02 February 2011

Subway Stories

Subway Stories is a wonderful collection of short films based on stories submitted by real New Yorkers. Suffice to say the subway offers a prime public forum for discovering all the variations of human behavior, so a film featuring many vignettes about this amazing system, would have to try hard to do a poor job. Luckily for us, this film is a wonderful gem!

I've written on it for a paper in the past, and hope to deepen my discussion in the future. But even after writing on it many times, I never fail to wish I could easily access the information for this movie. IMDB doesn't have the directors separated out according to each of their respective shorts, and there is no summary provided for each short film either. So I have watched the film again and carefully recorded all the information I wish was available.


Subway Stories - structured similarly to films such as Paris, Je T'aime and New York, I Love You - is divided according to director into short films, each with their own title, but strung almost seamlessly together.

"Subway Car From Hell"
Directed by Jonathan Demme, written by Adam Brooks
Acting as bookend narratives which open and close the film, and starring Bill Irwin, this short film follows the attempts of a didgeridoo player to grab a bite to eat and navigate the subway system during a particularly crowded time of the day. Interactions with other people are framed through the actors talking directly into the camera. The second, end clip finds him adjacent to the 42nd Street Shuttle; ironically marking the film's end at the juncture of dozens of trains and subways.

"The Red Shoes"
Directed by Craig McKay, written by John Guare
Starring Christine Lahti, Denis Leary, and N'Bushe Wright, this segment portrays an altercation between an angry wheelchair bound homeless man, and the business woman who he manages to enrage by repeatedly running over her feet with his chair. As another woman becomes involved, things take an unexpected turn into moral quandary, and it becomes clear that the subway-car-bound court of public opinion can as easily convict as free you.

"The 5:24"
Directed by Bob Balaban, written by Lynn Grossman
Starring Steve Zahn and Jerry Stiller, this short follows the conversations between a wary young financial analyst and a seemingly brilliant, wise, older, and allegedly retired analyst who claims working in an office, though lucrative, would take the fun out his predictive abilities. When the older man proposes and investment that appears too good to be true, will the young analyst set aside his fears and gamble his savings on the older man's lucrative proposal?

"Fern's Heart of Darkness"
Directed by Patricia Benoit, written by Angela Todd
Starring Bonnie Hunt as the titular Fern, and with a non-speaking appearance by Mekhi Phifer, this short follows the conservatively dressed Fern, a visitor to the city who is attempting to take the subway, rather than a cab, to a friend's home. Falling victim not to crime, but to her own fears and assumptions about big city people, whether or not they appear different from herself, Fern refuses to ask for or accept help from anyone, and finds herself lost and locked underground overnight.

"The Listeners"
Directed by Seth Rosenfeld, written by Ken Kelsch
Starring Michael Rapaport and Lili Taylor, this short examines the age-old problem of communication in relationships when Belinda accuses her boyfriend of not listening to her. Her angry shift of location to another car, and brief conversation about politics with a suited older man who seems at first to just be friendly, reveals that in the city, listening, hearing, and understanding are far more complicated, communal activities than one might have thought.

Directed by Lucas Platt, written by Albert Innaurato
Starring Mercedes Ruehl as a sensual older woman with unusual appetites, this short asks and answers the question: what does a young man dumped by his girlfriend and beat up by her ex-boyfriend and his friends need to soothe his bruised face and ego?

Directed by Alison Maclean, written by Danny Hoch
Nicole Ari Parker and Sarita Choudhury star in this short as Sharon and Humera, attractive law students heading home after a late night out. Tired and boarding the train alone, although it is far from empty, Humera is groped by two immature, offensive young men. However, the end of this short reminds you that, in a city like New York, appearing to be an easy target does not make one an easy target, and you would be well advised to avoid bothering or abusing anyone.

"Sax Cantor Riff"
Written and directed by Julie Dash
Starring Taral Hicks, and with a brief appearance by Sam Rockwell, this short celebrates the unexpected musical gifts which the subway can give. In overlapping duets between a saxophone player, accompanying first a gospel singer, and then a Jewish singer, one finds the subway to be an underground Carnegie Hall - whether the music is born of the grief wrought by experiencing the death of a parent over a public telephone, or produced by the heart-rending lament of a Hasidic man's unexpected emotional outpouring.

"Love on the A Train"
Directed by Abel Ferrara, written by Marla Hanson
Starring Rosie Perez and Gretchen Mol, this humorous short follows a newly married man who develops an utterly silent, distracting, sensual relationship with an attractive woman on the subway. Although they never speak, they spend their morning commute lightly rubbing against each other, while appearing to only lean against a pole. Will his marriage survive this odd, but addictive morning infidelity? Will he and the woman ever speak?

"Manhattan Miracle"
Directed by Ted Demme, written by Joe Viola
Gregory Hines, world renowned dancer, stars here as a compelling and expressive observer who cannot ignore a woman in trouble on the other platform. With a soundtrack of Vivaldi's Concerto for Cello in D Minor providing atmosphere, he watches with growing concern and fear as a distressed pregnant woman across from him decides whether to commit suicide by jumping onto the tracks. His act of skipping a train to try and gain the woman's attention and keep her from jumping, reveals in part why this short is a worthy capstone to this finely rendered collection.

This information will also be posted at Wikipedia under the pre-existing Wikipedia Subway Stories listing, but until I have a second to enter the symbols so the code works, here it is now!


  1. You should check out the 'Tube Tales', the later London-based anthology film inspired by 'Subway Stories'.

  2. Although, I last saw "Love on the A train" some time ago I don't recall anything humorous about it. Perhaps, I only remember what I chose. However, I agree on the sensuality aspect. I have not forgotten the short.


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