Bite Size: New York After Midnight (1978)

Monique (Florence Giorgetti, Le Grande Bouffe), on the surface, has it all figured out. She’s got an interesting job publishing art books, a New York apartment that isn’t a closet, an impeccably chic bob and a collection of fabulous coats. Outside of the office, all of her self-possession seems to vanish.

She’s nervous and edgy, chain smoking and casting sideways glances at the shadows lurking across every corner. Her day to day interactions certainly don’t help. In the subway station, there’s man who aggressively cajoles her into a drink, but violently tosses the glasses when she refuses to sleep with him. When she opts to walk home instead, she accidentally gets stuck in the middle of a married couple’s sidewalk shouting match.

It’s no wonder she spends most of her time at her therapist’s office, complaining of terrible nightmares and missing memories centered around her mother’s death, triggered by everything from loud noises to flashing lights. At age 35, she’d like nothing more than marriage and a baby, someone to smooth over her jagged edges into something resembling “normal”. Yet, none of the men she meets seem interested in anything terribly serious, more concerned with her connections in the art world than anything she has to offer as a person.

This changes when she meets self styled “erotic artist” Richard Lewis (John Ferris). Monique finds something worth publishing in his oddly intense papercuts of endlessly staring babies, and something every more revelatory in the man himself. Richard is much younger, handsome, and impossibly courtly. He’s never demanding of her time or her body. Soon they’re talking all night long and sharing home cooked meals whenever she can steal some time away.

Monique confides in him about her demanding diplomat father and his control of her via her trust fund. Unused to having someone to confide in, she’s near instantly smitten. Their whirlwind courtship becomes an impulsive marriage, the newlyweds honeymooning at Monique’s vacation house on Long Island. Their happiness is short lived, and soon Richard is spending his nights elsewhere to avoid Monique’s single minded fixation with becoming a parent. When her snooping reveals Richard has been living a double life, her already fragile psyche finally snaps.

New York After Midnight — alternate titles Monique and Flashing Lights — was directed by French arthouse pornographer Jacques Scandelari (Beyond Love and Evil, New York City Inferno) during his brief residency in New York City. However, the bulk of the cast and crew were sourced through Scandelari’s connections in pornography and the Parisian film industry rather than the New York establishment.

Leading lady Florence Giorgetti was a respected feature film actress, who had had a degree of international success in arthouse leaning fare. Cinematographer François About helmed multiple gay hardcore features, and music supervisor Jacques Morali is likely best remembered as the creator of the Village People. Golden Age adult film superstar Wade Nichols makes a cameo to perform his disco single “Like An Eagle”, credited as his mainstream alter ego, Dennis Harper.

The basic beats of the potboiler plot are obvious early on, given the opening “based on a true story” text crawl, the script’s tendency toward a heavy foreshadowing, and bouts of often clunky dialog. The revelation that Richard’s secret lover is male isn’t a shock to anyone aside from Monique herself, so lost in her own buried trauma that she misses the glaringly obvious. While John Ferris isn’t much of an actor, he is impossibly handsome in the Tom Of Finland mode, and is believable as a bisexual seducer with a hustler’s keen eye for how to use his physical attractiveness to his personal and professional advantage.

What keeps New York After Midnight compelling in spite of its measured pacing and liminal genre status is an assured handle on style and mood. Jacques Scandelari does a great job contrasting the vivid flashes that trigger Monique’s violent fugue states with the dingy murk of late night streets and inoffensive offices that fill her day to day life. It’s disassociation set to a pulsing disco beat, full of sharp shadows and dizzy angles both chasm dark and impossibly bright. Richard’s infidelities become a hankerchief gagged grope on a dance floor, her hallucinations making her emotional injury literal.

New York After Midnight is a tour of a specific time and place, a guided tour to the grime and the glitter of a slice of New York nightlife. Everyone in the film is full of frustrated ambitions and past traumas, from Monique’s unresolved issues with her mother’s death to Richard’s own ambiguity toward his queer desires. Monique the careerist covets motherhood, but her friends that choose families envy her professional endeavors. Richard’s tangle of both male and female exes envy his ability to glide on his beauty to make the divisions of class and artistic success more porous.

It makes perfect sense that all of these simmering resentments come to a violent head on the dance floor. The film is set in the last days of disco, the heady hedonism at a Saturday night fever pitch of decadent debauchery. In the world of New York After Midnight, there’s a precariously narrow divide between those who lose themselves in the music and those who are just lost, oddly transfixing in its depiction of a pair of protagonists about to make that fall.

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