King of New York (Special Edition) Review
A lot of the choices we make boil down to a simple question. To achieve something in life, to get what we want, is it alright to take the most effective and quickest path or should we heed our conscience when it tells us that the means are indeed as important as the ends. Throughout our political and personal lives, how many of us have sought absolution for our misdeeds by dressing ourselves up in the best intentions. How many of us have sat close to our object in life with our nose pressed up against the glass of our own ethics and inhibitions and wanted to break through to the success we desire? Many have considered those principles and come to see them as obstacles to the power we clearly need to get some good done and many have then chosen to simply shatter the rules that stop us achieving our goal.
Frank White wants the opportunity to do good, but he knows that he needs a year to achieve his ends. He will eliminate the obstacles and the opposition, and he can claim, in doing so, that he'd already made the world a better place by ridding it of scumbags. He'll push the dope and run the rackets fairly and like a good boss, and he'll put money back into the neighbourhood by building a hospital for the poor and the forgotten. He may be a gangster, but Frank wants to make the world a better place.
The cops who chase him can never win by playing by the rules. They get witnesses to put his henchmen away for life, only for the law to spring the men, and for them to deal with their accusers. They strive and work for a pittance whilst Frank is lauded as a pillar of his community. They know that if they just do one bad thing to get rid of this man, life will be better and they will be able to hold their heads high again.
So there you have it, two forces implacably opposed and convinced that their best intentions overwhelm the evil that they stoop to. The New York they make together is violent and impossible, and their feud will go on and on until they're all gone. Ferrara's well prepared and decent budget sized film is unusual for director known for guerilla film-making because production wise it is a decent size and the shoot was the unusually long, for Ferrara, period of 8 weeks.
Held together by a trend setting hip hop soundtrack from Schoolly D, and boasting before they were famous turns by Wesley Snipes, David Caruso and Laurence Fishburne, King of New York can be accused of being gangster porn. Stylish dudes, hip music and gorgeous women add to the glamour of crime, and the lighting and camera work make the action seem cool. However, the film is really a tragedy of good intentions - the result of a war of between a gangster who wants to make his better world, and the cops who see him as the root of all evil in this one.
Christopher Walken is the magnetic, cultured, and psychotic White. He is an equal opportunities mobster, he visits the theatre with the glitterati and the powerful, and he enjoys getting down with his homies. He is also a split second away from murder or destruction, and determined to rule the roost for one whole year to get something done. Walken's presence holds everything in orbit around him like some kind of centrifuge and he revels in a performance which has to be menacing and charismatic, heck he even dances.
Frank's urge to get things done whilst he still can is what completes this film, and it's hard to not empathise with his desire to achieve and improve. The world around him is no place to live however, and we leave Frank stuck in a traffic jam in a throng of New Yorkers all desperate to get moving but going nowhere. A wonderfully poetic conclusion. King of New York hits most of its marks, and is an example of when this director gets it right. Here as in Body Snatchers and Ms 45, Ferrara shows plenty of energy, guts and a lyrical touch as he shows us another pretty miserable world, not all that different from the one we live in.
Transfer and sound
The main feature is a bit of a transfer of two halves with the first 50 minutes being a little soft, lacking detail and vibrancy. The second part of the film appears much more strong with improved sharpness and stronger confident tones. The basic print the transfer seems to be from isn't the cleanest and some contrast and edge boosting seems to have taken place. The film does seem to have been converted properly but I wonder whether the Region A Blu-ray is the option to choose for visual quality.
The sound suffers from a lack of dynamism and some distortion throughout on the high treble and bassier parts of the soundtrack. The film was shot using surround elements and the 5.1 option does offer speaker coverage and directionality in the effects, it also gives the bass elements and the ambience of individual settings more of a boost. Both mixes are a little muddy though and perhaps on this occasion I preferred the more compact stereo mix even in the action sequences. No subs of any nature is a pretty poor effort though.
Discs and special features
The first disc in the set is a single layer region free treatment of just the main feature which carries two commentaries. The crew commentary is compeered by Joe Delia who composed most of the film's score and he works hard to get a conversation started involving the producer Mary Kane, casting director Randy Sabusawa, and editor Anthony Redman. Each are keen to draw the attention to their work, but they all are amazed at the locations they got for the movie and some of the things they got away with in the shooting. They all clearly love the director and his eccentricity and are transfixed by Walken's craft. It's more the kind of commentary that you dip in and out of, and far less interesting than Ferrara's commentary which has him in full effect. Ferrara opens up by saying he's only doing the track as he got $5000 dollars cash up front and presents the film as a story of a revolutionary trying to make a better world. Ferrara is always able to talk and frequently cutting, but he is rather engaging and a lovable eccentric who seems genuinely hurt at the lack of recognition his films have received. His commentary is a real keeper that you will want to lose yourself in if you find yourself entranced by the character of the man.
The second disc is also region free but a dual layer with several documentaries offered up as goodies. Ferrara is talked about by his crew and collaborators in the first one as an artist who is both irascible and open, and his career is followed. His frequent problems with bad distributors and the contribution of his regular writer are examined in this largely interview led piece. The second documentary is a rather more substantial offering from the French film series Cineastes de Notre Temps which benefits from following the director as he goes about his business in New York. It's quite knowing but rather affectionate as we find Ferrara blowing his top over a late car at one point and then cut to Harvey Keitel shooting his car radio in Bad Lieutenant. Ferrara's energy and restlessness becomes endearing as he rails against his lack of kudos, messes around with a guitar in a music store and watches scenes from New Rose Hotel admiring Asia Argento's energy and acting. The documentary does seem to be included in a stretched aspect ratio which renders some clips from the films extremely poorly.
The appreciation of Christopher Walken's career that is included here is dreadful with little insight and filled with clips from his worst movies, all presented in a squeezed 4:3. It has nothing to say and says it with plenty of schmaltz, if ever there was an actor who doesn't need that quality it's Walken. The documentary on Schoolly D concentrates on his role in the modern day phenomenon of gangsta rap and proves interesting for his alter ego and creator Jesse B Weaver being interviewed without any of the disguise he dons for his creation. Weaver explains that Ferrara advised him to make Schoolly D a persona so that he could retain a private life.
Beginning the menu on the second disc is an interview with the producer Auguste Caminto whom retains fond memories of the director and the film. He talks about meeting the director and the experience of getting the film made and trying to leave Ferrara to it as he completed the project. He explains that US prints of the film, including the presentation here, open with the words a film by Auguste Caminto as a tribute from Ferrara to him. The interview is in French with removable English subs.
Excellent extras, a good director's commentary and an okay transfer may make this an interesting purchase. The US Blu-ray contains a lot of these extras and what seems to be a superior transfer and may prove a better option for some but this maybe a pretty safe buy for fans of the film who don't have hi-def equipment yet.