Movie critic, Roger Ebert, has called him a “directing god”. He has been called the “most influential and best director of their time” by fellow director, George Lucas. Director Martin Scorsese has been an influential director for the past twenty years. In the 60’s class of directors that included, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Brian De Palma, and Steven Spielberg. Scorsese ranks with this class of artists, and his movies have changed the film industry of America (Friedman I). The impact of Scorsese can be shown in a number of ways, such as his style of directing, the films that he has made, and also the relationships that he has made in the film industry.
The first is his directorial skills, which are second to none. Scorsese doesn’t just set up the scene, he paints images and feelings into our minds by using camera shots that have become his trademark in the film institution. Another reason for his great success is the films that he directs and the actors he uses. He also has picked certain actors (notable Robert DeNiro) to portray his characters (Kelly 25). In the ruthless business of Hollywood, Scorsese has built loyalties to actor, screen writes and editors whom he uses in many of his films (Kelly 26).
Martin Scorsese was born on November 17, 1942 in the East Side of Queens, New York, in an area called “Little Italy.” Little Italy consisted of about ten blocks, but as Scorsese talks about it, each block had there own “boundaries” where everyone stayed. He grew up on Elizabeth Street, and he spent much of his time in the movie theater (Scorsese 17). As he was growing up, he had strong Catholic roots in his Italian heritage that would later influence such films as Mean Streets, Goodfellas, etc (Scorsese 18).
Growing up, Scorsese was not thinking of becoming a director, but rather a priest. In fact, he went to college to become a priest. He ended up dropping out his first semester, and then attending New York University film school. At NYU, he made several student films that received praise from the school. One short film called Who’s That Knocking at My Door starred a young Harvey Keitel. Scorsese financed and made this film entirely by himself. He went on to making documentaries, and then was hired by producer Roger Corman and directed a low budget film, Boxcar Bertha. This opened the door to Hollywood productions (Friedman 31).
In 1973, he made his first New York set film, Mean Streets which was a powerful portrayal of life in “Little Italy.” This film showed the talent he possessed as well as started a relationship with actor Robert DeNiro who would star in eight more Scorsese films (Friedman 47).
Scorsese’s next film was Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore in 1975 which was a big popular success. The following year, he made one of his best films, Taxi Driver, a disturbing story of a loner cab driver who goes on a mission to clean up the streets. The film received worldwide recognition, and Scorsese moved into a place as an elite director (Friedman 59).
Scorsese moved on and made the musical New York, New York that was a tribute to the 40’s and 50’s musicals that Scorsese grew up enjoying. Scorsese’s next work was a documentary The Last Waltz in 1978 that is considered to be the best concert movie ever made (Friedman 63).
After changing pace, Scorsese returned to his roots, and directed one of his greatest works, Raging Bull. Which is a story of boxier Jake LaMotta portrayed by Robert DeNiro. Scorsese received a nomination for best director, and DeNiro playing the part of a lifetime won the Oscar for best actor. DeNiro gained sixty pounds to fit LaMotta in his older days. The film today still ranks as one of the best ever. It is ranks in the top twenty-five films on the American Film Institution’s list of the one hundred best movies of all time (Kellman 108).
Scorsese then moved on to comedies with The King Of Comedy, and After Hours. These films didn’t do as well nationally. He moved back into drama films with The Color of Money, and moved back into the limelight as a Hollywood director (Friedman 72).
In 1988, Martin Scorsese released his most controversial film in The Last Temptation of Christ. In the film, it depicted Jesus as an ordinary human with conflicting desires. Churches called the film sacrilegious and protested the film. In fact the film is still controversial. Many Blockbuster Video stores do not carry the film because customers complain about it its contents (Friedman 80).
Martin Scorsese moved back to gangster film in 1990 with the film Goodfellas. This film depicts the violence in the Mafia told by ex mobster, Henry Hill, who turned informant. “Goodfellas is the greatest portrayal of the Mafia ever recorded on film,” said FBI agent Tony Goldberg about the film. The film received worldwide attention, and recovered Oscar awards for best actor, Robert DeNiro, and best screenplay (Friedman 92).
In the 90’s, Martin Scorsese would remake Cape Fear and also Casino. Both films once again starred Scorsese’s favorite actor, Robert DeNiro. Both had commercial success. Scorsese also directed Age Of Innocents and Kundun, which was noted, for their beautiful scenery (Friedman 105).
Aside from the films that Martin Scorsese has made, what makes Scorsese an elite director is how shoots the movie. In his works, Scorsese is not mearly making movies. He is creating a scenario. He is painting a picture. He is bringing the viewer smack dab in the middle of a new world. As a director, he has no equal (Lourdeaux 217).
Certainly, credit must be given to the list of brilliant editors and cinematographers he has collaborated with over the years. But, the direction of his films is astounding. His ability to use the camera to convey certain feelings and emotions with subtlety and intensity is perfect. Scorsese accomplishes this so brilliantly that it often becomes a “matter-of-fact” in his productions. His use of creative imagery gives his film a realistic and personal feeling, which is unsurpassed. It is as though every scene is shot at just the right angle, from just the right distance, at the perfect speed, and that the audience gets the most realistic feeling for the atmosphere of every particular scene. One specific way that Scorsese builds emotions is though his classical slow shots. In films such as Mean Street, Goodfellas, and Casino, he uses this shot, and he moves into the scene that gives a sense of calmness. Even though the images are disturbing, the way in which they are shown does not make them as disturbing (Lourdeaux 241)
The other characteristic of Scorsese’s films which stands out is his use of the voice-over narrative. Although many would argue that this often becomes annoying and elementary, one can not overlook the genius necessary to carry such films as GoodFellas and Casino using this format. This puts an additional strain on the screenplay writing, as well as on the direction itself. Scorsese’s use of the voice-over enables him to add an additional and crucial element to his characters. It lets the audience enter the characters psyche and discover what he is really thinking, rather than just seeing what he sees and hearing what he says (Lourdeaux 245).
Another way in which Scorsese distinguishes himself is by the reoccurring themes in his films. I most of the films there is some bad that is going on, such as killing or drug deals. In the films Scorsese builds up incredible tension, and often ends his films on a sad note. Such as in Meanstreets the character Robert DeNiro plays gets shot and dies. In Casino everyone gets killed and his wife leaves him. In Goodfellas Henry Hill has to go into the witness protection program (Scorsese 43).
Martin Scorsese has always done something different to distinguish himself from other directors. An example can be seen in Raging Bull. When it first came out, another boxing film, Rocky was coming out. So, to distinguish it from that film, Scorsese directed the film in black and white (Kellman 251). Another way, in which Scorsese sets himself apart, is through his use of music. The music that he uses in the scene depicts the mood as well as the setting of the film. In Goodfellas and Casino they he plays 60’s Italian music to make the scenes actually seam more like it is really that time (Kelly 104).
In conclusion, Scrosese has become one of the greatest and noted directors in film history. Recently, he received a “Life Time” achievement award by the American Film Institution (AFI) for his influence on film. This summer, Scorsese will work in Rome, Italy on his new film, Gangs.