A few months back, the Aero Theater had a Rosanna Arquette double bill. I, Desperately Seeking Susan fanatic that I am, absolutely had to attend. But, to my distemper, they were showing After Hours first. Instead of enduring the first film of this brief Arquette retrospective like a good little ducky, I fucked about on the deserted sidewalks of Montana Avenue (why the fuck does Peet's have to close at an hour that an even an octogenarian would consider early?). Out of ways to pass the time before DSS started, I finally went into the theater to see the last twenty minutes of After Hours. That's all it took to fascinate and addict me.
I could barely concentrate through the Q&A with Rosanna Arquette (who was wearing a Love Saves the Day worthy leopard coat) or through my beloved Desperately Seeking Susan. All I could think about was the necessity of renting After Hours. When I did, mere hours later, I think my obsession augmented tenfold and left me to wonder: Why is this Scorsese film so rarely acknowledged? It seems to be known only as the art project that helped him pass the time while he waited for financing to come through for The Last Temptation of Christ. It is also a film that, while portraying New York in its usual Scorsese-like, gritty fashion, is too campy in comparison to the rest of his work. Which is probably why Tim Burton (and don't even get me started on how much I can't stand that he is the go-to director for camp) was originally slated to helm the directorial role. When Burton learned of Scorsese's interest in the project, however, he modestly stepped down.
The source material for After Hours was grafted from radio personality Joe Frank's "Lies" (the excerpt of which can be heard on panopticist.com). Screenwriter Joseph Minion extracts practically everything from this radio segment, including the bagel and cream cheese paperweights, Marcy's weird confession about being raped for six hours by an old boyfriend, and her admission that she is married and writes her husband everyday. Luckily, the legal system was there to help Joe Frank receive a tidy settlement in exchange for remaining mum about the whole "let me steal your idea without giving you even the slightest bit of credit" thing.
Apart from being considered an overblown homage to the visual paranoia elicited by the films of Alfred Hitchcock, After Hours is not just under appreciated for its place in Scorsese's body of work, but for the artful and insidious implications of 80s life, centered in the oh so chic Soho area of New York, while still denotive of the collective American work force and lifestyle at that time. For one, Paul is a word processor who has to bear the excruciating tedium of his job and help train others in the process, as in the beginning scene when he is explaining something to his trainee and then has to pretend to listen to said trainee tell him that this isn't what he really wants to do and that someday he'll start a magazine for writers with a kitschy sensibility. The monotony of Paul's life is elucidated with pitch perfect clarity when he is so bored with watching TV (using a bitchin' channel changer, I might add) that he resorts to going to a coffee shop to read Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, leading to his demented romance with Marcy, a pursuit that, by the end of the night, prompts him to scream at the universe: "What do you want from me? What have I done? I'm just a word processor for Chrissakes!"
For me, the appeal of After Hours is in its guileful thematic meaning, not its dramatic illustration of downtown New York and the madness that goes with it. What After Hours reveals is something altogether different. It is hard to imagine now, but most people were not grateful to have a job in 1985. The prosperity of the country at the time left the job market rife with opportunities, keeping the sentiment of gratefulness out of the picture and catapulting the desire to just let loose to the forefront, synopsized in Paul's single line: "I just wanted to leave my apartment, maybe meet a nice girl and now I've gotta die for it!?"