Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

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

Print Resources

Baker, Kevin. "'You Have To Give A Sense Of What People Wanted'." American Heritage 52.8 (2001): 50-56.
Baker interviews Scorsese and discusses with him the importance of putting history on film. Gives a direct look into Scorsese's thought process when realizing his vision in the film. The interviewer pays specific attention to the motivations that Scorsese had in making a historical movie like this and the challenges that he faced. The director himself goes into great detail on how and why this movie was made. More generally, this source helps to formulate the general thesis that historical films are worthwhile.
Casillo, Robert. Gangster Priest: The Italian American Cinema of Martin Scorsese. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2006.
Gangster Priest is focused obviously on Scorsese's gangster films. While this book does not deal with Gangs of New York specifically at any sort of depth, the book is very useful for its general commentary on Scorsese's filmmaking. As the title implies, the book is specifically interested in the relationship between the seemingly contradictory forces of violence and power with religious devotion and guilt. The interplay between religion, particularly Catholicism, and gang life underwrites many of Scorsese's classic gangster films, and this is no different in Gangs of New York. This book is a rich resource for anyone interested in studying these aspects of Scorsese's filmmaking, despite not directly addressing this film.
Christie, Ian. "Manhattan Asylum." Sight And Sound 13.1 (2003): 20-23.
Christie interviews Scorsese and discusses the specific techniques he employed in bringing his vision to the screen. While there is some necessary, cursory discussion of plot points and thematic messages, Christie is mostly focused on a better understanding of the work Scorsese physically put in in filming Gangs of New York. This line of enquiry led to a wealth of information regarding set design, scene construction, and filming techniques. Throughout his discussion of the decisions he made in filming, Scorsese elaborates on why those decisions were made, particularly when and where he was influenced and inspired by other works. Excellent source for anyone interested in the technical side of filmmaking.
Conard, Mark T. The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2007.
Generally organized around specific Scorsese films with each chapter taking a different film as the main focus. The chapters do expand and look thematically across Scorsese's other films, but for the most part they keep the focus on one film. Conrad discusses Gangs of New York in terms of its connections to Scorsese's other films, particularly his other gangster films in the chapter "The Cinema of Madness." Additionally, the book seeks to understand Scorsese's philosophy when it comes to filmmaking in general, so these conclusions are also instructive to the study of Gangs of New York. Since Conrad did not devote a chapter to Gangs of New York, this source has only limited use for the study of this film in particular.
DiGirolamo, Vincent. "'Such, Such Were The B'hoys …'." Radical History Review 90(2004): 123-41.
An interesting take on historical films presented from the perspective of a historical scholar. The piece is framed around which medium, cinema or historical scholarship, was better suited to storytelling. DiGirolamo proceeds to deconstruct Gangs of New York, looking at where it took historical liberties in detail as well as in theme. He attempts to prove that the flaws of this film really expose shortcomings of the medium in general by analyzing mistakes that Gangs of New York makes and, through comparison, show how mistakes of that sort are endemic to historical films in general. Especial useful to anyone interested in the advantages and disadvantages to trying to tell a historical story on screen.
Ebert, Roger, and Martin Scorsese. Scorsese by Ebert. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008.
A compilation of Ebert's critical reviews as originally published put side by side with the interviews that Ebert had with Scorsese at the time. The chapter on Gangs of New York was then familiar on the one hand, but also new, as the inclusion of the interview put the review in a new light. Additionally the book includes further treatment of some of Scorsese's other works which further develop Ebert's view of how Scorsese operates. Finally, the book begins with a foreword and an introduction, written by Scorsese and Ebert respectively, that continues to serve that same purpose. Overall, this is a great source for anyone interested in better understanding Scorsese's filmmaking as Ebert has one of the finest minds out there when it comes to film criticism.
Friedman, Lawrence S. The Cinema of Martin Scorsese. New York: Continuum, 1997.
Published a few years before the release of Gangs of New York but nevertheless a rich resource for our study. Friedman develops a careful treatment of Scorsese the auteur, paying close attention to his qualities as an artist and visionary. Rather than organizing the book around individual films and treating them statically, Friedman structured his book as a biographical look at Scorsese's career. Friedman follows Scorsese from boyhood to his directorial debut and beyond, at each point along the way noting how and why he developed in the ways that he did. Friedman's close analysis provides the reader with what feels like a very personal understanding of Scorsese and is invaluable for anyone trying to get inside his head. While this book does predate the movie of our focus, Friedman does such a great job demystifying Scorsese that it is readily apparent how applicable his commentary is to that subsequent film.
Grist, Leighton. The films of Martin Scorsese, 1963-77: Authorship and Context. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
The goal is to uncover the motives and inspirations behind Scorsese's work as well as synthesizing this information into a theory about Scorsese's filmmaking in general. Painting Scorsese as auteur. What sets Grist's book apart from others is its strictly refined focus, namely the years from 1963-1977. This time period clearly does not include Gangs of New York, but this is a minor concern. The analysis that Grist puts forth is clearly applicable to Scorsese's later film. The main argument, that Scorsese injects himself into his films to a great extent and his life and beliefs strongly color everything that he puts on the screen, can easily be fitted around any analysis of Gangs of New York.
Interview: Tyler Anbinder Discusses the Historical Accuracy of Martin Scorses'e New Film 'Gangs of New York'." All Things Considered 23 December 2002.
We (literally) hear from author Tyler Anbinder on the historicity of Scorsese's film. As Anbinder is one of the preeminent scholars in this niche field, this is an atypical and prodigious resource for our purposes. On National Public Radio Anbinder sat down with an interviewer and critically analyzed where Scorsese adhered to and diverged from the actual historical record. Anbinder is generally positive, lauding Scorsese's efforts to capture the feeling and atmosphere of the time period. Scorsese's general thematic presentation is also commended, as Anbinder judged him to have captured the broad strokes adeptly. Throughout, Anbinder enumerates various instances where Scorsese misplaced events in history, pulled events together, or just generally got the detail wrong; however, by and large it was a favorable critique.
Keser, Robert. "The Bowery: Raoul Walsh's Gangs Of New York." Bright Lights Film Journal 39 (2003).
In this critique of The Bowery (1933) , Keser delivers an interesting look at how this film has come to find itself a part of cinematic history, thus informing future generations about the past. In his own words: "Any movie that features a running gag of exploding cigars was probably not intended as social commentary, yet it cannot escape history." This source only obliquely deals with Gangs of New York, and then only as a comparative foil for The Bowery, rendering this source of limited usefulness generally. However, The Boweryand Gangs of New York are both set in the same general environment and, though telling two very different stories, both try to reproduce that historical moment. For this reason, Keser's critique can be used to further illuminate the world Scorsese attempted to reconstruct.
Le Cain, Maximilian. "Orphans Of The Storm: Martin Scorsese's Gangs Of New York." Senses Of Cinema: An Online Film Journal 25 (2003).
Le Cain applauds Gangs of New York for a return to the genre of visionary epic. He shows why this film is so different from everything that Hollywood is producing today, while still firmly remaining a familiar Scorsese film. Comparing it to other contemporaneous big budget historical dramas such as Titanic (1997) and Gladiator (2001), Le Cain seeks to show their relative superficiality. Scorsese, Le Cain says throughout, is a master for his ability to reproduce authentic human emotion in his characters—something those other films lacked.
Massood, Paula J. "From Mean Streets to The Gangs Of New York: Ethnicity and Urban Space in the Films Of Martin Scorsese." City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination. Ed. Murray Pomerance. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2007. 77-89.
Massood investigates the connection between ethnicity and urban space as it is played out in a number of Martin Scorsese's films. Massood argues that complex community relationships are created in urban spaces that differ greatly from the traditional American idea of the melting pot. Instead, there exist many intensely insular groups that are hostile to outsiders. She develops this argument by analyzing Gangs of New York along with three other Scorsese films: Mean Streets, Who's That Knocking at My Door, and Goodfellas. This argument is well formed and challenges the common conception of what it means to be an American, making this a very useful resource. Anyone interested in interactions and relationships between different ethnic groups, especially within cities, should use this source.
Rommel-Ruiz, W. Bryan. American History Goes to the Movies. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Rommel-Ruiz attempts to tease out what it means to be an American by looking at a range of American films covering a variety of issues. One of the issues to which he gives central importance is the immigrant experience. This issue is obviously at the core of Gangs of New York and Rommel-Ruiz devotes nearly an entire chapter, and a great deal of his introduction, to studying what this film has to say about the issue. Rommel-Ruiz's treatment is wonderfully articulated and challenges many common interpretations of the film. By looking at it from a more birds-eye view, Rommel-Ruiz frames the movie within the much larger and more general story of America and Americanism. He posits that to be American is to be an immigrant, and the struggles that are seen in the streets of Five Points are representative (if metaphoric) for what all immigrants face—and what it takes to be an American. This provocative hypothesis is supported throughout the book by treatments of other films. Anyone interested in immigrant history as it relates to this film and how Gangs of New York fits into a larger narrative about the formation of the nation should use this source.
Rutkowski, Alice. "Gender, Genre, Race, And Nation: The 1863 New York City Draft Riots." Studies In The Literary Imagination 40.2 (2007): 111-32.
Rutkowski levels healthy criticism against Gangs of New York and Martin Scorsese in particular. While she agrees with the consensus opinion that the film reproduced 19th century New York well and that minor factual inaccuracies are forgivable, she takes issue with the way Scorsese presents himself and his film to the American public. Rutkowski believes that Scorsese disingenuously cast himself as a historical scholar and that certain theatrical elements in the film are employed to develop unwarranted historical clout and capital. This is particularly problematic because of the inescapable factual inaccuracies attendant to the genre of historical films. These inaccuracies can and should be forgiven when they are made in the interest of entertainment, but not when that entertainment is masquerading as a history lesson. Rutkowski explores the true nature of the 1863 Draft Riots by analyzing two novelized version of the events. This source provides an interesting interpretation and reaction to the film and is very useful, especially to anyone interested in the particular duties and responsibilities facing a historical film maker.
Scorsese, Martin. Gangs of New York: Making the Movie. New York: Miramax Books, 2002.
This is one of the most useful starting points for research into this film and is a terrific resource. It was produced by the same company that produced the movie and provides an inside look into the making of the movie typically unavailable. The book consists of interviews with all of the main players in the film including actors, screenwriters, editors, researchers, designers, artists, cinematographers, producers, and directors. These interviews are fertile grounds for developing a better understanding of the process of and the decisions that were made in bringing the movie to life. The book also contains a number of glossy stills from the movie as well as a number of photographs taken behind-the-scenes during filming, giving an idea of what making the movie looked like. Finally, the book also has the original shooting script reproduced in its entirety which is extremely useful. Not only does it give the ability to more closely examine the dialogue of the film, but also to look at where the dialogue of the film and the script diverge. This allows for interesting analyses of why lines were changed the way that they were and what effect these changes had on the eventual impact of those lines. Taken all together, this is an obvious source for the study of this film and should be referenced by anyone who is working with it.
Tepper, Craig. "Dickens, Griffith and Gangs Of New York: The Belatedness Of A Modern Epic." Film Journal 1.12 (2005).
Tepper delivers a highly stimulating analysis of Gangs of New York in terms of how it fits into the literary and cinematic traditions. Tepper goes through a close analysis of the particular choices that Scorsese made throughout the film, from scene blocking to dialogue, and shows how they reflect traditional themes in both the literary and cinematic canons. In particular, Tepper looked at how the characters of Bill, Amsterdam, Jennie, and Vallon represent at various times different characters from Milton's Paradise Lost and Shakespeare's Hamlet, as well as how the film builds on traditions started in Griffith's The Birth of a Nation and Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. Through this comparative lens, Tepper develops some compelling theses both about what Gangs of New York is trying to do, as well as what director Scorsese was trying to accomplish in making this film. This is a very rich source with careful and detailed analysis and should be helpful for anyone working with this film. It should be of especial usefulness for anyone specifically interested in how this work stands in relation to the traditions within which it is placed.

See Also

Bordewich, Fergus M. "Manhattan Mayhem." Smithsonian 33.9 (December 2002): 44-54.

Dickerson, Jacob. "Metonymy And Indexicality: People And Place In The Five Points." Rhetoric Review 31.4 (2012): 405-21.

Molony, Sinéad. "'The Blood Stays On The Blade': An Analysis Of Irish-American Masculinities In The Films Of Martin Scorsese." Irish Feminist Review 3(2007): 137-48.

Nathan, Daniel A., Peter Berg, and Erin Klemyk. "'The Truth Wrapped In A Package Of Lies': Hollywood, History, And Martin Scorsese's Gangs Of New York." Lights, Camera, History: Portraying the Past in Film. Ed. Richard Francaviglia and Jerry Rodnitzky. College Station: Texas A&M UP, 2007. 91-111.

Schickel, Richard. Conversations With Scorsese. New York: Knopf, 2011.

Wu, Wanwen. "Gangs of New York: The Boss System/New York Draft Riots. History through Film. Ed. Eric Burnett. Raleigh: Lulu, 2008.

Online Resources

Anbinder, Tyler. "Is Gangs of New York Historically Accurate?" Gotham Gazette 23 December 2002.

Brown, Joshua. "The Gang's Not All Here." Common-Place 3.3 (2003).