trying to get home:
Mistaken for a cat burglar and pursued by a mob of downtown denizens out for blood, (in Scorsese's Soho, there are no cops to save you) he takes refuge in a punk club, trying to find Kiki and prove his innocence:
He ends up as a sculpture himself (it's a long story), trapped in plaster, stolen by Cheech and Chong (yes, Cheech and Chong) and falling out of a van when it hits a pothole, right back in front of his office:
After Hours really must be seen to be believed, and stands as arguably Scorsese's weirdest film. It also possesses an indie spirit that showed he was capable of turning out big-budget spectacles as well as bizarre little trips into the dark side of New York. After Hours is a film that could not plausibly be set today, since most of Paul's travails could easily be solved in 2013 by cell phones, credit cards, and ATMs. But in 1985, he was up a creek.
The film feels like a gritty indie, shot entirely on location, with no special effects other than in-camera fast motion, and relying on acting, lighting, and mood to create a film unlike any other.
Check out this fascinating half-hour documentary on the making of the film, featuring deleted scenes:
Have you seen After Hours? What lessons do you think an indie filmmaker could learn from Scorsese?