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My knowledge of mid-19th-century Manhattan is something approaching zero. I had absolutely no idea about the gang wars of the 1840s (likewise Five Points), nor Blackwell's Island, nor the nefarious activity that occurred during the 1860s (some of it also at Five Points), and in this regard, "Gangs of New York" does a good job at teaching this important, yet little known, part of American History. I can't sit here and claim it's faithful to the truth, when I don't even know what the truth is, but it seems like it's at least trying to be. Yes, Martin Scorsese is going to throw in some drama, but that doesn't mean the history lesson is worthless; just embellished. Let me warn you, before writing any spoilers, that this is a very long and difficult film to follow - you'll be doing yourself a favor to write down names, positions, actors, or have the Wikipedia window open if you're watching it on your computer - otherwise, you might easily get confused. I did all this and *still* got confused, so be mindful. If you get lost (and don't be ashamed if you do), there's a very thorough synopsis on IMDB.com. *** SPOILER ALERT *** It's surprising that Liam Neeson ("Priest" Vallon, Amsterdam Vallon's (Leonardo DiCaprio's) father) is killed off so early in the film, but that does set the stage for the rest of the movie. Plus with other major stars such as William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), and Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz), this might have saved some on what must have been substantial salary costs (*) Speaking of history, I find it both fascinating and timely that Abraham Lincoln's Conscription Act of 1863 - the first-ever mandatory draft for American men - could be circumvented either by paying $300, or by finding a suitable substitute (this is both in the film, but also occurred in real-life). Needless to say, this caused a great deal of civil unrest, as accusations were made that wealthier people could avoid the draft, whereas poorer people were stuck with it - the more things change, the more they stay the same. It's amazing to me how Amsterdam had the wits about him to sell the recently killed corpse to medical science (it's even more amazing to me how that ended up in the papers, considering the transaction was made in complete secrecy). Notice the tribute paid to Nosferatu in the newspaper article - the drawing of the man second-from-the-right - even the man on the far-right has similar ears: My goodness - I just realized I'm only forty minutes into this film, and I have over two hours remaining. Ha! I knew when they were talking about Jenny (Cameron Diaz) being a "turtledove," that it was Martin Scorsese making a cameo as a wealthy homeowner. (*) Interesting - when I was confirming that about Scorsese, I also read that both DiCaprio and Scorsese both took salary reductions to preserve the budget. Huh! And shortly afterwards, Horace Greeley (Michael Byrne) makes a formidable appearance. Here's an interesting piece of information about the 1872 Presidential Election (it's too important to be called "trivia."). Likewise, P.T. Barnum (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) makes a significant appearance in the movie. Wikipedia describes "Gangs of New York" as an "epic period drama," and that it certainly is. Who would know that the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 were the largest civil and racial insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War - I certainly didn't, and wouldn't have if I hadn't watched this film. For this reason alone, the film is worth watching - I'm not even sure I knew this film even existed (it was released four months after Karen died, and I only have a vague recollection of the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion - I mean, I have a memory of noticing the headlines when it happened, but I didn't care, and know almost nothing about it (contrast to the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, which was one of the few incidents during my lifetime that I remember where I was when I heard the news (some others being the O.J. Simpson Trial, the World Trade Center attacks, the Apollo 11 moon landing, and Martin Luther King's assassination). "Gangs of New York" may not be to everyone's taste, but there's no denying that it's an important, historical film, and one which I will remember for a long time. It's so long (2'45") that you *must* be dragged into its atmosphere if you're going to watch it, and you're unlikely to forget it for that reason alone. To show how out of touch I was with life during that time period, I've never even heard of "Chicago," which won the Best Picture Academy Award that year.
Played by one of the great piano trio ensembles of all time, Emanuel Ax, Itzhak Perlman, and Yo Yo Ma: You know, when I was sort of coming of age as a music lover, music of the Romantic period was very much in eclipse, and the Baroque was everything. (I'm talking about the late 1960s.) Maybe it wasn't so everywhere, but among the circle I moved in, Baroque music was praised indifferently, whether it was sublime, by J.S. Bach, or not so sublime, by Telemann or Handel or even lesser lights (and there were many, many lights so much lesser it's a wonder their work survived at all). Music after Beethoven and before, say, Stravinsky (or perhaps Mahler) was pretty much sneered at, and even Beethoven was looked at askance as having enabled Chopin and Schumann and Tchaikovsky to commit their sins against taste. I don't know what they (we?) were thinking, but then a lot of these same people idolized Laura Nyro, whose music I could never stand, so maybe I should have known better than to listen to their opinions. Consequently, I missed out for years on things like the glorious chamber music by the Romantics, of which this piano trio by Mendelssohn is one of the greatest glories. I can't really quite imagine music being more beautiful than this. I particularly love Emanuel Ax's straightforward, un-histrionic playing in this and the rest of this kind of repertoire. He'll be remembered as one of the great pianists of his generation. You might want to listen to the andante of the 2nd piano trio played by these young fellows -- pretty nice, huh? (I had originally posted a video of Ax, Perlman, and Ma performing the 2nd piano trio in front of an audience, with the slow movement of Mendelssohn's 1st piano trio given as an encore, but alas, this has vanished from YouTube. If you run across it, you should certainly watch it.)