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Part of my prep programme for Daniel Day-Lewis’ “Lincoln” performance (I don’t care for biopics, so I have to motivate me otherwise…). People have been snotty about “Gangs”, I always loved the epic approach, the tribal battles, the gritty production design, the fabulous costumes, the nonchalant whoring, and Daniel Day-Lewis as its center of gravitation. Of course he is playing over-the-top, because Bill the Butcher is an over-the-top character, not bigger  than life, but bigger than most lives. The way he takes the stage with cramped facial muscles, with his skeleton-like stature in dirty longjohns, how is cannot but take his fights as choreographed dances around his victims… it takes courage and skill to play such a character straightforwardly and take him seriously, and Day-Lewis pulls this off.

But I need to give Scorsese credit for what he did, painting this (initially stealth) battle between two mortal enemies onto a mural that is called New York, which never looked more authentic and tangible in its grime and filth,  despite the sometimes slightly too obvious matte paintings. This depiction of Five Points is alive, and this microcosm of a battleground between “native” (who is native in the US anyway…) and immigrant crowds stays clear and transparent  despite all the chaos that ensues, the racial hatred, the drafting riots. Scorsese is trained well enough through his mafia stories to know that he must let the audience lose track of what’s going on, even if everything is going on at the same time, as in the final standoff, where the petty jealousy between some Irish in the one side and other Irish on the other side is among the lesser of New York’s problems.

Splendid, cinematic cinema!

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