Post-"Goodfellas," there's are few misfires in Martin Scorsese's oeuvre more ambitious than "Gangs Of New York." An epic, sprawling tale of the rise of modern day New York City from its gritty, earthy and violent beginnings, the film required a big canvas to tell the story, but with Harvey Weinstein producing the movie, it was inevitable there would be a battle over the length.
Repping The Weinstein Company in Toronto this past week and unspooling a few major films ("Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom," "August: Osage County," "Philomena") and picking up a handful more ("The Railway Man," "Can A Song Save Your Life?" among them), Harvey took some time to talk to press during The Daily Beast TIFF dinner, and shared that among the many issues facing 'Gangs' during its production (including duelling egos between Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio, and the assistance of George Lucas for one CGI scene), length was one of them.
“So Marty presents the final cut of the movie to me as a final-cut director and it’s three hours and thirty-six minutes,” Weinstein revealed to Vulture. “If you thought there was action in 'Gangs of New York' the movie, you should have seen that editing room! But we got the movie down to two hours and 36, and if you hear the DVD commentary, Marty goes into details about how we worked on the film. He’s very complimentary, but at the same time, he says it was ‘a process’ — and normally, Marty doesn’t like process. The end of the story, he says it himself, is that the movie was a big success: ten Academy Award nominations, it grossed $200 million dollars, it revived his career after a couple of mishaps.”
Those points are all true, but a handful of folks from the time have suggested, that recognition or not, a longer version of the movie worked better. Jeff Wells, then writing for Movie Poop Shoot, noted that a workprint version that circulated in the fall of 2001, ran 20 minutes longer, and crucially featured no voiceover narration. "The main distinction for me is that it's plainer and therefore more cinematic....," he wrote, adding: "This leaves you free, in short, to simply pick and choose from the feast of visual information that GANGS OF NEW YORK is, and make of it what you will. And if that isn't the essence of great movie-watching, I don't know what is. It also points out what's wrong with the theatrical release version, which I feel has been fussed over too intensively, compressed, simplified, lathered in big-movie music and, to some extent, thematically obscured."
Meanwhile, Dave Poland also saw that same version and quite simply, "finally saw the movie that Scorsese wanted to make for all these years."
Scorsese has long played down any alternate versions of "Gangs Of New York," and perhaps he'll get to have his final say with the TV series that's developing based on the movie. But it's perhaps telling that after "The Aviator," which went into production a few short months after "Gangs Of New York" opened, he never worked with Harvey Weinstein again. And don't count on seeing the longer cut anytime soon.
"[Scorsese] says, 'You think I’m that fucking stupid that I’m gonna put out the director’s cut at three hours and 36 minutes? That would prove Harvey’s a genius!’” Weinstein said. “By the way, that’s how final cut works.”
Let us know if you think a longer 'Gangs' would've worked and listen to Scorsese talk about the movie and the editing process in this vintage NPR interview from 2003, followed by the film's DVD audio commentary.