Slaves of New York

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Slaves of New York
File:Slaves of new york.jpg
Poster for Slaves of New York
Directed by James Ivory
Produced by Ismail Merchant
Gary Hendler
Fred Hughes (associate)
Vincent Fremont (associate)
Written by Tama Janowitz based on her stories
Music by Richard Robbins (score)
Boy George (theme song: Girlfriend)
Michael Butler & Johann Carlo
Neneh Cherry
Les Rita Mitsouko
Joe Leeway
Ambitious Lovers
Inner City
Iggy Pop
Maxi Priest
Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts
Edited by Katherine Wenning
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • March 19, 1989 (1989-03-19)
Running time
124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $463,972

Slaves of New York is a 1989 comedy-drama Merchant Ivory Productions film. It was directed by James Ivory, produced by Ismail Merchant, and starred Bernadette Peters, Adam Coleman Howard, Chris Sarandon, Mary Beth Hurt, Mercedes Ruehl, Madeleine Potter, and Steve Buscemi.

Based on the stories Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz, the film follows the lives of struggling artists in New York City during the mid-1980s.


The story follows Eleanor, an aspiring hat designer, and a group of artists and models in the "downtown" New York City art world. Eleanor lives with her younger boyfriend Stash, an unknown artist, who is unfaithful and treats Eleanor with careless indifference. Eleanor expresses her feelings for Stash when she tells him that she was once attracted to him because he was dangerous. She stays with him despite the crumbling relationship because she has nowhere else to live—she is, in effect, a "slave."

When a clothing designer, Wilfredo (Steve Buscemi), discovers her hat designs and offers to use them in a fashion show, Eleanor gains the self-respect—and money—to leave Stash. There is an elaborate fashion show sequence.

While buying food for a celebratory party, she meets Jan and invites him to the party. After the party, Eleanor and her new friend talk, and then ride off into the morning sunrise.


Tama Janowitz had written a script for Andy Warhol, based on the Eleanor and Stash stories in her 1986 collection of short stories, Slaves of New York. When Warhol died, Merchant-Ivory bought that script.[1] The real graffiti artist from New York City named STASH, who is a friend of Janowitz, was the influence for the name of her lead character and can be seen as an extra in many of the party scenes.

The fashion show in the movie had costumes by designer Stephen Sprouse.[2]

In discussing casting the role of Eleanor, James Ivory commented: "...but out of 100 girls, there was not a single one with Miss Peters's originality. We wanted someone unusual and different but also ingenuous and not too knowing."[2]

Slaves of New York was shot on location in New York City, in the Lower East Side, a downtown gallery and a club. Shooting started on April 4, 1988, with a 10-week shooting schedule. There was a "modest" budget—$5 million—that meant there were no lengthy rehearsals. There was one read-through before shooting began.[1]

There are several cameos in this film: for example, Producer Ismail Merchant, lyricist Betty Comden and Adam Green, son of her writing partner, Adolph Green, and Tony-Award winning actress Tammy Grimes appear in party scenes.





Slaves of New York received mostly unfavorable reviews at the time of its release. Janet Maslin wrote that the film "...simply drifts from situation to situation" and is "never terribly involving".[3] Roger Ebert, who gave the movie a half-star rating, opened his review with the statement "I detest Slaves of New York so much that I distrust my own opinion."[4]

Domestic gross was $463,972, according to boxofficemojo.[5]

Slaves of New York became a cult classic amongst the gay communities in the United States. It is notorious for a scene that features a very convincing drag act performing "Love Is Like an Itching In My Heart" by The Supremes while making their way down a street in full evening gowns.

Music List

Performed on screen

Soundtrack Album Selections

Additional Music



  1. 1.0 1.1 James, Caryn."In a Change-of-Pace Production, Merchant and Ivory Film on Mott St."New York Times, April 5, 1988
  2. 2.0 2.1 Abeel, Erica."Merchant and Ivory Traffic in 'Slaves of New York'"New York Times, March 12, 1989
  3. Maslin, Janet."James Ivory's Version Of Janowitz's 'Slaves'"New York Times, March 17, 1989.
  4. Ebert, Roger."Review, 'Slaves of New York'"Sun Times, March 24, 1989
  5. Boxofficemojo ""Slaves on New York' domestic gross Retrieved March 20, 2010.

External links