After Hours

“I just wanted to leave my apartment, maybe meet a nice girl. And now I’ve got to die for it!”

AFTER HOURS is Martin Scorsese’s take on the “staying up all night and a bunch of crazy shit happens” movie (see also INTO THE NIGHT, MIRACLE MILE, EDMOND). This one follows Paul (Griffin Dunne), a young word-processing drone who lives alone in a small apartment in New York City. After a boring day at work he goes to a cafe to re-read what he says is his favorite book, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. A woman named Marcy (Rosanna Arquette, same year as SILVERADO) is by herself at a nearby table, notices what he’s reading and says “I love that book.” He doesn’t even hear her at first. But she starts trying to quote it.

Suddenly she moves to his table to get him to look at the weird cashier (Rocco Sisto, INNOCENT BLOOD, ERASER, THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT), who seems to be practicing dance moves. She’s about to leave but they have a short, weird conversation that includes 1) telling him she’s staying with her friend Kiki Bridges and 2) giving him Kiki’s phone number so he can inquire about her sculptures of bagels and cream cheese.

To me it doesn’t seem at all like she’s saying “Please go home and call this number to talk to me,” but I get how a guy can want to extend a random encounter like that, and not only does she say “I’m glad you called” when he does, she says “I think you should come over.” So spontaneously at 11:32 pm he’s taking a cab to some weird artist’s loft in SoHo to meet fellow Henry Miller fan Marcy. He only has one twenty dollar bill on him, and it blows out the window, so he can’t even pay the driver (Larry Block, HARDCORE). And this is a very mild sign of the type of night he has in store.

When he arrives Marcy is at the drug store, but that sculptor Kiki (Linda Fiorentino, who started her career with VISION QUEST, GOTCHA! and this all in ’85) invites him in to wait while she works on a life-sized paper mache sculpture of a person. An example of the movie’s appealing oddness is that she gets him to take over working on the sculpture because she “could use a break.”

I expect in a movie like this that he’s gonna run into a bunch of crazies and be very put upon. And that’s kind of what happens, but it’s interesting how often I was siding with the crazies over him. Like, he came over to see Marcy, he hasn’t even seen her yet, and her roommate is throwing him some aggressive sexual energy, so he offers her a massage and is clearly trying to get with her! What does he expect to do when Marcy gets back in a minute? Well, Kiki falls asleep before anything happens, so he just goes right back to trying to get with Marcy.

She freaks him out with a weird story about being raped, that ends ambiguously, then by revealing that she’s married, then by breaking down crying during a kiss. There’s some black humor in his attempts to be sensitive and understanding about it all, as if he actually knows and cares about her and isn’t transparently just hanging around hoping to get laid. The breaking point for him is when he snoops in her bag, gets the impression that she has second degree burns somewhere on her body, and gets grossed out, so he starts being an asshole to her and then just walks out while she’s in the other room. What a dick!

He only has 97 cents in his pocket, and the subway fare went up at midnight, so he’s stuck in this neighborhood in the pouring rain. He goes into a bar hoping to sit and not order anything, but bored-as-shit waitress Julie (Teri Garr, GHOST WORLD, CASPER MEETS WENDY) becomes enamored of him, and friendly bartender Tom (John Heard, CAT PEOPLE) is actually willing to give him subway fare, but can’t get the till to open, and needs a key from his apartment nearby, so Paul gives him his own keys as collateral for his apartment keys to go and… well, you can see that one problem will lead to another problem will lead to another problem, real nightmare, GOOD TIME shit. The stress of “Oh no, Tom is waiting at the bar thinking he ripped him off” is just one of the stresses way down at the bottom of the pile.

Cheech & Chong (FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST) play some friends of Kiki’s who are clearly the ones everybody’s talking about robbing their apartments. And Kiki has a scary boyfriend or S&M partner or something named Horst (Will Patton, THE POSTMAN, ROAD HOUSE 2). I love when he first sees Paul and says “This the guy?” menacingly. I guess it means the guy who abandoned Marcy, but in any situation you don’t want somebody to have been telling Horst about you.

He ends up awkwardly hanging out in waitress Julie’s apartment. She has good retro furnishings, vintage records and a rat problem. And likes to draw. I think she’s the character I like the most – when she tells him about her second job at the Xerox shop and that she gets free copies, he says “Gee whiz.” And she draws the line at that. Free copies are useful to her, if he doesn’t relate it doesn’t mean he has to dismiss it. “I don’t have to take that kind of shit. What is it with people today? You can’t say anything without getting a smart answer. You have to be so goddamn careful about everything you say.” Get ‘im, Julie. When she says “So I make a few mistakes. Sue me! Call your lawyers!” that might be the one direct dig at yuppies in this movie.

Then there’s Gail (Catherine O’Hara, DICK TRACY), random person getting out of a cab who lets him come in to use her phone. He is not polite enough to listen to her tell him about her Mister Softee truck, and refuses her offer of a pencil to write down a phone number. Both turn out to be poor choices.

Movies like this always have an old fashioned 24-hour diner. Look at this beaut:

I looked it up. It was demolished in 2004. I think it’s still a hole, soon to be a hotel. We need to protect our places like this.

To me a big part of the appeal of this type of movie is that contradictory mix of real and unreal. On the one had, the familiar allure of late nights, lonely streets and bars, and the strange characters and interactions you find in them; on the other, the fun of painting the unlikeliest and unluckiest scenario that could befall you there. Much of the humor is based on coincidence: figuring out that people he’s met in separate incidents are connected, for example. Or little odd details, seemingly random things that are mentioned or shown (flyers, newspaper headlines, twenty dollar bills, bagel and cream cheese paper weights) that pop up again or become more relevant, and the more they come together, the more exaggerated and ridiculous the world of the movie becomes.

So it has less a feel of “it’s a small world, isn’t it?” than a put-on, a joke, a tall tale. There’s a funny part about 80 minutes in where he tells a guy everything that has happened to him in the movie so far. Time-passing dissolves are required.

And it ends up extra weird when he returns to the punk bar Club Berlin for an invitation-only conceptual art event that seems to only be attended by a lonely, older-than-him lady named June (Verna Bloom, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER). She seems out of place and “She’s always here. Usually nobody notices her” according to the bartender (first assistant director/ROBOCOP associate producer Stephen J. Lim), but she’s a sculptor like Kiki and lives in the junk-strewn basement of the club. We swerve abruptly from a quiet last dance as the bar closes up to mother!-level fever dream as she hides him from a raid by anti-burglar vigilantes by covering him in plaster-of-paris.

In these yuppie era movies I can’t always tell how much I’m supposed to be on the guy’s side. Not that it necessarily matters, but sometimes I’m curious if we should take it as a critique of his quest to get various women to have sex with him while being creeped out by the other ones who actually want to have sex with him. Growing up in the era, it didn’t seem like it – it seemed like all the movies agreed that was what life was about.

So it’s kind of liberating when the movie crosses the threshold from normal ‘80s dude behavior to never-considered-reasonable. That’s when (SPOILER) he sort of accidentally ends up back in the loft, decides to go in and apologize to Marcy before leaving her again, and discovers that she’s died from a pill overdose. He calls the police and everything, but the curiosity gets the better of him, and he pulls the blanket down to see her burns. (Sorry, she’s unburned, and hot!) And then he remembers he should get back to Tom so, in my favorite gag of the movie, he hangs up two signs saying “DEAD PERSON” with arrows pointing to her room.

From that point you get to enjoy this prick shouldering Olympian discomfort levels like when he tries to say something comforting to the bartender who just found out his girlfriend killed herself while believing he himself caused her to do it. A perfect illustration of his entitlement is when he runs into Tom, who tells him he has just returned from identifying his dead girlfriend at the morgue, and he frantically asks him for help. Tom is the calm, comforting one to this guy he only knows as a one time customer at his bar. Not even that, because he didn’t buy anything!

Still, anybody can relate to the ending, when he falls out of a van right in front of work as the sun is coming up and the gates are opening. So he just goes to work. The camera flies around the office like the evil dead as everybody else, who are not covered in plaster-of-paris dust and most likely got to sleep last night, arrive at their desks. Life is like that sometimes.

To me, Griffin Dunne is forever the buddy from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. That was only his fourth movie, but he had already started producing with the Joan Micklin Silver movie HEAD OVER HEELS. AFTER HOURS was a script he found and worked to get off the ground so he could star in the good shit he liked. He found a talented Disney animator-turned-short-film director named Tim Burton to direct, but when Burton heard that Scorsese liked the script he said Oh shit, yeah, if Scorsese wants to do it you better fuckin go for it. So as a gesture of thanks Scorsese decided to give Burton the project he’d planned to do next, PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE.

That last part is a joke, but the rest is true. Can you imagine what PEE-WEE era Burton would’ve done with this script? I’m not sure I can. I bet it would’ve been good, but completely different. While Burton was at the very beginning of his career, Scorsese genuinely worried he might be at the end of his. THE KING OF COMEDY was seen as a failure at the time, and Paramount had cancelled plans to produce THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, so he went looking for an independent project, hungry to prove himself, throwing all his filmmaking chops and experimentation at a movie very different from everything he’d done before. Though it didn’t make much, and it’s still seen as kind of a tangent in his career, it was well reviewed and won him the Best Director award at Cannes, and I’d have to look this up to be sure but I think they allowed him to keep directing movies. So it was a success.

The script was a Columbia University film school assignment by a student named Joseph Minion. He was 26 when the movie came out – imagine how fuckin cool he must’ve felt! Except he apparently blatantly ripped off much of the first act – even the plaster-of-paris bagels and cream cheese! – from a monologue on NPR, and settled out of court about it and/or immediately confessed and apologized, depending on where you read. (I wonder if the school assignment was to adapt something?) So that probly weighed on him. He’s only made a handful of features since, but one of them is VAMPIRE’S KISS, so he’s in the pantheon. Scorsese also got him to write his episode of Amazing Stories.

There’s a pretty good documentary on the DVD that tells how they struggled to decide on an ending, and the great director Michael Powell (not yet married to editor Thelma Schoonmaker) suggested having Paul end up back at work. Scorsese at first dismissed it as a stupid idea, and didn’t come around to it for weeks. But what I love most about the anecdote is that Scorsese had planned an ending where instead of hiding Paul in a sculpture, June hides him in her womb, smuggles him out and gives birth to him in the middle of the street. Damn, why didn’t they shoot that!? And what kind of world would we be living in today if that was the ending to Scorsese’s “needs to prove himself” movie?

Maybe it would’ve sunk him, and instead of LAST TEMPTATION and GOODFELLAS he would’ve been doing TV pilots and thrillers at that time like William Friedkin and Michael Mann. Or maybe, just maybe, Griffin Dunne would’ve acted as a new Star Child – the American male, or the white man, or the entitled man, reborn anew. Purified, evolved, unburdened of hate, uninterested in domination, submitting to a new era of enlightenment and deeper human connection.

But I guess he would’ve still had to go back to work. Anyway, good movie.

Thanks to my friend Damian for loaning me his DVD to make sure I watch it.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 24th, 2020 at 10:02 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “After Hours”

  1. Ah yes, the gold standard of the “one crazy night” subgenre and my favourite Scorcese movie. Not saying it’s his best, just that it’s my favourite.

  2. Hey, this is MY favorite Scorsese too! I’m almost mad that it’s someone else’s fave, too, haha. This one’s supposed to MINE, dammit! I think this is just my favorite kind of story, in general. The ‘average guy has a wild and crazy night’ story. Although I do have to admit that it never occurred to me just how much of a heel Paul is. Most of the time it feels to me like he’s just dealing with shit the best he can in the moment, but there are mos def some skeevy moments strewn about in there.

    Man, I’d love to go read a book at a cafe right now. That sounds awesome.

  3. Maybe my favorite Scorsese as well, though I don’t think I’ve watched it in 15+ years. It makes for a great double bill with Desperately Seeking Susan.

    Teri Garr’s line reading of “You like the Monkees?” always really cracked me up for some reason.

  4. Hehe I have to pile on and say this is my second favorite Scorsese movie. Sorry — Goodfellas has been at the top of my all-time (not just Scorsese) list for 30 years, so it’s not gonna change now.

    And I confess that, like Jerome, I’ve never really picked up on Paul’s heel vibe either, seeing him as more of a schmuck doing his best to extract himself from some crazy shit.

    I always figured if I ever wrote a movie I would want it to have the unhinged, “you really never know what’s next” kind of vibe that this one has.

  5. The original monologue is worth listening to—it’s great. It’s also bizarre how the screenwriter ever thought he could get away with this plagiarism. IIRC It’s a very detailed and faithful adaptation.

  6. I remember loving this movie and seeing it as an objective, incisive exploration of the lengths a young dude will go to in order to get laid. Watching the protagonist twist himself in knots when he’s in the girl’s loft, wondering what to make of the medicine and the books on burn care…

    Also the incredible exchange:
    “That was rude of you, Paul.”
    “I don’t know what came over me…”
    “Lack of discipline.”
    The delivery of the last line cracks me up every time I think about it.

    Though when I watched it again after having lived in NYC for a few years my feelings about it changed a little bit. Dude could have walked home at any time! It makes travelling below 14th Street in Manhattan look like entering the underworld. Still, great flick, tons of fun.

  7. “What do you want from me?! I’m just a word processor for god’s sake!”

    I always thought this was a key line from the movie. A word processor is just a machine, in my vocabulary. A cog in the vast machinery of capitalism. And this has long been a key part of my philosophy of life. You can seek out new people, maybe try to get laid, go on an adventure, but you still gotta go to work in the morning. I got too drunk at a party here in Austin ten years ago and I woke up in a goddamn ditch. But I made it home at 7am to the stereo blaring the song I put on repeat (all my roomies were out of town). I consider that a win because at least I put myself out there. You’ve got to be more than a cog.

    The song was “Bang Bang Bang” by Jon Ronson, btw. The video in my head is Blue Beetle, Robin and Spoiler vs. Poison Ivy and goons.

  8. Mark Ronson, The Business Intl. - Bang Bang Bang (Official Video)

    Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. - Bang Bang Bang (Official Video) Follow on Spotify: http://ron.sn/stream/spotify Listen on Apple Music: http://ron.sn/strea...

  9. “I just wanted to leave my apartment, maybe meet a nice girl. And now I’ve got to die for it!”

    So is this Scorsese’s commentary on ’80s AIDS paranoia, or is he just pushing the usual Catholic guilt dressed up in yuppy suit? Of the big three mid-80s one-crazy-night movies – INTO THE NIGHT, SOMETHING WILD, AFTER HOURS – this has always been the one I liked the least. At least the Jeffs had an adventure and kinda got what they wanted; their lives changed. Dunne steps outside his cubicle and it’s hellish and he ends up right back where he started. Thanks, Marty!

    Oh, and if anyone wants a mashup of the missing gun trope of STRAY DOG with the one-crazy-night of AFTER HOURS, then look no further than Johnnie To’s PTU. It’s arguably To’s most stylish movie, which is really saying something.

  10. “At least the Jeffs had an adventure and kinda got what they wanted; their lives changed. Dunne steps outside his cubicle and it’s hellish and he ends up right back where he started. Thanks, Marty!”

    I think the difference is that Scorsese thinks Dunne’s yuppie character in AFTER HOURS is full of shit. He doesn’t really want to walk on the wild side. He’s just a tourist. So when he arrives back at his desk the next day, he’s grateful to be there. His arc is not that he gets an adventure that breaks him out of his rut; it’s that he’s accepted that he doesn’t actually crave adventure at all, and that his safe, dull life is really what he wants. He learns to love his rut. Perhaps this is a comment on how all of Marty’s counterculture brethren from the previous decade cleaned themselves up and got office jobs in the 80s, because it turns out they only wanted to dip their toes into the freakshow and then go back to the safety of the straight life when things got bumpy.

    This is also my favorite Scorsese by, like, a mile.

  11. I saw this in the theater. Not the normal fare for kids my age, but the concept intrigued me. I really don’t know what I thought of it initially, it was just SO odd. I remember the audience being pretty hostile and a lady saying “for a comedy, you’d think they’d throw in some fucking jokes!” as she left. I partially agreed with her (it was NOT the wacky comedy the promo materials made it out to be) but at the same time, I liked it even more precisely because it wasn’t the “Out-of-Towners,” a straightforward fish-out-of-water farce.

    I didn’t see it again until well into my ’30s, and it certainly didn’t seem as weird to me anymore (especially after things like Eyes Wide Shut), and I was kind of shocked at the amatuerness of some of the staging and shooting (I guess the budget was VERY small and forced some less than idea takes). But, I still value it for being a biggie in forming my critical brain, in that it was possibly the first movie where I really had to think about whether I liked it or not, and never really came to a clear-cut answer.

  12. Hi!

    Sorry, this is not related to this movie at all but I did not know where to ask this: would any of you kind souls/cinephiles/horror movie aficionados help me in identifying what movie or tv show is used in this video: The video does not seem to be related to the music artist: https://youtu.be/taYhUqQrV9I

    Any actors names would be helpful too!

    Thanks in advance and sorry for “hijacking” this thread but this is irking me a lot!

  13. “I think the difference is that Scorsese thinks Dunne’s yuppie character in AFTER HOURS is full of shit.”

    I’m not sure if that’s the difference, although it sounds fair, but it’s very clear that Scorsese thinks Dunne’s character is full of shit. And in retrospect, this is probably where Scorsese lost me, although I kept showing up to his movies for another 20 years. He wants you to know that he doesn’t like these people, rather than just telling their stories and trusting the audience.

  14. Jareth Cutestory

    April 26th, 2020 at 8:52 am

    There’s that remarkable moment where Dunne witnesses a horrific shooting through an apartment window and quips: “I’ll probably get blamed for that, too.” I think that moment speaks volumes about how we’re supposed to perceive our protagonist.

  15. I love that line. This is an interesting movie but I don’t quite get into it. It feels like it’s missing something but I’d be hard pressed to say what that is. I do think for a supposed comedy it doesn’t even really have a lot of jokes…not that you want jokey comedy. Hmm.

    Dan that clip looks like it’s from some super no budget horror movie. Might be tough t find that one since there’s about a billion of em. The big giveaway on the super low budgets is not only the bad quality camera and lighting, but the handheld microjitter feel…like they’re doing handheld just so they can get a ton of shots in quickly but they can’t really shoot handheld slick like bigger movies do.

  16. this movie will always have a special meaning to me because I worked in the building with those gates that swung closed, then open, that framed the events, and I would always recall this movie when I passed those gates

  17. Dan – If it really wasn’t shot for the video (and the disclaimer makes it sound like it wasn’t) it must be a no budget regional movie, so unlikely anybody would recognize anyone from it unless it’s their neighbor or cousin. My one piece of detective work is that the phone says Monday, August 4 on it, and it looks like the last August 4th on a Monday was in 2014, so I believe it was shot in 2014.

  18. Thanks a lot vern!

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