MORE GANGS: WHAT HE SAID
If there are only two of us in the critics’ community who dare to label Gangs of New York as 2003’s Emporer’s New Movie, I am glad the other one is the great Eric Metaxas. Check out his column over at Christianity Today.
I particularly second this:
…Scorsese was powerfully conflicted in making this film, torn between making a mainstream historical Hollywood epic that could be big box-office and making another “personal artistic statement,” one that could further bolster his reputation as a nobody-owns-me capo di tutti capos auteur – and even better, one that could garrote history to definitively glorify his beloved violence and gangsterism. Guess which side won? Bada-bing!
I should have known where it was all going when I saw a tv commercial for the film that said America “was born in the streets.” I had a disturbing image of that bald-pated upstart Ben Franklin strutting about Independence Hall to the tune of Street Fighting Man.
In the past critics often attributed the bloodletting of Scorsese’s films to some religiously-themed impulse – it was all about catharsis and cleansing somehow. They would invariably cite the crucifixes scattered throughout his films and rehearse the weary factoid that Scorsese had once “wanted to become a priest.” The slim truth of this has diminished with each film, until now it’s 99 44/100ths % hogwash. We are left with
multitudinous seas incarnadine, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Any doubts that Scorsese has forsaken seriously exploring religious themes can be iced by watching three painfully glib scenes in this movie: one where Vallon – apropos of nothing — tosses a bible into the East River (Scorsese does a close-up of the gurgling book in case we missed the profound gesture); another where he tells a well-meaning minister to “go to hell”; and another where Scorsese first shows Vallon asking God for victory in killing Cutty, then shows Cutty asking God for victory in killing Vallon, and then shows a wealthy upperclass family asking God’s blessing on their groaningly laden dinnertable. It’s paint-by-numbers pointmaking: See! God is a fake, part of the corrupt establishment that tries to tell the criminal class that it’s better than them, which it’s not.