US, 1984, 85 minutes, Colour.
Vincent Spano, Kate Vernon, Michael Winslow, Zohra Lampert, Jami Gertz.
Directed by Amos Poe.
Alphabet City is one of the many documentaries about the American city streets, the petty gangsters and their struggle for survival. What makes this film different from so many others is that it was written and directed by underground and experimental filmmaker, Amos Poe. Poe is interested in character. However, he is also interested in environment and its shaping of character. There is an almost unreal setting for this film, an emphasis on light and darkness, garish and lurid colours. Thus there is a disturbing blend between realism and the surreal. This film was not a commercial success.
Star of the file is Vincent Spano, who appeared in several of Francis Ford Coppola's films about youth: The Outsiders, Rumblefish.
While the film resembles many of the old style gangster films in plot and low-budget films in some style, it is a different and imaginative look at the American phenomenon of family, cities and petty crime.
1. Audience familiarity with the themes and plots of this kind of film? The history of the gangster film ? the toughness of the '30s, the portraits of the gangsters, the analyses of social situations and families (e.g. The Godfather)? This film's place in that tradition? Its use of the genre? Its appeal to the popular audience? To critics and the art film audience?
2. The significance of the title, any city, 'Everycity'? A portrait of the American city and its style, values, oppression? The screenplay moving from dark to dawn? The blend of symbolism and realism? The dark, shadows, colours and lurid effects? Sets and authenticity? A kitsch atmosphere as well as an art atmosphere? The overall impact of the visuals and sound?
3. The musical score: songs, the beat, Luck?
4. The gangster genre and the underworld: audience presuppositions and knowledge of characters and situations, the young man who is the collector for protection money, the range of small business people as debtors? Style of the collector, standover tactics, skill at putting pressure on victims, his relationship to his Family', loyalties? Personal relationships, relationship with his wife? no divorce? A world of violence, yet the desire to escape?
5. The portrait of Johnny: the opening, relationship with his wife, the baby? An ordinary young man? Dress and identity, age, appearance? Audiences judging him? family, tenderness, the car and the drive? His attitude towards his sister, sexual relationships? Shooting, pushing? His mother and her friend? The ethnic background, religious background? Catholicism, the portrait of the Pope? The burning of the building and his mother as victim? His friend and carrying on and relationship to the end? Drug scene, the lurid style, the disco? The variety of types in this night world of the American city? Hostility, guns? His getting a clearer idea and the audience understanding what was happening? The phone and the voice? Love and sex, Angela to leave, the set up, Mouse and Snake, shooting? The stashing of the money, the bashing, the arsonist, the final escape? Angela and the tension? The elevator and the final violence? Gino and death? Johnny's chance to escape, the new life? A credible portrait of the victim of the city?
5. The world of the city: the streets, darkness, drugs, sex, gambling? Enjoying the easy life, the spiv, protection, games, hatred?
7. Angela and the baby, the relationship, the image of Johnny? Art? Her refusal to go? The escape? The experience of violence?
8. Johnny's friend and his patter, jokes, coming to his help and the final (credible) help?
9. Gino and anonymity etc, the portrait of the thugs?
10. The gallery of characters: the victims of protection, their ways of paging, refusing? The personalities of the clubs?
11. The portrait of traditional family life, family traditions, the contradictions in values and upbringing and gangster behaviour?
12. The blend of the artistic and the realistic? Themes, human nature? Impact on American audiences? Overseas?