After Hours June 19, 2017
After Hours is a doozy in the filmography of Scorsese, a director who in 1985 and still in the present is not known as a comedy maestro. But its existence is all the more fascinating because it was not originally intended to be a Martin Scorsese Movie ™. At the time of its inception, Scorsese was still very much focused on getting his passion project, The Last Temptation of Christ (which would eventually be released in 1988), made. But just as production was about to start — the sets and costumes were all complete — Paramount abruptly canceled the project, leaving Scorsese reeling and extremely frustrated.
He was not, however, content letting the studio’s lack of faith get the best of him. Wanting to make the most of the tumultuous situation, and wanting to distract himself from his fury, he went on searching for a screenplay to both inspire and challenge him.
Countless scripts were rejected by the filmmaker. But one caught his eye, and that was the screenplay for After Hours, which was written by burgeoning writer Joseph Minion for a film class at Columbia University. In the script, Scorsese saw an opportunity to indulge his stylistic curiosities in ways he had never before, to make something quickly and humorously and see what would stick.
Upon release, After Hours was a financial failure, a given when Hollywood bigwigs go against the genres which made them and go far past the limits of general accessibility. But more than 30 years after it crashed and burned in theaters is it among Scorsese’s more underrated features — it is not like anything he’s directed, and it’s all the better for it. It is a film of remarkable style and innovative technical achievement, but it is also a tightrope walk, the rope made of a carefully wired configuration of screwball comedy and Kafkaesque claustrophobia. We don’t know what to make of it as we watch it. But we’re so utterly captivated by its comedic savvy and its cinematic aptitude that categorization doesn’t much matter. Scorsese’s reverie does.
The film stars Griffin Dunne as Paul Hackett, a computer processor in the grips of incessant ennui. Bored by his professional life and lonely in his personal one, he’s stuck in a routine he’d prefer to get out of. One night while sitting in a New York coffee shop contemplating everything, he sees a chance to break out of the confines of his regimen through Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette), a beautiful blonde. They strike up a conversation and find that they have much in common — a shared adoration of Henry Miller’s oeuvre is among their shared loves.
Franklin leaves Hackett her number, warning him that she lives with fickle sculptor Kiki Bridges (Linda Fiorentino), who specializes in producing plaster of Paris paperweights that look like bagels and cream cheese and who might accidentally tell him off over the phone. But Hackett, so desperate to spice up his life, isn’t content waiting a couple days before calling her. He wants to continue their dialogue and see where their chemistry might take them.
So, under the pretense of being interested in buying those aforementioned plaster of Paris paperweights, he taxis over to Franklin’s apartment spontaneously. But such is only the first inadvertent mistake he makes in a night full of them. On the ride over, all his money flies out the window as an effect of his driver’s liking of cruising at high speeds with the windows rolled down and locked in place.
What After Hours really is is a series of unfortunate events — over the course of the film does Hackett become a witness to the pre-stages of S&M, the causation of someone’s suicide, and the prime suspect behind a series of local robberies. He cannot simply go home because, of course, all his money flew out his cab’s window. And subway prices have risen in the days since he took it last.
The movie resembles one of those delirious nightmares you have where you’re either being chased relentlessly by some anonymous villain or everything you say is wrong and makes everyone want to kill you. Sometimes it even seems like an extended cut of those five second dreams in which you fall off a cliff and awaken abruptly. Only here you cannot be jolted awake.
After Hours is made up of a collection of remarkably written and shot sequences, from Hackett’s excursion into the inferno that is the Club Berlin (wherein punk customers attempt to shave all his hair off) to his cockeyed exchange with ice cream woman Gail (Catherine O’Hara), and a proliferation of magnificent performances. Dunne, who also produced, is stellar as the hapless nice guy having the worst night of his life. But it’s the supporting characterizations which make the utmost impression: Fiorentino is dynamic as the fiendishly cool, albeit wicked, sculptress, and Teri Garr and O’Hara are convincing as hilariously erratic women whose lack of stability turns them into quasi-antagonists.
New York City never sleeps, after all. In After Hours, we discover that the staying awake is not being done by creatures of the night but by eccentrics, lonelyhearts, and lost souls, all of whom seem to want to do harm to our primary protagonist. The film is a funny, fucked-up take on that sentiment. It’s an oddity in Scorsese’s diverse filmography, but it’s a treasure all the same. A
1 Hr., 33 Mins.
artin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) is a dark comedy in which the comedy doesn’t cause guffaws and the blackness signifies hellaciousness rather than morbidity. It is a cinematic nightmare, depicting the fantastically awful night of an average Joe who gets more than he bargains for when he chases a skirt for the thrill of it. Here, the laughs are either rooted in our extreme uncomfortability, a chuckle a release to the tensions presented, or in our disbelief that the after hours of one man’s workday can really and truly be this vile.