New York Stories (1989): Anthology of Tales by Woody Allen, Coppola, and Scorsese

The omnibus film New York Stories is the product of the three most powerhouse and influential filmmakers of the 1970s and 1980s: Woody Allen (the oldest in age but young gest in spirit), Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese (the youngest in age). The film is divided into three stories, each exploring a different aspect of life in the Big Apple.


Thematically, on the surface, the three tales are vastly different, and yet they display interesting insights about middle age and the creative urge, notions of what romantic love is (or should be), and other commonalities, which are latent and implicit.


Life Lessons, sharply written by Richard Price and well directed by Martin Scorsese, is the best of the three.  Set in the art world, it centers on Nick Nolte as a self-indulgent abstractionist who passionately and even obsessively loves a much younger beautiful woman (Rosanna Arquette), but can’t bring himself to lie to her about her negligible artistic talents.


Life Without Zoe, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is the weakest in the anthology, co-written by the director and his then young daughter, Sofia Coppola, who would become a major director in the future.  It tells the story of is more than a little reminiscent of Zoe (Heather McComb), a teenager running amok at the Sherry-Netherland hotel while her parents are embarked upon a world-girdling vacation.


The last and mediocre one is Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks, wherein a schnooky lawyer inadvertently “creates” the Jewish Mother From Hell: thanks to a misguided magic trick, Allen’s mama (Mae Questel) becomes a spectral vision on the New York skyline, telling everyone who would (or would not) listen about her son’s deficiencies and inadequacies.


While the film is sharply uneven, as most omnibus pictures are, it displays visual pleasure, courtesy of the work of three world-renowned cinematographers: Nestor Almendros, Vittorio Storaro and Sven Nykvist



Release date: March 10, 1989

Running time: 124 minutes