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Films >> Gangs of New York (2002) >>

The Birth of a Nation (1915)
D. W. Griffith's classic film deals with the period leading up to and immediately following the Civil War. The film follows the fortunes of two connected families, the Camerons and the Stonemans, leading up to the Civil War and through the era of Reconstruction. The film explores the different ways that the two families were impacted, one coming from the north and the other from the south. The film tells a negative story about how the war tore families apart with most of the blame being placed on the shoulders of abolitionists and blacks. This decision has been widely criticized, with the film going so far as to portray the Ku Klux Klan in an eerily heroic light, but this does provide some insight into the character of race relations in late 19th century America. Dispelling the myth that racism was confined to the pro-slavery South, this film shows how anti-black feelings were ingrained throughout the whole of American society. This provides good points of both comparison and contrast for Gangs of New York in both the way the film was made and the themes that it puts forth. Both films deal with the same general time period and are both epics in their truest form. Both films make similarly pessimistic claims about racism in the North and the racial character of the Civil War, though they do diverge somewhat on how forcefully these views are presented.
The Bowery (1933)
In this somewhat obscure Raoul Walsh film we are given a comic presentation of 1890's New York City, particularly the Lower East Side and the titular Bowery. The movie is lighthearted in its depiction of the sometimes-gay, sometimes-offensively-racist social culture of the period. The film itself is not great fodder for critical analyses as it was never meant to elicit much thoughtful consideration, with the main plotline revolving around the exploits of two rival tough guys. They participate in all the obligatory masculine activities including fighting, fighting fires, boasting, drinking, and womanizing. Their rivalry is good-natured and revolves around honor and good faith. This film is well suited for comparison to Gangs of New York as it is set in a very similar place and time, something very few films can boast. It is also instructive to compare the characterization of the rivalry between Walsh's protagonists and the Scorsese protagonist/antagonist. For Walsh these men were competing in order to curry favor and popularity, for Scorsese they were competing for power and control. This discrepancy is interesting to analyze as it shows the divergent trajectories that different motives will produce.
Once upon a Time in America (1984)
In Sergio Leone's final film many of the central themes in Gangs of New York are represented. The film follows the lives of a group of young men in New York as they grow up in and around urban street culture. This comes to dominate and define their lives as they are pulled into organized crime. The film is interested in the emotional development that takes place in these environments and how passions -- particularly lust, greed, and revenge -- typified this development. The film is also obviously interested in the part that organized crime has to play in the creation of an urban identity and, more generally, in the creation of an American identity. Despite looking at New York Citys separated by decades, both directors explored these themes at length. Leone's classic also provides a good point of comparison as one of the last great examples of epic film in American cinema.

See Also

1900 (1976)

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Casino (1995)

The Departed (2006)

Duel in the Sun (1946)

Far and Away (1992)

The Godfather (1972)

Goodfellas (1990)

Heaven's Gate (1980)

The Leopard (1995)

Macbeth (Orson Welles) (1948)

Mean Streets (1973)

Once upon a Time in the West (1968)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967)