New York means a great deal to many filmmakers, perhaps none more so than Martin Scorsese. Part of the generation that included Coppola and Spielberg, Scorsese was born in 1942 in Queens. His work, so often tied closely to his Italian-American, Roman Catholic background, stands among the best in American cinema.
New York has a mythic status for natives and non-New Yorkers alike, in no small part because of the dozens of movies that are set in the city. Scorsese's New York films capture the darker sides of the city. His camera fixates on the violent and unseemly.
For this project, Complex visited outdoor locations from six of Scorsese's New York films—Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), After Hours (1985), Goodfellas (1990), Bringing Out the Dead (1999)—and photographed the sites as they look today. Many have changed dramatically, some have not. Some remain static within neighborhoods that are barely recognizable now compared to what the filmmaker's camera captured. But they all tell stories, both about Scorsese's relationship with his hometown, and also how that hometown has changed in the 40 years since he started filming it.
In the following slides, you'll see stills from Scorsese's films first, and then photographs of those same locations as they look now. This is Martin Scorsese's New York.
By Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)
Volpe Bar (Mean Streets, 1973)
Address: 23 Cleveland Place
Much of the action in Scorsese's breakout feature, Mean Streets (1973), is set inside Volpe a bar owned by one of the film's four principal characters. The characters, all Italian-Americans living in a neighborhood strangled by tradition and Catholicism, congregate at the bar. In the film's early scenes, it is a space where they exert some control over their lives. Of course, this being Scorsese, control is lost and lives devolve into violence and pain. In one particularly vivid scene, a character is shot inside the bar. Drunk and bleeding, he staggers out into the litter covered streets and dies.
The neighborhood is considerably different in 2011. SoHo has encroached on what was once strictly Little Italy, meaning you're more apt to find designer boutiques and expensive pastries than bookies and constricting religious doctrine. What was once Volpe is now the former Va Tutto! restaurant, itself closed and encased in scaffolding, awaiting the next commercial iteration of the address. People sit outside on their lunch breaks, unwrapped and crinkled aluminum foil spread out in their laps, warm street food in their hands. The key line from Mean Streets is, "You don't make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets." That has less application here now.
Waverly Theater (Mean Streets, 1973)
Neighborhood: West Village
Address: 323 Sixth Avenue
The IFC Center opened in 2005, filling the screening void left by the exit of the Waverly Theater some four years prior. In the '70s, the Waverly had a strong rep as an art house theater, the place that started the trend of screening cult movies at midnight. In fact, every theater that screened The Rocky Horror Picture Show on a regular basis followed in the footsteps of the Waverly, which did it first.
This beautiful shot from Mean Streets comes during a scene where Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is on his way to a date with a woman who dances at the Volpe. She's black, and he eventually tells the cabbie to drive on rather than be seen with her. He succumbs to cultural pressure and stands her up.
The IFC Center is one of the finer theaters in New York, an appropriate successor to the Waverly, which gradually went to seed in the '80s and '90s.
St. Patrick's Old Cathedral (Mean Streets, 1973)
Address: 263 Mulberry St.
As a boy, Martin Scorsese attended mass at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. Given the autobiographical nature of Mean Streets, it's not a surprise that the cathedral, the first Catholic cathedral built in New York, should make an appearance. It's inside this church that Charlie famously holds his hand above the candle flame, a scene that has a rhyming visual equivalent in Taxi Driver. Near Mean Streets' end, Charlie and Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) break into the graveyard to talk privately.
Because it's a church, the site still looks very similar to its onscreen counterpart. The door that Charlie and Johnny Boy force open to break into the cemetery still stands. The brick wall has aged and cracked just as you would have expected it to. Through a hole in one of the doors I photographed the inside of the graveyard, though the angle didn't match the shots from the film. The padlock on the door was relatively new; it didn't budge.
West 47th Street & 8th Avenue (Taxi Driver)
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), "God's lonely man," is one of cinema's most iconic characters. In 2003, the American Film Institute showed their ass by putting him on their list of the top 50 movie villains of all time. If you've seen Taxi Driver (1976), which perhaps the AFI has not, you're probably aware that Bickle is a little more complicated than that.
In this early scene, Bickle walks through Times Square, brown-bagged booze in hand, headed to a porn theater. The Times Square of today bears little resemblance to the Times Square of the late '70s. The porn theaters are gone. The trash and grime have been replaced with taller advertisements and tourists.
In Taxi Driver, Travis walks down 47th Street (West 47th Street & 8th Avenue) and turns into a porn theater called the Show and Tell, where he awkwardly attempts at a real conversation with the woman working the concession stand (fun fact: she would become De Niro's first wife). Walking down 47th today, you'll pass a Duane Reade, a Subway, an empty lot, and a gift shop selling things it seems strange anyone would buy. It's hard to say for sure which of these places used to be the Show and Tell. However, it is easy to see that none of these businesses are now indulging in x-rated pursuits. Probably.
Lyric Theatre (Taxi Driver, 1976)
Neighborhood: Times Square
Address: 213 West 42nd St.
In one of cinema's all-time worst dates, Travis takes the angelic Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), to a porno. And in one of the world's all-time best twists of fate, that porn theater, the Lyric, is now the Foxwoods Theatre, host of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, that clusterfuck of a show that can't stop injuring its cast members and can't open.
In Taxi Driver, Travis takes Betsy to see Swedish Marriage Manual, but she leaves almost immediately. Of course the date goes marginally better than the average screening of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. Marginally better because no one breaks their wrists or feet, suffers a concussion, or actually has to watch Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
Terminal Bar (Taxi Driver, 1976)
Neighborhood: Times Square
Address: 620 8th Ave.
The blaze of greasy neon outside the Terminal Bar sums up well the aesthetic of Taxi Driver's night sequences. They also sum up the garish aesthetic of the bad old Times Square. In one of the film's most anguished scenes, Travis tries to confide in a fellow cabbie, played by Peter Boyle, telling him, "I got some bad ideas in my head." But the other cabbie doesn't understand Travis's vague attempts to make his desperation clear. The two men stand outside the bar, their natural skin color washed out and replaced with red neon. Travis is going to descend deeper into solitude, madness, into hell.
Interestingly enough, there's still some red neon where the Terminal Bar once stood. Glowing far less grotesque, the sign for Schnipper's Quality Kitchen is like a last reminder of Times Square's seedy past. "I was disappointed," reads one extra concise Zagat's user review of the restaurant. Another reads, "Overpriced, given that this is nothing special."
Travis is obsessed with cleaning the streets—he imagines a "real rain" that washes the trash, meaning the people, away. You can't help but wonder how he would find the city today.
Carmine Street Pool (Raging Bull, 1980)
Neighborhood: West Village
Address: 1 Clarkson Street
Raging Bull is Scorsese's greatest achievement, his most beautiful and painful film. A great deal of its beauty comes from the crisp black and white cinematography, which is so evocative during this scene in particular, the moment where Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) first talks to his future wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty).
Shot at Carmine Street Pool in the West Village, the scene was largely improvised by the two actors. Jake touches her fingers through the fence as a kind of hand shake; they talk. The wire mesh separating them is gone, but the life guard's chair and the diving board appear unmoved. Like St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, this area still buzzed with the film's energy, a sensation made all the stronger by the early morning quiet and lack of people. The pool is unfilled, closed until summer.
Hotel Markwell (Raging Bull, 1980)
Neighborhood: Times Square
Address: 220 West 49th St.
By this point in the film, De Niro has committed violence against his body by gorging himself, letting his body bloat and sag and swell. His breathing is labored, his waist bulges. Film scholars have dedicated entire essays to De Niro's physical transformation, which involved time spent in Italy and the great actor literally fattening himself up like he was held captive in a fairy tale, a variation on Hansel and Gretel where the children obey the witch. Some have argued that much of the film's drama comes from the actor's transformation from beautiful and fit to slovenly and fat.
If each physical action De Niro as La Motta takes with the extra weight is demeaning, he commits even more offense against himself by doing awful stand-up routines for hostile audiences. La Motta is leaving one of those acts in this scene. He emerges from the subterranean venue next to the Hotel Markwell with a showgirl he soon abandons after spotting his estranged brother across the street. From there, the scene only grows more uncomfortable.
The club La Motta emerges from is now an Italian restaurant called Da Marino. Across the street is the theater showing Chicago. The wall is lined with posters of perfectly proportioned women, typically underdressed. The street is often packed, people lining down the block before the show begins.
Crosby and Howard Streets (After Hours, 1985)
Address: Crosby and Howard Streets
After Hours is a weird film, easily Scorsese's kookiest. Released in 1985, After Hours follows one night in the life of Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a hapless guy working a drone job who becomes embroiled in increasingly farcical situations. Punks, plaster, burglary, and suicide all come into play at various points on Paul's odyssey out of SoHo.
Yes, Paul is desperately trying to escape SoHo, and it's not because he can't stand overpriced coffee and snootiness. The SoHo of 1985 is dramatically different from its 2011 counterpart. Though the film is cartoonish, it does capture the more artistic flavor the neighborhood possessed in the '80s. This shot of Paul, recently released from a cab, standing confused and uneasy at a desolate intersection is one of the film's most memorable.
After being let off, Paul goes to the apartment (28 Howard Street) of a woman he's never met, Kiki Bridges. In the photograph of the intersection, you can see the door to the apartment building; it's the door whose silver doorknob is barely visible, just to the right of the colorful potted plant on the right hand side of the photo.The building looks much like it did then, though not as drab thanks to that plant. The most significant change is the paint job. During the shoot for After Hours, the building was a shade of dark brown; today it's black.
Terminal Bar (After Hours, 1985)
Address: 308 Spring St.
Paul can't make it home because he doesn't have the cash for a cab or train. His quest for cash leads right where you'd think: panhandling. No; the film isn't that kind of kooky. Paul ducks into Terminal Bar (coincidence?), hoping to borrow some cash out of the register. But the register is locked and Paul's night only becomes more nightmarish (but that kooky kind of nightmare where you run into Cheech and Chong instead of anything truly life-threatening).
Terminal Bar, located a sizeable number of blocks from Kiki's apartment, calling into question the verisimilitude of the film, is still a bar, though its swapped its generic dive bar status for that of an Irish pub. Emerald Pub has the same two-toned paint job, along with the same fire escape disrupting the facade. According to Yelp, the bartenders are friendly, which doesn't really diverge from the impression given in the film. Chalk this up as another location that retains some of its cinematic character.
Young Henry Hill's House (Goodfellas, 1990)
Neighborhood: Astoria, Queens
Address: 2409 32nd St.
If Raging Bull is Scorsese's best, After Hours his kookiest, then Goodfellas is certainly his most watchable. There is not a shorter 146 minutes in cinema. Following Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) from curious adolescent to resplendent gangster to fidgety cokehead frantically trying to stir sauce and move weight is one of cinema's most entertaining rides, even as it doles out the expected brutality. The scene where Henry attacks his future wife's neighbor with a pistol is still appallingly violent, to say nothing of the emotional violence that comes during the later domestic scenes, once adultery and addiction enter the picture.
In the film's early moments, everything is exciting. Henry's life seems full of possibility despite the violence stalking the film's periphery. In this scene, he jets out of his childhood home () to hang out with the gangsters that run his neighborhood. I've watched this film innumerable times without ever noticing anything amiss here, but after checking out the location I noticed something strange. Glimpsed in long shot, with his mother standing at the rail, there appears to be no space between the houses on this particular block. To the left of Henry's mother there's a rectangle of reddish-brown with brick on either side. When watching the film, it's easy to process that rectangle as being an extension of either building. However, at the real location one finds that there is significant space between the houses, which means that the rectangle of reddish-brown was probably added during post-production. Or else something was inserted, maybe a board, between the two house during the shoot to give the impression of an unbroken plane.
The original brick at the location has been covered in siding, and the cleaners across the street is gone, assuming it was ever there to begin with.
Babbage Street LIRR Overpass (Goodfellas, 1990)
Neighborhood: Astoria, Queens
Address: Hillside Ave. & Myrtle Ave.
Finding the site of the pink Cadillac discovery in the rightly famous "Layla" montage in Goodfellas is more a question of will than any real demonstration of navigational prowess. After making the long journey on the J train to 121 Street, deep inside Queens, the walk is short and the tracks easy to spot. The area beneath the tracks is still full of seemingly junked cars, which makes the presence of an eerily still parking attendant all the more mystifying. I waved to him. He gave me a look that said, "The fuck you doing here?" He sat in a metal folding chair opposite a sign announcing that the parking lot was "reserved for customers of Tropicana Indian restaurant."
Matching the angles of the shots proved to be simple thanks to a fire escape that provided a good reference point. The location is brighter now than it was during the Goodfellas shoot; there's a tree where before there was only gray sky. No car occupied the pink Cadillac's parking spot, though a sedan with Texas plates squatted nearby. It might've been driven within the last decade.
Smith and 9th Streets (Goodfellas, 1990)
Neighborhood: Red Hook, Brooklyn
Address: Smith St. and 9th St.
The meeting between Jimmy (Robert De Niro) and Karen (Lorraine Bracco) is one of the last moments of real danger in Goodfellas. Jimmy's talking dressers; all Karen hears is, "You're going to get whacked." The drama plays out down 9th Street, Karen scuttling along at Jimmy's urging. The metal ugliness in the background, in reality just the supports for the G and F trains, makes the atmosphere all the more claustrophobic.
Today, a number of trees and the presence of a yoga studio defuse whatever sense of danger might linger in the Goodfellas' fanatic's consciousness, standing at this famous corner. If filmed there now, the trees would block the view of the supports and Karen would have to creep past a yoga studio, neither of which would create the air of palpable tension that makes the scene work so well.
Smith's Bar and Grill (Bringing Out the Dead, 1999)
Neighborhood: Hell's Kitchen
Address: 701 8th Ave.
Released in 1999, Bringing Out the Dead is one of Scorsese's last New York films (Gangs of New York  was filmed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, so it doesn't quite count). It also marks the last pairing of Scorsese with Paul Schrader, the screenwriter he collaborated with on Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). The film surreally chronicles a few days in the life of a paramedic all but wrung out by insomnia and guilt over a girl he couldn't save. Bringing Out the Dead opened to fair reviews, but the ensuing years have not been very kind to it. It's been all but forgotten, which is unfortunate for such a visually bold film. Nicolas Cage turns in a strong performance as well.
Smith's Bar and Grill is over 50 years old. It's hard to be a dive bar so close to the Theater District. Smith's tries to walk that fine line between offering an authentic dive experience and offering a dive experience that just feels authentic to tourists in town for a show.
The neon sign is certainly a nice touch, hearkening back to the sort of liquid light that flooded the area circa Taxi Driver. Though the audience is closely attached to Bickle in that film, the movie itself never feels as hallucinatory as Bringing Out the Dead, which is the visual equivalent of too much speed and a sudden acute light sensitivity. Hence Scorsese's use of Smith's; it offers the sickly neon that suits the frenetic aesthetic of a film trying very hard to put the viewer inside the protagonist's vertiginous mind state.
Milford Plaza Hotel (Bringing Out the Dead, 1999)
Neighborhood: Times Square
Address: 700 8th Ave.
Within sight of the Milford Plaza Hotel, paramedic Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) drags the T.B.-stricken Noel (Marc Anthony) across 8th Avenue. The Milford Plaza Hotel is one of the largest and most famous hotels in the Theater District. Indeed, when it first opened, in 1928, it was the largest hotel in all of New York City. It's nickname, according to the hotel's website, is the "Lullabuy [sic] of Broadway."
Bringing Out the Dead's lullaby is Van Morrison's awesome "T.B. Sheets." The opening organ wail, bluesy guitar riff, and squealing harmonica are heard over and over again in the film, appropriate because of the thematically related lyrics. The 9-minute-long song tells of a young girl dying of consumption, just as Noel, the character Frank perpetually chases after, is. The film is preoccupied with death and the idea that, though we will all continue to try, none of us can save one another or even ourselves.
World Famous Deli (Bringing Out the Dead, 1999)
Neighborhood: Hell's Kitchen
Address: 700 10th Avenue
Even though Bringing Out the Dead is the most recent film discussed here, its locations are no less susceptible to time and change. Because the film so effectively puts the viewer inside Frank's mind, the scene where he finally gets a day off breaks over the viewer with the same calming effect it has on the protagonist. The camera moves gracefully, coolly, as Frank stands at the corner near the World Famous Deli. He turns and walks down 49th Street, allowing the viewer a moment to breathe after the excess of the film's first hour or so.
A new deli, shinier and less like the bodega Frank stands near, has opened at the corner. Large panes of thick glass have replaced the neon-outlined windows of the original store. Neon figures prominently in Scorsese's New York. Lately his eye has strayed to other parts of the world: Los Angeles for The Aviator (2004) and Boston for The Departed (2006). A new film, Silence, will be set in Japan. To lure him back, New York might need to paint itself sloppy with neon and trash. Maybe if the city stops tidying itself, Scorsese will return, overcome with nostalgia for the old days.