Author Herbert Asbury’s book “Gangs of New York” was first published in 1928. 70 years later, director Martin Scorsese adapted it for the screen. The adaptation was so loosely based on the book, however, the script was considered for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ at the 2002 Oscars instead of ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’. Now, 11 years after the film’s release, Scorsese is diving deeper into the story and developing Gangs into a TV series. Scorsese’s first cut of Gangs was over four hours long. He’s the first to admit that his broad adaptation and final cut did not cover all of the events of the time and said, “this is based on history, there’s no doubt about it. But it is still a film that is more of an opera than history.”
This time and era of America’s history and heritage is rich with characters and stories that we could not fully explore in a two hour film. A television series allows us the time and creative freedom to bring this colorful world, and all the implications it had and still does on our society, to life. I am excited to partner with Miramax in telling these stories.
Scorsese’s characters were either entirely fictional, like Jenny Everdeen played by Cameron Diaz, Amsterdam Vallon played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Priest Vallon played by Liam Neeson or they were fictionalized versions of real people like Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting, for example was based on William ‘The Butcher’ Poole. There are no historical accounts of William Poole murdering anyone but he was in fact a butcher with similar physical characteristics to Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal and did develop a reputation as a fighter, maiming several men as a result. Scorsese took some liberty with his ‘Butcher’, placing him in time, eight years after the real William Poole was murdered but did incorporate his politics, love of knives and gang membership, leading the ‘Natives’ to protect their ground against immigration.
Scorsese recreated the world of Gangs by using actual photographs of the real Five Points. According to historians on the Herbert Asbury website, “Five Points was the most wretched of New York City’s slums in the 1800′s.”
Five Points, named for the five points created by the intersection of Anthony (now Worth), Orange (now Baxter), and Cross (now Park) Streets. The area formed a “truncated triangle about one mile square” and was “bounded by Canal Street, the Bowery, Chatham” (now Park Row), “Pearl, and Centre Streets.”1 Paradise Square, a small triangular park, was located between Anthony (now Worth) and Cross (now Park) Streets and converged into Orange Street (now Baxter). These slums no longer exist, having been replaced by city, state, and federal courthouses and the area known as Chinatown.
The source for some of the language came from George Matsell’s “The Secret Language of Crime: The Rogue’s Lexicon”. Here are some of the translations.
Ballum rancum: A ball where all the dancers are thieves or prostitutes
Lay: a criminal occupation
Mort: a woman
The main source used by the movie in replicating the accent and speech patterns of the nineteenth century came from a recording made in 1892 by the now deceased poet, Walt Whitman. The result is a sort of Brooklyn “cabby” accent.
Watch this Gangs clip when during a visit with the Butcher, Amsterdam finds himself in a war of words.
In the coming weeks, continue to check back to learn more about the history of Gangs and the development of the TV series.