Gothic Steam Phantastic

Gangs of New York

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Gangs of New York

Some people have called this movie Steampunk. I won't. But it is definitely some kind of Victorian Gothic, reason enough to put a small review here. If someone likes to discuss the steampunk-or-not, please do.

First a small remark: I have seen this movie in Spain. It was the original version with Spanish subtitles. Parts of the dialogues had an Irish dialect I didn't understand and I had to read the Spanish subtitles to make sense out of it. Unfortunately, I can't read Spanish very good, so maybe I missed some of the clues.

I don't know if I would like to see the movie again. Yes, because the atmosphere, the intrigues and politics are interesting; no, because the love scenes (it has Leonardo di Caprio in it, so it had to have a little romance in it for his fans :-( ) are boring and the battles take too much time - seen one limb being cut off, you've seen them all cut off, and the next gallon of blood is just the same as the first.

The story is about the (Irish) gangs of New York where the "natives" (the "Irish" who have been born in the USA) fight the "newbies" (those who immigrated from Eire, fleeing the Irish Famine [1845-1851]). They team up with and betray the Chinese, the rich&wealthy politicians, the police, the fire brigade, and so on. Politics and ancient sentiments of the Irish clans make an explosive mixture.
The son, called Amsterdam, of a killed "newbie" teams up with the "bad guy" nicknamed The Butcher, who doesn't know he takes someone under his wings who will eventually revenge the father.
There is not much else to say about it without giving the plot away.

Why do I call this Victorian Gothic?
First of all, the movie has a good insight in the poor lives of 19th century New York, and the struggle for life of the immigrants. I don't know if it is all historical correct, but it can be inspiration none the less. Of course, New York was not under the rule of Queen Victoria, but the upper classes definitely had Victorian traditions.
Then, there is this the constant fear of the common people. It gets, at times, like splatter horror with tons of blood and chopping off limbs and so on. The horror, however, lies not in the blood, but in the suppression of the poor by the few wealthy, and the enduring pressure from the boss of the gang on the gang members - intrigues and political scheming on a large scale, dirty tricks everywhere. The power vs. the powerless, a classic theme.
The theme is so very classic, that New York in the Victorian Age is only an excuse - the fighting of the gangs/clans could have taken place anywhere, anytime.

Some scenes are truly gothic. For example: in the prologue, where all the people are living in an underground world, in a church, and hang with blood lust on huge installations has the air of Piranesi (and a bit of Mad Max beyond the Thunderdome).
In the fighting scenes, the gangs come up with some arms that are much like the cyberimplants used in cyberpunk (and again, Mad Max movies). Technics don't play a real part in the movie. Steam is only seen on the ships passing in the background.

The music score has a great song by U2 in it (during end titles: The hands that build New York), but that is not the music you expect in a movie concerning the mid-19th century.
The rest of the music, as far as I can remember, is mostly Irish folk songs. This is remarkable, because the more swinging, melancholic Irish folk music has a large contrast with the rough fights, but somehow it works in this movie. However, I think this music doesn't work good on CD as steampunk background music (because the bitter contrast with the pictures is missing), unless you like traditional Irish folk songs.

© Yaghish 2003
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