Jun 252012


Abel Ferrara’s 1990 ultra violent, Robin Hood themed, gangster fable King of New York arrives on Blu-ray in Steelbook form on the 25th of June 2012, from those great folks at Arrow Film Video. As you know, we at Towatchpile love our Arrow titles, and like all good collectors the added bonus of it being in shiny steelbook form excites us more than it has any reason to at all.

King of New York was originally released in 1990 (incidently it was released on the same day as Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas), when director Abel Ferrara was about to start both his most commercially, and critically, successful period of his 35 plus years career.

Abel Ferrara is one of the true american independent filmmakers, choosing the path of making films his way, for little money, rather than having to compromise his ideals and vision for the sake of bigger stars, and crucially bigger budgets. “All a filmmaker needs is a camera, and an idea” is a mantra he has decided to live by. Its easy to look back on King of New York and say, well look at the stars he had in that film, but actors like David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne (who was still Larry at the time), Wesley Snipes and Steve Buscemi, were not the stars they are nowadays, its even fair to say that Christopher Walken, although an Oscar winner and well respected actor, was not as well known as he is today.

What Ferrara managed to do in the early 90’s, and to best effect with King of New York, was tap into the zeitgeist of New York’s evolving crime culture, the Italian-American crime lords were seeing their power been threatened by African-American and Latin-American rival gangs, much in the same way 10 years later those gangs would see their accrued power challenged by Eastern European gangs.

In King of New York we see Christopher Walken’s crime boss Frank White being released from prison and deciding that he wants to use his wealth and power to better effect. This is where you’d imagine you’d get that tired old “I’m going straight” routine, but that’s not Ferrara’s style. Instead Frank and his loyal gang, lead by his right hand man Jimmy Jump, Laurence Fishburne, in full on crazy bastard mode, decide that the best way to move forward is to eliminate the competition by force. Frank goes into full out war mode, and seems to be enjoying every minute of it, his violent excess matched by his willingness to allow his gang to have fun, created a bit of a stir with critics, who felt that Ferrara was glorifying the criminal lifestyle of the films, supposed, bad guys.

Indeed watching the film, you do start to see Frank and Jimmy as the good guys, and Roy Bishop (Victor Argo), Dennis Gilley (David Caruso), and Thomas Flanigan (Wesley Snipes), the cops assigned to, and obsessed with stopping him, as the bad guys. The moral compass firmly flickers for both sides, Frank wants to do good, by doing bad, and the cops want to take the same tactic with Frank. This is a film where personality is key, Christopher Walken and Laurence Fishburne ooze charisma, with Walken being cooler than cool as the all-powerful boss, as at home with political figures, as he is with the street thugs he seems to count as friends. Fishburne seems like a caricature of his character, but that’s because over the years so many have taken reference from his performance here, and once you get used to its unapologetic flamboyance, you really do start to see what a truly great character creation this is.

From an acting stance for me the only let down is David Caruso as tough guy cop Dennis Gilley, I just don’t buy him as at any point being threatening, maybe that’s the point, that he’s not supposed to actually be threatening, he’s just supposed to think that he is threatening. Either way for me he is the only weakness when it comes to performances. Steve Buscemi, although credited on the cover is no more than a fleeting presence.

Over the years King of New York’s stature has grown, at the time it got lost behind the much more audience friendly, and to be honest better all round film, Goodfellas, which was helped by its star named actors, and director. Then King of New York was for a long time in the shadows of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant, which saw Harvey Keitel battle drug issues, sexual perversion, and good old fashioned catholic guilt, all whilst having the immunity of being a Lieutenant in the New York police department. Bad Lieutenant‘s reputation, for a long time, only backed up the critics views that King of New York was too sympathetic towards the bad guys, as Abel Ferrara’s unpleasing-to-the-masses style made him one of the most controversial filmmakers in the burgeoning US indie scene of the early to mid-90’s.

22 years on, and King of New York still has relevance today, the ethnicity of the protagonist may have altered slightly in reality, but the pursuit of money via drugs, prostitution, and corruption is as rife today as it was in the early 90’s. I first saw this film on a US imported laserdisc, as it was for a long time the only way to get it in this country. I later invested in the film on DVD and to be honest the picture was pretty shocking, so to see it presented in HD is fantastic, it really does look great. However I must warn you that the issues with the sound, although much better than the previous DVD releases, are still there unfortunately, I did have to go from 5.1 to standard stereo to be able to make out the dialog over the background noise, I’d love to report that this was simply due to me not being able to program my TV correctly, but I have had it confirmed by others that they had the same issues.

Sound issues aside, this is yet another must own set from Arrow Film Video, who to be fair rarely, if ever, get it wrong, this Steelbook is loaded with special features, both new and old, and as is often with Arrow titles, they are worth it for the features alone. King of New York is one of the under appreciated classics if 90’s american cinema, and it deserves the love it is finally getting.

King of New York Blu-ray Steelbook and Blu-ray/DVD dual play edition is released on the 25th of June 2012 from Arrow Film Video RRP: £24.99 Best price found £17.50 www.play.com    

Special Features – 

  • A collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Brad Stevens, author of Abel Ferrara: Moral Vision
  • A brand new interview with director Abel Ferrara
  • Interview with producer Augusto Caminito
  • Audio Commentary with director Abel Ferrara
  • Additional audio commentary with composer Joe Delia, producer Mary Kane, casting director Randy Sabusawa and editor Anthony Redman
  • Abel Ferrara: Not Guilty – A documentary on Abel Ferrara from the French TV show “Cinéastes de Nortre Temps” 
  • A Short Film about a the Long Career of Abel Ferrara – The documentary looks at Abel Ferrara’s career including interviews with his key collaborators

Anyway peace out suckers!