Everyone has their own favorite, arguably quintessential New York movie. For some, maybe it’s “The French Connection,” rife with a violently gritty depiction of the city in the early `70s. For others, maybe it’s the uber-romcom “When Harry Met Sally,” replete with beautifully shot depictions of Central Park throughout the seasons. Some may opt for Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” for its stately, black n’ white portrayal of the borough in its title, while still others might furiously cite the cartoonish, urban dystopia of “The Warriors.”
Those are all fine flicks, but for me, the quintessential New York City movie was, is, and e’er shall be Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” from 1985.
I’ve written at great length about my love for “After Hours” many times here before (see links below). I can’t help it. I’ve yet to see something that even comes close to bettering it in terms of capturing virtually everything I love(d) about New York City. (If you’re unfamiliar with the film, here’s a pretty thorough encapsulation).
Also, being that it’s set on a seemingly endless, sweaty night in the SoHo of the mid-80’s, “After Hours” is a great NYC summer movie as well. This latter factor had me coming back to it just recently.
Perhaps caught up in another bit of nostalgia not only for the way the city used to be, but also for a period wherein my life was significantly simpler (i.e. prior to the frustrations and travails of middle-age), I treated myself to another viewing of Scorsese’s under-praised comedy.
By this stage of the proceedings, I can practically recite the film, but I almost always spot some new, intriguing detail every time I watch it. This last time was no exception.
About two thirds of the way into the film is arguably its most memorable scene, one that borrows heavily from both the paranoid prose of Franz Kafka and the common experience of virtually every New Yorker who has ever grappled with the indignity of trying to gain entrance into an exclusive night club. I’m talking, of course, about protagonist Paul’s fraught foray into Mohawk Night at Club Berlin. Here’s that scene now.
I’m smitten with this scene for a variety of probably very obvious reasons, first and foremost being Martin Scorsese’s typically scrupulous representation of the New York City hardcore punk scene of the era. Regular readers might remember my pointed disdain for Spike Lee’s ham-fisted portrayal of late 70’s NYC punk in “Summer of Sam,” a botched endeavor wherein Spike lazily relied on cartoonish cliché and misappropriated period signifiers to represent the CBGB scene.
Unlike Spike, Martin clearly undertook a deeper dive, taking pains to capture both the proper essence and authenticity of Manhattan’s hardcore community at the time.
First up, hardcore heads will doubtlessly recognize the signature strains of the Bad Brains’ splenetic “Pay to Cum” upon Paul’s entry into Club Berlin. Closer looks will also reveal a vintage A7 shirt (the same design as worn by Kraut guitarist and future Cro-Mag Doug Holland in the video for “All Twisted”). A large-`hawked Bobby Steele of the Undead is spotted against the wall as Paul is roughly led inside, and noted junkie punk scenester and eye-patch-wearer John “Gringo” Spacely (once immortalized on film and on a giant St. Marks Place mural) is sitting by the bar. Scorsese himself makes a cameo as well, aiming the spotlight at melees on the dance floor.
Having watched this movie a bajillion times, none of these details are new to me, but this recent viewing did provide one new revelation. As Paul is roughly led into the club and forced towards the barber chair (prompting burly bouncer Clarence Felder to issue the fateful commend “MOHAWK THIS GUY!”), who should I spy already occupying the seat but none other than Fran Powers.
Regular readers might recognize Fran’s name from a post I put up this past May. Fran is something of a local punk veteran, having played in a variety of genre-straddling bands like East of Eden, Whole Wild World and Modern Clix. You might also recognize Fran from Brooke Smith’s photos of NYC hardcore kids as I discussed back on this post.
Anyway, I recently met Fran — ironically at a party in SoHo — not too long back, and we’ve since become friends. Amazed by my spotting of him in “After Hours,” I reached out to him to describe the experience. Gamely, he obliged me….
I was working at Trash & Vaudeville and playing in my bands Modern Clix and Ultra Violence. I worked downstairs in the punk level. This girl/woman came in and started talking to me and asked if I would be interested being in a movie, but I had to get my hair cut. I asked ‘Do I get paid?’ and she laughed and said yes so I said why not? She came back a few more times to the store and she started being kind of serious. Then she was asking if i could get people to be extras in a scene. I said ‘easy’ as I knew quite a bit of people in both the punk and hardcore scene as I was in-between those ages. I played Max's and CBGBs a million times and also had a single on the jukebox in Max's (one of my still-all-time things to brag about). So, she got my number and the info started flooding in... it was a Scorsese movie and me and my friends started really getting excited.
What sort of directive did Martin Scorsese give?
Scorsese was really cool. Before the scene was shot, I found out there were SAG actors and maybe altogether 6 guys who had been asked to maybe do the scene. We all went outside with the casting director and Martin and kind of gathered in a circle and he — and I — started sussing the various people out. I knew it was a hardcore scene so even if I had a weird haircut already I went totally skin with white t-shirt, jeans boots and braces. I was so thin at the time the other guys kind of looked like slobs and I knew I was gonna get picked and Martin points to me and says ‘him’! Then we filmed the crowd scene which had a ton of my mates in it. Then everyone kinda was quiet for a bit and Scorsese started filming my scene. There was not much for him to tell me as they just cut my hair and I just bopped to ‘Pay to Cum’ and then after my mohawk, I just spontaneously dove into the crowd and started slamming. He didn't really tell me what to do, but that was the only cut and it was used in the movie
Where was it filmed?
It was filmed in an empty space that they had made into a club in what is now Tribeca. It was a really dead neighborhood at the time …not a real club.
Wasn't there an actual Club Berlin?
Yes there was a real Berlin club…a girl from one of my bands worked there but it wasn't where we filmed at.
Overall, what was the experience like?
It was super fun especially I got $360 for getting that haircut and all my friends including all the people in my bands at least 50 friends got in the scene. We all got fed, most got money and it was definitely worth it. A good time, and it was very typical of the scene back then. I went on to do the same thing in ‘Hannah and Her Sisters,’ the Woody Allen film, where I have a close-up smoking a joint (real one…another good story) right in front of Woody — this time at CBGB — again with all my friends (same casting director) and again getting paid. We all did ‘Ishtar,’ too, which was a total bomb, but ‘After Hours’ and ‘Hannah’ had won Oscars for something or other, so I remain pretty proud of that.
When was the last time your saw "After Hours"?
I was in a bar only a month ago and it came on…I told someone I was in it and they didn't believe me, and then I came on and they bought drinks…pretty cool as people even to this day recognize me for both films.
Are you in touch with any of the other cast members today?
Not the principle cast, although I did meet Griffin at the time. My wife Madonna was in the film and a ton of friends — the ones who aren't dead — I am pretty much in touch quite a bit to this day.
What are you up to these days?
Well, I am a carpenter by trade and still have to work (don't we all?) but i still have my band Box of Crayons, I do an open mic at the Boulevard Tavern on Wednesdays in Green Point, Brooklyn, and I am in the middle of a multi-faceted art project called "Jesus Baseball and Me,” which is a mixed media show including sculpture, painting, street art and carvings. I am looking at land in Okinawa, Japan to try to build a community for autistic and special needs people as well.
I'd like to thank Fran for sharing his memories of filming "After Hours" with Flaming Pablum.
And in case you missed it, here's Fran's on the far right with Dianne Weist and Woody Allen...
More about "After Hours" on Flaming Pablum..