Feb 09th: “After Hours” (1985)
Celebrating 28 days of underrated 80s cinematic treasures.
The clock may tick in this movie, but it never really needs to be a film with an urgent need to find its conclusion. It’s very rare for us to be faced with time constraints without there being an external force that is set to explode, or become lost forever. It’s just another night in the city, but Paul just wants to go home. That we come away believing that this is so important, and yet such an impossibility. It’s not like he’s really Dorothy, trapped in the magical world of Oz. Flecks of yellow may pave the way, but he’s in his own city, and still we are right there within the fantasy in believing that getting home is near enough impossible. For the most part, New York City looks like it’s in a pandemic lockdown from 2020. It’s desolation and unpopulated vision makes everything in this movie unfamiliar and yet, unmistakably New York. For that to happen, you need one heck of a vision and a director your can trust.
This was a film I saw on video rental during my wilderness year over in Australia. It was the era of getting an education about film writing, and the power of originality that came with it.
Martin Scorsese was a director at the top of his game. After making Raging Bull (released within the same month as Heaven’s Gate, the movie that broke United Artists) Scorsese had his mind set for greater ambitions. One of which was the telling of Christ’s story — a film that would finally get written, financed and cast ready to be made by 1983. On Thanksgiving, 1983, Paramount pulled the plug on the project. Naturally, this made Scorsese think a lot about his part in the film industry. The idea that he was no longer enough to make a project such as the Last Temptation of Christ a reality impacted him greatly. He didn’t know what the business of filmmaking was anymore.
Directors like himself and Francis Ford Coppola had come to realise that they couldn’t make movies as they had done in the new wave era of cinema. Those days were well and truly gone. It was time to think about the future. It was time for change.
Eager to get to work on a project, Scorsese was given several scripts from the guilty parties at Paramount. After Hours was a chance to rein in closer to the films that Martin Scorsese had started with in the seventies. It was a chance to work on a smaller film, with a smaller budget with a guarantee of making something at the box office — to which it did make a profit. No matter what, he had to sell.
After Hours was Martin Scorsese, going back to school. He had been wanting that ever since he finished Raging Bull. The industry by that time had worn him down, but thankfully, he retained his interest enough to come flying high later with Cape Fear and of course, Goodfellas, which took him off on course to consistent box office success.
The less said about how much The Irishman made the better. That was a lot of money going in, for the sake of subscribers and fees.
As underrated a movie that this is, After Hours is a personal favourite of mine, and one that really deserves to be played to a much bigger audience. It is one of those films that is hard to explain, not without rolling down the yellow brick carpet of analysis that references After Hours as something of an homage to the Wizard of Oz — but that in itself is a film essay that you can easily access, and could take more than a few pages to go through, shot-by-shot.
The story sees Paul Hackett (played on a knife’s edge by Griffin Dunne) as a man trapped in his office job. Everything we need to know is encapsulated in a droning speech from an anti-life-long-career-phobic colleague to which Paul services with zero attention. He’s a drone to his job. Office cubicle movies were all over the place during the 80s, but it wasn’t until After Hours did we recognise the negative influence of being stuck in one space for the rest of your life is such a waste. It’s not until the 90s that the rebellion against the office space became a rampant clawing against reality and fantasy — an example of which is seen in the movie The Matrix in 1999.
Paul leaves work and has a chance meeting with a beautiful young woman in a café. This is Marcie, played by Rosanna Arquette. She appears to lead him on, and offers her a phone number — with the pretence of interest in her artist/sculptress house-mate’s unusually formed paperweights, shaped cream cheese bagels.
The mere details of this film are exhausting to keep up with, but it’s also the kind of movie you find joy in watching over and over again, piecing together more elements that you no doubt missed on previous viewings.
Paul’s night out with Marcie turns a whole lot of different shades of noir. It’s more trouble than it’s worth, and he decides that it’s best to just give up and go home. But this is the night that going home becomes further and further from his reach. He is Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, thrown into a special world where he cannot escape. He meets other women who all represent different types of the frontier guardian trope.
You have the crazy one, the insensitive distraction, and the codependent answer to Dustin Hoffman’s Mrs Robinson. All characters have their own annihilating traits and ways of preventing Paul from getting home after a string of dangerous encounters and unfortunate circumstances that lead many to believe that he is up to no good and must be stopped!
After all of this, he has no money, and it’s raining too hard to have Paul just walk home through the city. Paul’s frustrations mount up, and at one time, he vocalises: “I just wanted to go out and have a nice time, do I have to die for it?”
This is different kind of Martin Scorsese movie. The hallmarks of his style is all there, from standout camera movements to close up cuts of things that can be seen, moving from hand to hand, or being placed, taken or moved. Scorsese loves to move in on his characters when moments of dialogue become the absolute focus of the scene. Every detail is delivered with style and adds to the intrigue.
This was for sure an era where the Hollywood elites clashed with the new wave pioneers of modern day cinema. And as the jukebox kicks in, we are caught asking quietly: “Is that all there is?” — well, with a film like After Hours. What more do you really want?
Written by: Stephen Radford