Friday, April 30, 2010
King of New York
"I must've been away too long because my feelings are dead. I feel no remorse."
Walken's stone cold gang leader Frank White has to be one of the best characters in film history. And King of New York should easily replace about 10 Martin Scorsese films at the top of the best films of all time list. It precedes Bad Lieutenant by two years and is, in many ways, Abel Ferrara's preliminary film for what would become his best movie, and one of my favorite movies in film history, the original and unbeatable Bad Lieutenant.
I used to watch King of New York every month or so. It should be a film that you watch every Christmas, as it has so much going on and so much to offer for family viewing. You think I'm kidding but I'm not. The film is complex and simple at the same time, like Ferrara's best movies. It owes so much to the classic gangster films of the 30s but it is also about the complex social and economic relationships that would end up guiding American culture in the 80's, 90's and 00's. It is about the old world of the United States and an epitaph for the 20th century.
I mean, it is a movie about making capitalism, social inequity, cultural identity and cultural governance. It is a movie about old cultures being replaced and in a truly timely way it is about the culture clash that is so common in countries like ours. I'm a big fan of negative films and this is the granddaddy of them. No one is right, nobody redeems themselves, though they may try and even the good guys are thoroughly bad. In fact there are no good or bad people in this movie. I guess I'd call it nuanced.
This time around I kept on thinking about Scarface, a movie I used to love. I keep on thinking about how Scarface has been taken over by a culture that elevates one liners and escapist faux-machismo to the height of poetry. Scarface is still a brilliant movie but like Tim would say about Rocky Horror Picture show or me about Big Lebowski, some things are better off as cult films. I have a feeling that King of New York is better than that. It had an affect on hip hop culture and mainstream thought but King of New York is different, it is actually a work of art. Admittedly, it is full of brilliant one-liners like "Chicken Eating Motherfucker" and fantasy machismo gun fights, but I'm feeling, after having seen it way too many times to count, that it is a movie I'm going to want to keep watching. It isn't just about what it is about.