I have to admit, the first time I saw After Hours in 1985 I didn’t like it. I was in my mid-teens and a friend and I caught a late show of it in a now closed down theatre in Tulsa. We both didn’t quite get it. Was this a comedy? Was it supposed to be a suspense film? How could the guy who made Taxi Driver and Raging Bull (two of my favorite movies then AND now) make this oddball of a film?
Well, twenty years later and I watch After Hours a second time and realize I was evidently a moron about this film. No telling how many other teenage opinions I have about films or books or other cultural items that I completely missed the mark on.
After Hours is a great movie and I’m now of the opinion it’s one of director Martin Scorsese’s overlooked New York set films. Even though he won awards for it (best director at Cannes) and it has a cult following—you don’t really ever hear of it mentioned compared to some of his other NY set films.
That’s a shame too as it perfectly captures a series of strange moments that include all the elements of the NY that has kind of been scrubbed from most of the city’s landscape. Scorsese’s After Hours is scary unlit streets, out of control cabbies, bohemian artists, various dive bars and rock clubs (the new wave styled Club Berlin reeks of “80s” and even has Scorsese in a cameo as a guy shining a giant light on a crowd of dancers) and quirky people left and right. It almost feels like a David Lynch film to me if Lynch had grown up in New York.
Griffin Dunne plays Paul, a bored businessman who is reading Henry Miller in a coffee shop when he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). Later that night Paul finds himself in a SoHo loft becoming entangled in a very unpredictable world he’s not used to. Events with Marcy lead to more unhinged events and the night wraps Paul in its weird spell. Anything can happen to Paul and he’s soon running for his life and trying to get back to his apartment.
After Hours is pleasingly off-kilter. A firm footing is never had by Paul or by us as viewers and the film’s rhythm is slightly off the entire journey. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t connect with it as a kid? Conversations take unexpected twists, lulls of silence break into the middle of sentences, various coincidences of fate occur and everyone is desperate and lonely in the dead of night.
Scorsese shot the film entirely at night—even the interiors—and this late night feel and atmosphere has really translated to the film. There are countless references to it being late, after hours or full moons just to remind us that New York is unpredictable enough during the day, but in the middle of the night, lookout, anything can happen.
After Hours is worth revisiting if you were like me and didn’t truly appreciate it the first time around. I don’t know what was wrong with me that night and I should apologize to one of my heroes, Martin Scorsese, for saying all these years that After Hours just isn’t up to his standards. Wrong! It’s a lively, unique, odd, wonderful little movie that I plan on watching again in a few years.