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One of the obsessions of one of the most influential film directors in the history of Hollywood, are the facets and complexities of life, people and cities, and therefore the problems of society’s substrate, of ethnic minorities, the charm of criminals and the mysticism in religion. This influential film director goes by the name of Martin Scorsese, and these elements can be observed with ease in his films such as “Taxi driver”, ”Goodfellas” and many others, but in particular in “Gangs of New York”.
With “Gangs of New York”, Scorsese has decided to get in the heart of the American history, taking its beloved and hated city of New York and has analysed its political, social and ethnic origins. The movie was supposed to come out on September 11, 2001, but for obvious reasons it has been delayed to the following year. Due to its theme, it has not been very popular after its release, and it only won some minor prizes, as it did not cause the enthusiasm of critics. However, it is undeniably one of the best movies from Scorsese and one of the best about NY and its history
The movie is set in New York, 1846, in the Five Points district. A bloody battle between gangs determines the triumph of William Cutting known as Billy the “Butcher”, head of the Native Americans and the death of Father Vallon, protector of emigrants. Sixteen years after the battle, Vallon’s son, Amsterdam, comes from the reformatory determined to meet his father’s murder and get his revenge. As Amsterdam gets to know Billy, he almost becomes an adoptive son and saves his life. Once Billy discovered who Amsterdam is, he disfigures the young man, who decides to resolve to fight openly against Billy. However, these are the years of the Civil War: the last battle between the gang will definitely exceeded in violence and ferocity by the intervention of troops sent to enforce conscriptions.
This movie shows that the great American democracy and its past is characterised by ethnic conflicts, and was born due to the rigged elections, the corruption and was born under the sight of God, and made natives, Irish, poor and aristocratic equal in the eyes of the law. It shows that it was born thanks to the courage and blood of the immigrants that determined the growth of the nation.
Scorsese's “Gangs of New York” shows how violence embraces the whole of American history and how it has played a role in the society, changing and evolving it. The New York of 1846 or 1862 is in a certain sense even the New York of 1950 or 2000; or rather, in a more generic way, America. He has shown how violence can be used for a greater good, and this influences the style with bloody fights and conflicts that are narrated in a dramatic way, almost as dramatic and heroic as epic stories.
The historic context is also very peculiar and well recreated, with a quote from Bill: “"On the seventh day, the Lord rested, but before doing so, crouched on the shores of England and what he defecated was ... Ireland". This shows the conflict with Irish and other ethnic minorities with the so-called “natives”, and violence is used as a moral and physical tool of justice that allowed the Irish fighters to gain respect and perhaps equal rights. It is used as a mean to gain justice and it is a symbol to fight and give order.
This movie, with his narrative and subject matter, would most likely be a nostalgic movie, inspired by the old charm of New York history, and that perhaps would be one of the most disorganised and confusing movies. However, Scorsese has used his skilled hand to make the movie a classic, which with the combination of agile shots and dynamic sequences, is a must see from Scorsese’s filmography.
Image credits: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gangs_of_New_York_Poster.jpg