Gangs of New York: Music from the Motion Picture
Martin Scorsese’s sprawling meditation on the rise of street gangs in 19th-century New York (the roots of the modern mafia) also became another soundtrack buff’s “What If?” after the director scrapped the original orchestral underscore of modern collaborator (Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Bringing Out the Dead)/veteran scoring legend Elmer Bernstein and replaced it with this typically rich, Robbie Robertson-supervised collection of eclectic pop, folk, and neo-classical tracks. The latter come courtesy of three brooding excerpts from film…
Martin Scorsese’s sprawling meditation on the rise of street gangs in 19th-century New York (the roots of the modern mafia) also became another soundtrack buff’s “What If?” after the director scrapped the original orchestral underscore of modern collaborator (Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Bringing Out the Dead)/veteran scoring legend Elmer Bernstein and replaced it with this typically rich, Robbie Robertson-supervised collection of eclectic pop, folk, and neo-classical tracks. The latter come courtesy of three brooding excerpts from film composer Howard Shore’s previously unpremiered concert piece Brooklyn Heights, tracks that help emphasize the film’s darker emotional gravitas. Much of the other catalog choices by Robertson and Scorsese lean on an evocative slate of Celtic and folk-tinged selections that range from hammered dulcimers, fiddles, and tin whistles to the spare, emotive balladry of Linda Thompson and Shu-De; even U2’s main theme, “The Hands That Built America,” is cast in a similar mold. But that Irish musical stew gets leavened by everything from the postmodern dirges of Peter Gabriel and Jocelyn Pook to a black field hand recording by legendary musicologist Alan Lomax and even the Chinese flavors of “Beijing Opera Suite.” It’s an imaginative, compelling mix, one that gratifyingly pushes the usually staid boundaries of what film scores can truly encompass. —Jerry McCulley
Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York reached the screen with a kaleidoscopic montage of a soundtrack unusual for a period epic but comparable to the director’s use of period pop music in his previous gangster sagas Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995). It was not always to be like this. Hollywood legend Elmer Bernstein discussed his ultimately rejected score in a 2002 interview, but the final cut contains 86 diverse pieces, including a replacement score by Howard Shore in Lord of the Rings mode. His work is represented by three effective extracts “Brooklyn Heights 1-3”, together with 15 eclectic cuts that, in context, range from the sublime to beyond ridiculous. With musicians including the Chieftains and Finbar Furey, the Irish contribution to New York’s history is well represented, though an Oscar-nominated anthem from U2, “The Hands That Built America” smacks of unwarranted commercialism and Peter Gabriel’s “Single to Noise” makes no sense here at all. The very inclusion of music by Jocelyn (Eyes Wide Shut (1999)) Pook with the gorgeous “Dionysus” suggests the mix-and-match Kubrickian ambition of the endeavour, and, while individual tracks are often highly effective, there’s a lack of cohesion that ultimately makes one wish for a composer’s cut of the Bernstein version. —Gary S Dalkin
Published to coincide with the release of Martin Scorsese’s film, Gangs of New York, starring Leonard DiCaprio, The Gangs of New York has long been hand-passed among its cult readership. It is a tour through a now unrecognizable city of abysmal poverty and habitual violence cobbled, as Luc Sante has written, “from legend, memory, police records, the self-aggrandizements of aging crooks, popular journalism, and solid historical research.” Asbury presents the definitive work on this subject, an illumination of the gangs of old New York that ultimately gave rise to the modern Mafia and its depiction in films like The Godfather.
Gangs of New York may achieve greatness with the passage of time. Mixed reviews were inevitable for a production this grand (and this troubled behind the scenes), but it’s as distinguished as any of director Martin Scorsese’s more celebrated New York stories. From its astonishing 1846 prologue to the city’s infernal draft riots of 1863, the film aspires to erase the decorum of textbooks and chronicle 19th-century New York as a cauldron of street warfare. The hostility is embodied in a tale of primal vengeance between Irish American son Amsterdam Vallon…