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GANGS OF NEW YORK

The Location
With the cast in place, the filmmakers faced their most extraordinary challenge: re-creating a lost New York of tenements, bordellos and saloons, a New York that has never been seen on screen and no longer exists at all outside of books, ghosts and blurry photographs. With an intense devotion to detail, Scorsese fulfilled on his reputation for making things on screen look "more than real."

In doing so, the production had a bit of fleeting luck. Recently, a team of archaeologists had begun to dig deep beneath Lower Manhattan to uncover the artifacts and lifestyles of the infamous Five Points. Scorsese and his team utilized this collection of over 850,000 items, ranging from dishes to combs to children's toys. It was extraordinary timing, for the entire collection (except for 18 items out on loan) was destroyed and lost forever when the World Trade Center 6 Building was partially collapsed by falling debris on September 11, 2001.

It was agreed from the beginning that rather than rely on digital effects, the filmmakers would erect Old New York from scratch, attempting to authentically recapture the look and feel of those days of horse-drawn carts and chaos and corruption in the cobble streets. Says the director: "We created our own world in the spirit of Old New York."

But they did none of this in New York itself, which over time, built over the dilapidated past so well that it can no longer be found. Instead, the film was shot almost entirely in Rome, at legendary Cinecittá Studios. Scorsese felt at home here because of his close affinity for the cinema of Italy and his high regard for the artistry of Cinecittá's famed craftsmen and artisans.

Cinecittá had several other attributes to recommend it including a vast back lot where the New York of 1846 and 1863 could be recreated and a massive studio tank for the crucial New York harbor scenes. "I've always felt that Cinecittá has a special magic because of all the great films that have been made there," says Scorsese. "For the many years that I had been thinking about GANGS OF NEW YORK, I always imagined it would be created with an aspect of the Italian artistry that I saw and experienced in Italian films when I was growing up."

To further excavate the lost world of Old New York, Scorsese hired Luc Sante, author of the acclaimed book Low Life, a riveting modern-day chronicle of Old New York's dark underbelly, as a technical adviser. "I'm mostly interested in the fringes of society, life in the poor quarters. And this is where a great deal of GANGS OF NEW YORK is set," says Sante. "I had done five years of research on this period and I was thrilled to be able to put that research in the service of a Martin Scorsese film."

Sante advised the film team on key particulars of everyday life in the Five Points. Famed for its squalid, overcrowded dwellings and polyglot populaton, as well as its raucous and licentious street life, the Five Points was like an entire universe unto itself. The neighborhood derived its name from the intersection of five downtown streets near a patch of green called Paradise Square. In the New York of today the Five Points would be located northeast of City Hall, essentially on the site of the Federal Court House. 

"The Five Points resembled a Wild West town more than a New York City neighborhood of today," Scorsese observes. And it is that new and fiercely wild urban landscape that Scorsese and team set out to evoke on the screen. To recreate the Five Points, production designer Dante Ferretti, in his fifth collaboration with Martin Scorsese, constructed a welter of wooden shacks

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