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Alphabet City

New York independent filmmaker Amos Poe concretized the tacit alliance between the French nouvelle vague and the American punk rock movement, his earliest narrative films tipping their hats to Godard with the dovetailing of pulp specifics and verité execution. Though set against the backdrop of the same mean streets as Unmade Beds (1976) and The Foreigner (1978), Poe's Alphabet City (1984) is a different animal entirely. Shot in full color by British cinematographer Oliver Wood (whose career trajectory took him from the 1970 crime docu-drama The Honeymoon Killers to the long-running TV policier Miami Vice) with an almost fetishistic appreciation for neon, Alphabet City is a descent into the maelstrom at its most electric and candied, as well as being an all-in-one-night thriller in tune with George Lucas' American Graffiti (1973), Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985), and Steve De Jarnatt's Miracle Mile (1988). On closer inspection, Alphabet City's closer kin may be Jules Dassin's Night and the City (1950), putting as it does an alpha male (drug dealer Vincent Spano) on the defensive and on the run. Poe's ensemble cast includes Kate Vernon (daughter of veteran character actor John Vernon), Jami Gertz (on the cusp of transitioning to star status with The Lost Boys [1987] and Less Than Zero [1987]), and Zohra Lampert, whose bid as Spano's mother is the emotive flipside of her edgy performance in the cult chiller Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971).

By Richard Harland Smith



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