New York In The Movies #2 | After Hours (Scorsese, 1985)

"It (SoHo) had a perfect setting. It's SoHo in the middle of the night. There's nobody there. Everybody's in these lofts, or in nightclubs, Something's going on but it ain't happening in the street, they're empty"
- Martin Scorsese (Quoted in Sanders, 2013: 154)

After his plans to make The Last Temptation Of Christ fell apart - Martin Scorsese wanted to make a low budget picture on a quicker timescale with a smaller crew, to 'start over again' as it were: "After Last Temptation was cancelled, I had to get myself back in shape. Work out. And this was working out" (Scorsese, Quoted in Shone: 2014: 116).    

Starring Griffin Dunne, it was a 'New York nightmare' story about a night in the life of a word processor named Paul Hackett, who tries to make it home after escaping from the worst date ever with a woman he meets in a cafe, played by Rosanna Arquette. After losing all his money in a cab and, being unable to pay the increased subway fares Paul finds himself trapped in the neighbourhood of Soho - with a series of increasingly bizarre circumstances keeping him from being able to return home. 
Shot over eight weeks, entirely at night - save for the scenes at Hackett's place of employment (filmed by the gates of the Metropolitan Life tower not far from the Flat Iron building). Scorsese may have been attracted to this dark but extremely funny script because of the  disappointment that followed the falling apart of The Last Temptation Of Christ. Unlike the hustle and bustle of the subway or car chase scene of The French Connection, Paul is instead trapped in a empty and a desolate vision of New York where the residents are partying in clubs as opposed to being out on the streets, which was intended to evoke the image of SoHo a decade earlier, before it became a lively centre of downtown life (Sanders: 154). 

Dunne recalls that despite the frantic and elaborate set ups, there was an efficient rhythm to the process of filming, which was likely down to the planning of the visual structure of the picture by Scorsese, who wrote down 500 possible shot layouts within the margins of the script so that the crew knew exactly what they had to do in order stick to the schedule. The nature of the nighttime filming meant that there were little to no interruptions for the cast and crew to deal with, so he could portray the street life of NY as he wanted, full of kooky and sometimes downright crazy characters that all come out at midnight. 

When Paul isn't cornered in lofts, diners, apartments, bars or nightclubs with these people he is often escaping them, desperately running through the streets of the neighbourhood - which Scorsese had laid with lots of tracks to enable the crew to keep up with Dunne, who described the process as a 'great workout'.  These repeated outdoor scenes in the dark back alleys and blocks presented the city as a sort of endless maze which Paul is trapped in, with his nocturnal nature being reminiscent of the isolated lead characters in both Taxi Driver and Bringing Out The Dead - both also set in New York.  It is also full of surrealist imagery, which Scorsese meant to act as a parody of film noir, with the angles and cuts inspired by the movement adding to the delirium of the characters - in fact, when Paul is escaping from an angry mob with flashlights on the rain soaked streets it's hard not to be reminded of the labyrinth of the Vienna sewers in the chase sequence of The Third Man. 

On the last day of filming, Scorsese turned to both Dunne and Amy Robinson (whom handed him the script) and said "Thank you for giving me back my love of making movies". After the near depression of failing to make a picture that he had wanted to for years, this low budget, underrated New York film helped Scorsese to recover. Although not as well known or revered as some of his other pictures, it remains his only film to win him the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  


After Hours: Making Of and Deleted Scenes (Video)

Sanders, J., 2013. Scenes from The City: Filmmaking in New York. New York: Rizzoli Int Publications.

Shone, T., 2014. Martin Scorsese: A Retrospective. London: Colin Webb.

'New York In The Movies' is a tribute to some of the best pictures that have been filmed within famous city. There are several great books that cover this topic, without a doubt the most comprehensive being: Scenes From The City: Filmmaking In New York, edited by James Sanders. In addition, the following websites are great for finding out the real-life filming locations of a number of movies:, and Photographer Chris Maloney has a wonderful Tumblr page where he juxtaposes pictures of film stills with their real life locations.


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