MARTIN SCORSESEThe Gangster Priest
By John V. Brennan
"Martin Scorsese makes pictures about the
people you wouldn't
want to know."
-- Variety review of Raging Bull
The fall of the Production
Code and the
arrival of the 1970s ushered in a slew of young, talented visionaries,
Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. Spielberg emerged
McCartney of the group (in the best sense), keeping audiences happy
perfectly-made gems of entertainment like Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T. and the
trilogy. Coppola made three classics in a row in The Godfather, The Conversation
and The Godfather Part
II, and followed
it with one of the greatest overblown flawed masterpieces of all time, Apocalypse Now.
impressive competition, and more, including Woody Allen and Robert
whom most still consider to be the best director of his generation.
This despite Variety's
quite correct assessment that that
Scorsese movies often feature protagonists whom, in real life, you
would do your best to avoid. Despite
also, it should be said, Scorsese having more than his share of box
office disappointments, including some which have gone on to become his
most revered films. You know all those friends of yours who
quote reams of dialogue from THE KING OF COMEDY? Well, when
was released in 1983, it died at the box office. Scorsese's
reputation really rests on a few films,
especially TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL, which are so outstanding, that
despite their unsavory characters and
unpleasant subject matter, they automatically propel Scorsese into
the top ranks of Greatest Directors of All Time.
Yet there is so much
more to Scorsese than
TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, or the popular GOODFELLAS.
Scorsese has directed lavish period pieces such as
AGE OF INNOCENCE, KUNDUN and GANGS OF NEW YORK. He's had
mainstream hits with ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANY MORE, THE COLOR OF
MONEY and the remake of CAPE FEAR. He's helmed comedies such
as THE KING OF COMEDY and
AFTER HOURS. He's dabbled in musical productions,
not only with the fictional NEW YORK NEW YORK but also with two
outstanding documentaries THE LAST
WALTZ and NO DIRECTION HOME. Want a religious epic
Scorsese-style? Check out THE LAST
TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. A Biography? THE
haven't even mentioned MEAN STREETS, which, some would argue, is his
greatest film, or CASINO, which may be his most aurally and visually
Scorsese is a walking film encyclopedia who is just as likely to be influenced by a Hope and Crosby routine as a classic shot or scene from Bergman or Hitchcock. His style is as eclectic as the films he has made. Nevertheless, when you think of Scorsese, several obvious things come to mind. Staccato dialogue, often improvised, that more often than not reveal a complete lack of communication between characters. Masterful traveling shots, such as in GOODFELLAS when Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco enter the nightclub from the back door and travel through hallways and kitchens right up to the floor show. Rock classics such as underscoring scenes to perfection (who can forget the use of the piano section from Eric Clapton's "Layla" in the scene in GOODFELLAS where mob bodies keep popping up in the strangest places?). Seemingly calm situations often exploding into violence and murder. Characters stuck between their religious upbringings and the amoral nature of their livelihoods.
But most of all, you
think of Robert De
Niro. As John Wayne was to John Ford and Toshiro Mifune was
Akira Kurosawa, Robert De Niro was the ideal actor to bring Scorsese's
characters to life. They came from the same New York
neighborhood, and, as luck would have it, they
both grew up committed to the craft of making movies, albeit from
different sides of the camera. As often as Scorsese is called
greatest director of his time, De Niro is called the greatest
actor. Together, they brought out the best in each other in
like MEAN STREETS, TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, THE KING OF COMEDY,
GOODFELLAS and CASINO.
Scorsese rose to fame in the the 1970s, when directors ruled Hollywood. He rode out the 1980's with an impressive series of of hits and misses, and now, in the new studio era, when producers and corporations consider a good movie to be one that makes money, Scorsese is still making the films he wants to make. He is a survivor.
Copyright © John V. Brennan, 2007. All Rights Reserved.