In a world where the superstars or actors pull-in the crowd, how many directors manage to do the same? How many directors command a bigger pedestal than the cast of the movie? Not many, I guess.
During the Academy awards, one name was invoked more often than anybody else’s name. Martin Scorsese. After giving us 22 movies, 13 documentaries, many commercials and just 1 Oscar, the 70 year old Marty, as he is fondly called, gave us HUGO.
Whether it is gritty and violent like MEAN STREETS, TAXI DRIVER or poignantly romantic like ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, or satirical like THE KING OF COMEDY, AFTER HOURS or just plain stylish like AVIATOR, GOODFELLAS, Marty‘s uniquely versatile vision has made him one of cinema’s most acclaimed directors.
As a young kid, bought up in the little Italy section of Manhattan, he decided to “Make movies about what really happens”. In hindsight, you will know that Marty does not only make movies, but also is a great movie fan with an insatiable appetite to watch, discuss and enjoy cinema. His inspiration for making movies came from his own childhood which was spent in the Bronx. By his own admission, he said that the biggest research he did for making Mean Streets, his first major release, was his life. He would watch people in the gritty neighborhood go about their life and business and just poured his experiences in the movies that have made him the man he is today.
40 years after he made his first major Hollywood movie, his balance sheet looks balanced. He is one of the few directors today who have received both critical and box office acclaim. Of course, like anybody, he did go through a lean patch in the late 70s and early 80s when none of the studios supported him after box office disasters like New York, New York and The King of Comedy. His professional life dipped further when studios did not accept The Last Temptation of Christ, as it was deemed too radical. All the while, he lived in Los Angeles, learning the mechanics of how large cities function. It was this knowledge that he put to use, to bounce back. He moved back to New York to set his professional career on track.
The second part of his career is the part where-in he came into his own. He belted out movies like The Last Temptation of Christ (he made Universal studios to produce the movie), Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Casino and Kundan before ending the millennium on a high. Post 2000, having juiced DeNiro with some fine performances his association with Leonardo Dicaprio began. The noughties saw Scorsese shed his Mafia fixation and dabble into big budget set piece movies. Scorsese and Dicaprio would collaborate to give us movies like Gangs of New York (a script that he had been wanting to make for 20 years, with DeNiro in the lead), Aviator, Departed (the movie that won him the most coveted Oscar, finally), and finally Shutter Island.
While all of us love the overall feel of his films, he should be credited for all the factors and innovations that he bought to cinema.
Known as the “king of tracking shot”, he is known for his lengthy takes. Most of his movies start and end with 2-3 minute scenes, which is a mean feet. Other contributions like bringing the “New York vernacular” talk in movies like Mean Street, Goodfellas, color treatment in movies like Aviator, Gangs of New York, and now re-interpretation of how 3D can bolster a film’s beauty without intruding on the story only add to his folklore.
Having been fed on movies by Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Sidney Lumet, he was adamant about learning from them and developing his own unique style of film making. He was mainly influenced by these greats, because, they did not bend down in front of the Hollywood studio system and got their creative vision on screen.
When not giving in to the big studios or simply battling it out with them, he vented out his creative genius into making documentaries , music videos (the Rolling Stones concert and Micheal Jackson shows were legendary) and restoration of old-movies.
His style of movie-making combined a rough and gritty attention to the everyday life of the urban jungle with a monumental visual sensibility. In one of his most acclaimed films, Taxi Driver 91976), he focused on the particulars of an individual and his obsessions. Starring Robert DeNiro (with whom Scorsese has had one of the most celebrated collaborative relationships in American cinema), Taxi Driver elevates the obscure specifics of a disturbed life with greatest drama.
Through movies like Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, Departed, he has shown us the engaging world and power structure of Mafia. He bought together, style and theoretical content with great flair. Scorsese often focused on a theme that has permeated nearly everyone of his movies – the plight of the desperate and out-of-control individual. Often unsympathetic, his characters display a crazed violence that mimics the repressive social structures in which they live. Almost all his movies are engaging and social commentaries.
Martin Scorsese is the most important living American filmmaker – one whose relentless search for the furthest emotional reaches of his genre have led him to the center of the American ( and global) psyche.
In an era where careers are measured in months rather than years, Marty has served us for close to 45 years. In Hollywood, that is no lesser than a battlefield, he has battled it out with studios, stars and himself.
But all this has not resulted in a burn-out. At the age of 68, he set out to make a 3D movie. For a man who has always believed in old-school film making, and who has never tasted massive box office success (his most successful film was Shutter Island, that grossed $ 300 million worldwide), he adapted to the rigors of a new technique of film making. He has achieved three things that very, very few filmmakers achieve in life – (1) Enough money to make movies and documentaries that interest him, (2) enough freedom to make the movies in the way he wants to make them, (3) Enough acclaim and appreciation (not in the way of awards , though) from his peers and fans.
His lack of recognition from the Academy awards actually adds to rather than detracts from his reputation: after all, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Cubrick were also all denied Oscars.
Just like a 3 minute show reel of a lifetime’s work cannot do justice to a man or his body of work, this is just a sincerely written piece of tribute to a man who has worked his lifetime to entertain us. I raise a toast to Marty, the movie fan, who also makes movies.