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New York Stories as full fo mystery, comedy as city itself


Oedipus Wrecks, written and

directed by Woody Allen.

Life Without Zoe, directed by

Francis Coppola.

Life Lessons, directed by Martin Scorsese.

Starring Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Mae

Questel, Heather McComb, Talia Shire,

Nick Nolte, and Rosanna Arquette.

At the Harvard Square and Nickelodeon



REJOICE, ALL DEPRIVED Bostonians who have never experienced the magical aura of New York. Touchstone Pictures has just released New York Stories, a combination of three shorter works written and directed by Martin Scorsese, Francis "Marie" Coppola, and Woody Allen.

The greatest strength of New York Stories is the contrast among three very different views of New York as seen by three directors who have used the Big Apple as the setting for many of their greatest works. In this respect the film is greater than the sum of its parts; although the individual stories are interesting on their own, each one is colored by the biases of its creator. The true diversity of such a complex city could only be accurately portrayed by a collaboration of high-caliber talents, which is indeed the case.

Martin Scorsese leads off with Life Lessons, starring Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette. Although his segment is at times confusing, Scorsese succeeds in portraying the city in an eerie light occasionally resembling the stuff of nightmares. Nolte plays Lionel, a successful artist who shares his eccentric lifestyle and work habitat with Paulette (Arquette), his assistant. Paulette is disillusioned with the city as a place for an artist to earn a living and fed up with Lionel's bestial personality. Lionel believes that he is madly in love with her, and tries desperately to sway her to the philosophy of art which dominates his life. Yet Lionel's paradoxical personality -- artistically talented and sensitive on one hand, sloppy and brutish on the other -- results in a character impossible to identify with. Arquette also does not succeed in portraying a believable contrast to Nolte, and relies on clich'es and pouty expressions as a method of acting. Overall, the acting is more of a distraction than anything else.

Although the story is predictable and drawn out, the screenplay is truly brilliant. Scorsese takes a creative approach to directing, and uses the camera to produce a piece of art instead of just a documentary about crisis in an artist's life. The camera's eye ranges from long shots at dizzying angles to extreme close-ups of a cigarette hitting a carpet in slow motion. Scorsese devotes a large amount of time to the study of Lionel at work and succeeds in capturing the frustration of all artists.

New York as seen by Scorsese is a surrealistic proving ground for struggling artists where the weak are weeded out. Darkness prevails over most of the shots, and even the soundtrack conveys an eerie impression. The city takes on a personality that is more understandable than that of any of the characters.

Francis Coppola directed and co-wrote Life Without Zoe (starring Heather McComb and Talia Shire) with his daughter Sofia Coppola. The segment recounts some of the escapades of Zoe, a sophisticated twelve-year-old girl brought up in Manhattan. During the course of the story, Zoe must deal with a hotel robbery, separated parents, a lonely prince, and international intrigue and politics. Zoe's problems seem trivial, however, when compared with the problem that the audience has in keeping awake.

Life Without Zoe is a childlike romp through New York, untainted by any acting talent, credibility, or plot. A plethora of unusual character types are paraded around, unable to solve any of the problems in their lives without help from Zoe, whose "Little Miss Manners" attitude is nauseating. The city merely serves the purpose of generating unlikely situations which always seem to work themselves out.

Woody Allen ends the line-up with Oedipus Wrecks, a masterpiece of film starring himself, Mia Farrow, and Mae Questel. Allen plays Sheldon, a successful attorney living under the constant scrutiny of his mother (Questel), who doesn't approve of his fianc'ee Lisa (Farrow). Sheldon and Lisa try everything to accommodate the annoying demands of his mother. In one scene, the couple takes Mother to a magic show, where she is chosen as a volunteer in one act, resulting in unmentionable consequences.

Oedipus Wrecks is by far the greatest of the three segments and is a pinnacle of cinematic perfection. It uses classic Woody Allen style to set up believable characters with problems and worries that everyone can identify with, and then thrusts them into completely bizarre and absurd situations. His segment is hysterically funny, poking fun at movie clich'es, the city's ability to cope with any scenario, and the secret phobias that all people have. The film makes its point clearly, and the dilemma is resolved in a way that is unique to New York City.

Even though Coppola's contribution is a disappointment, New York Stories shows off "the city that never sleeps" with all its quirks and diversity. The film is full of glamour, mystery, and comedy, and it would be difficult to mention something that New York Stories, or New York City itself, doesn't contain.