Sunday Editor’s Pick: After Hours (1985)

by on December 6, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Sun Dec 11 at 2:00, 6:50 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]


David Gordon Green has been stealing some of the “Basic Cable Classics” thunder with “Adventures in the 80s,” his BAM tribute series to films that inspired his upcoming release The Sitter.


Says Green, “After Hours is absolutely the kind of role model for what we want to do. It’s a comedy on a lot of levels but it’s also kind of upsetting.” Says Alt Screen? This movie is awesome.


Dave Kehr raves for the Chicago Reader:

Martin Scorsese transforms a debilitating convention of 80s comedy—absurd underreaction to increasingly bizarre and threatening situations—into a rich, wincingly funny metaphysical farce. A lonely computer programmer (Griffin Dunne) is lured from the workday security of midtown Manhattan to an expressionistic late-night SoHo by the vague promise of casual sex with a mysterious blonde (Rosanna Arquette). But she turns out to be a sinister kook whose erratic behavior plunges Dunne into a series of increasingly strange, devastating incidents, including encounters with three more treacherous blondes (Verna Bloom, Teri Garr, and Catherine O’Hara) and culminating in a run-in with a bloodthirsty mob of vigilantes led by a Mr. Softee truck. Scorsese’s orchestration of thematic development, narrative structure, and visual style is stunning in its detail and fullness; this 1985 feature reestablished him as one of the very few contemporary masters of filmmaking.



Geoff Andrew for Time Out (London):

Scorsese’s screwball comedy is perhaps his most frightening picture to date as Dunne slowly but inexorably sinks into a whirlpool of mad and murderous emotions; but a tight and witty script and perfectly tuned performances, perilously balanced between normality and insanity, keep the laughs flowing, while the direction is as polished and energetic as ever. Inventive film-making of the first order.

The Panopticist has some interesting revelations about “the scandalous origins” of the film.



Eric Henderson for Slant:

Martin Scorsese’s mid-’80s comeback of sorts (it won him a Best Director citation at Cannes) has undeniable energy, thanks to his dependably flamboyant sleeve of speed-freak camera truck shots and the hectic Thelma Schoonmaker editing slights of hand. Scorsese’s obviously showing off, and this showmanship ends up enhancing the film’s dreamlike, surrealist sense of encroaching hysteria (such as when Dunne visits Teri Garr’s apartment and finds her bed surrounded by mousetraps, inexplicably lit with spots like her bed stands at the center of a cabaret atrocity stage). There’s a welcome, insistently radical subtext behind the scenario, a vaguely proletarian-sympathetic attitude (echoes of Brazil) that a faceless, overly-mechanized workplace results in the frazzled, desperate drive to make off-hours (or after hours) count for all they’re worth. And it’s a tragedy to show up at work to give away more of your time when you’ve failed to define yourself the night before.

Everyone loves deleted scenes:


Ed Howard for his blog Only the Cinema:

Martin Scorsese’s After Hours is a wonderful and oft-overlooked film from the legendary director. In fact, it’s every bit as much of a remarkable portrait of urban living as any of Scorsese’s more famous New York stories. The film is a nightmare, the frenzied documentation of one night in the life of bored, prosaic office worker.


The result is a skewed vision of New York as a garish, jumbled, confusing maze, a place where chance meetings place Paul into close contact with all sorts of fascinating/frightening characters, from a clingy, desperate middle-aged waitress (Teri Garr) to the aggressive and provocative artist Kiki (Linda Fiorentino) to a gay guy who clearly thought he was picking Paul up, and finds out otherwise much to his disappointment, to Marcy herself, with all her unexpected hangups and eccentricities, to a pair of goofy crooks (Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong) who serve as the film’s plot device delivery system. By turns poignant, harrowing and darkly hilarious, After Hours is one of Scorsese’s masterpieces, a seemingly light film that in fact gives form to the fears and insecurities of those who would shut themselves off from life in order to avoid risk. In Paul’s case, his skittishness turns out to be warranted, or perhaps — and this is quite likely — it’s his very fears that, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, prompt the unsympathetic city to chew him up and spit him out, very much the worse for wear, the next morning, back at his job and his familiar life, back to a well-trod path from which he’ll likely never deviate again.


Violet Lucca for L Magazine:

The great Marty S’s contribution to cult comedy: After Hours, the twitchy, paranoid black comedy so black it was shot almost entirely at night.


The painful and all-too real mélange of unbalanced sense of self, social nicety-induced tedium, awkwardness and ego permeates every other encounter of the film. We’ve all been trapped in that elevator, shared that common space, or been accosted at the bus stop for seemingly no reason, so identification is unavoidable. However, the thing about Paul—not unlike all of us—is that he’s a bit of an asshole. While divulging the rest of the plot would spoil the indignities and reversals Paul suffers, it’s worth noting that he manages to overstay in every instance—the worst trouble is the trouble we make for ourselves.


Like all of Scorsese’s New York-set films, After Hours lovingly documents the city’s manic idiosyncrasies and architecture: the wet pavement of empty streets reflects cathedral-like warehouses; a Mister Softee truck is used as a vehicle for vigilante justice, all the while playing that distinctive jingle; the MTA agent at the Spring Street station is completely unhelpful. By all means, see it on the big screen for full, uncomfortable effect.


Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times:

“After Hours” is another chapter in Scorsese’s continuing examination of Manhattan as a state of mind; if he hadn’t already used the title “New York, New York,” he could have used it this time. The movie earns its place on the list with his great films: “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.”


For New Yorkers, parts of the film will no doubt play as a documentary. In what other city is everyday life such an unremitting challenge? Take, for example, the mob that forms after it believes that Dunne is a thief. Would neighbors form a posse in many other cities? I imagine not; in most cities, theft is still a sort of individual thing, and does not happen so habitually that whole neighborhoods weary of being ripped off. Audiences from other parts of the country are likely to think some of Scorsese’s scenes are fantasy, while New Yorkers may see them as merely exaggerations of reality.


“After Hours” is a brilliant film, one of the year’s best. It is also a most curious film. It comes after Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” a film I thought was fascinating but unsuccessful, and continues Scorsese’s attempt to combine comedy and satire with unrelenting pressure and a sense of all-pervading paranoia. This time he succeeds. The result is a film that is so original, so particular, that we are uncertain from moment to moment exactly how to respond to it. The style of the film creates, in us, the same feeling that the events in the film create in the hero. Interesting.



Jonathan Dawson for Senses of Cinema:

Martin Scorsese’s After Hours is eternally underrated. It’s also one of the director’s very best films. It breaks free of convention and critical expectation and conveys the kind of passion usually evident only when a major Hollywood “auteur” director goes back to his “indie” roots. After Hours marks the moment in cinematic history, and Scorsese’s personal movie journey, in which the director bids farewell to his younger self. This maker of low budget movies with a Nouvelle vague feel was now ready to use those skills on a more dynamic and commercial canvas. His palette loses forever its black-and-white grittiness and heads towards a Las Vegas style: Casino (1995), Gangs of New York (2002) and The Aviator (2004), leaving behind the lightness of spirit so clearly evident throughout the madcap ride of After Hours.


The film’s dreamlike narrative is a poetic riff on Paul’s subconscious need to escape, first from his dead-end job (“I’m just a word processor!”) and then from the City itself. After Hours’ evocation of the Kafka-esque waking nightmare of an ordinary man caught in incomprehensible circumstances – stylistic features it shares with Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947) and Orson Welles’ brilliant The Trial (1962) – widen to include all the horrors of nocturnal downtown New York City. And this is no accident: the chat between Paul and the bouncer at the Club Berlin is partly lifted from Kafka’s short story “Before The Law”. In a very palpable sense, After Hours is a cinematic re-imagining of The Trial.


In After Hours, Scorsese has fashioned a New York City of steaming roads and an endless network of dark streets, bars and clubs, overrun with all sorts of weirdos and loners. He successfully shows New York as an amorphous canvas that the distorted temperaments and contemporary fears of its inhabitants are all whizzed around in as if in a giant blender. Though later Scorsese movies have had far greater budgets and all star casts, it is in After Hours that we see exactly how and why a filmmaker from New York might have become an inspiration to a generations of film students. As for aspiring Hollywood moguls, they would take their cues from the Bigger and Louder movies Scorsese would subsequently make. As he remarked to Amy Robinson at the time: “Thank you for giving me back my love of cinema!”


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