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GANGS OF NEW YORK

About The Production
"Mulberry Street and Worth. Cross and Orange and Little Water. Each of the Five Points is a Finger and when I close my hand it becomes a fist." – Bill the Butcher"

GANGS OF NEW YORK brings to life a time which we know about only through twice-told tales and people who left behind little more than their names," says Luc Sante, the historian and writer. "To make this history palpable required an act of collective imagination."

The passionate quest to make the film began over thirty years ago, before Martin Scorsese directed the succession of dramas that would establish him as one of his generation's most vital filmmakers. While house-sitting with a group of friends in 1970, he saw Herbert Asbury's 1928 chronicle Gangs of New York – then a "cult" book often hand-passed among New Yorkers –sitting on a bookcase. The title jumped out at him. "I took it off the shelf and read it almost all in one day," recalls Scorsese.

The book illuminates the legends and lore of Old New York's notoriously colorful criminal underworld-- and also of a time and place, as Asbury reveals, that ultimately gave rise to the modern Mafia and American mobster. It was a New York City rife with small but ferocious gangs – with storybook names like the Shirt Tails, the Plug Uglies and the Daybreak Boys — all fighting to survive in a hostile and alien world. There is a sense in the book of a "Clockwork Orange" future, except that it is a true history of America's wild past. The book unveils a New York filled with renegades and mobs, slang and savvy, fierce battles and hidden machinations – and a country first discovering the power of the people in the streets.

Reading the book stirred in Scorsese memories of stories he had heard as a boy growing up in Little Italy. "The book contained all the folklore of old New York City and everything I read seemed to fit with my impression of the period," he says. "I guess you could say the project became part of the continuing love and fascination I have for the City."

Scorsese was captivated by the portrait of a time in New York City when immigrants were forced to live outside the law, yet the leaders of society lived above it. He imagined a film version of GANGS OF NEW YORK as an homage to classic American film epics about the roots of the country's character – revealing the story of how young urban immigrants banded together in a time of hopelessness and fear and fought for the right to pursue their individual dreams. He mentioned the book to his friend and collaborator, screenwriter Jay Cocks, who was already acquainted with it. In fact, he owned a copy.

"I also had long been intrigued by the criminals and gangs of that period because my grandfather was a New York policeman," Cocks says. "He kept old copies of the Police Gazette, which were filled with woodcuttings and engravings that illustrated the exploits of the criminal and gangs. I found it fascinating because it's virgin territory in the movies. Most people are unaware of this period in New York's history." He summarizes: "I have always thought about this movie the way Marty once described it to me; as a Western on Mars."

Cocks dove into historical research about the period, but also found inspiration in a line from a Bruce Springsteen song about waiting "for a savior to rise from the streets." And from that notion of a people's hero, the character of Amsterdam Vallon was born. Cocks then created Amsterdam's world. He explains: "The reason Amsterdam was created seemed also to create Bill the Butcher, and Jenny seemed to spring from Amsterdam's need for some sort of res

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