Gangs of New York (2002) Dir. Martin Scorsese Rotten Tomatoes: 75% IMDb: In 1863, Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father’s killer.
I don’t think I ever expected anything like an Oscar ever, to tell you the truth. That is not my motivation when I do these roles. I really am motivated by being able to work with great people and create a body of work that I can look back and be proud of.
Tim Monich, the dialect coach for Gangs Of New York, managed to do the impossible by researching dead dialects – that is, ways of speaking that no living person had ever heard with their own ears – and teaching it to modern actors. “But how do you research a dead dialect?” Easily! Well, no, not easily at all – with incredible difficulty, in fact: Monich studied old poems and newspaper articles that were mocking the dialects to try and deduce the way people of the era spoke. Then he forced Liam Neeson and Leonardo DiCaprio to talk that way.
At one point, Neeson’s character called a bunch of his enemies “nancy boys,” only for Monich to clarify that the correct term for the era and location was “Miss Nancies.” Which was a huge relief for all the 19th-century New York hooligans in the audience, who totally would’ve noticed that sort of thing.
That set points to something else pretty cool about the film’s development. Those buildings you see in the background? They haven’t existed in over a hundred years, so Scorsese had most of 1860s New York rebuilt from scratch in Rome, because “had most of 1860s New York rebuilt from scratch in Rome” is the kind of predicate you can be the subject of when your name is Martin Scorsese. I’m allowed to make those kinds of stupid grammar jokes when my entry is about dialects, okay?
I’m forty-seven. Forty-seven years old. You know how I stayed alive this long? All these years? Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals from me, I cut off his hands. He offends me, I cut out his tongue. He rises against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike, raise it high up so all on the streets can see. That’s what preserves the order of things. Fear.