Scorsese, Martin (Vol. 20)
Martin Scorsese 1942–
American director, screenwriter, and actor.
Scorsese's work is considered among the most impressive of the young filmmakers who emerged in the seventies. His bleak, unrelenting vision of life, death, and the struggle for redemption has gained for him a large following. Scorsese's films are personal pieces through which the audience sees the importance on the filmmaker of his Catholic upbringing and his young life in the "Little Italy" area of Manhattan.
At one time, Scorsese considered preparing for the priesthood. Instead, he enrolled at New York University and began making short films. Among these films is The Big Shave, which attracted the attention of a sponsor in Europe. Scorsese then directed commercials for English television, and in 1969 returned to the United States to work as an editor on Woodstock. During this period Scorsese also completed his first feature, Who's That Knocking at My Door?, which contains many elements found in his recent work, including Catholic iconography, conflicts between male protagonists, and the determined, self-destructive young hero.
Scorsese's first critical success was Mean Streets, which sets the tone for much of his future work. Perhaps Scorsese's most personal endeavor, the film is full of manic energy, conflict, tension, and street life, and the sympathetic, misguided characters seek redemption in a world in which they are already doomed. These same themes are handled with even less optimism in Taxi Driver, Scorsese's most highly regarded film. Taxi Driver advances the notion that purgation is possible only through death, and the violence of the street-wise hero, Travis Bickle, is felt to be among the most obsessional and disturbing depictions ever put on film.
Scorsese has complemented his true-to-life fiction by filming documentaries. Italianamerican is a thoughtful, loving portrait of Scorsese's parents, who discuss how they have been influenced by their Italian immigrant parents. Similarly, in The Last Waltz, Scorsese intercuts footage of The Band's last concert with interviews concerning the group's sixteen years on the road. In both of these films, while Scorsese recreates a time that seems more innocent, more romantic, he dulls the mythical gloss and shows the difficulties encountered by each group of people.
New York, New York is an attempt to recreate the musicals of the 1940s. It is soft, romantic, and encompasses a vast stage. In comparison, Raging Bull is a biography of boxer Jake La Motta which portrays the violent world of boxing as being indistinct from La Motta's view of society. Raging Bull is hard and constricted, and the camerawork is similar to that in Mean Streets—jarring and bouncy, with the camera seemingly becoming one of the fighters in the ring. The violence, language, and La Motta's attempts to redeem himself also echo Scorsese's earlier work. Although some critics have complained that Scorsese has dealt with these themes too often in his films, most agree that the unexorcised demon within Scorsese has allowed him to create films which are engrossing and meaningful to filmmaker and audience alike.
J. R., the troubled hero of Martin Scorsese's first feature film, "Who's That Knocking at My Door?", is the sort of young man who, in a total confusion of values, can one minute offer to "forgive" the girl he loves for having been forcibly raped, and the next minute accuse her of being a whore. Puritan Roman Catholicism, the kind that bedeviled Stephen Dedalus and Studs Lonigan, is alive and ill and in the movies….
[Scorsese] has composed a fluid, technically proficient movie, more intense and sincere than most commercial releases.
It is apparent that the Italian-American milieu is a first-hand experience, but the vision Scorsese has made from it is detailed in the kind of self-limiting drama and dialogue that Paddy Cheyefsky abandoned some time ago, and in images that look very much like film school poetry…. I must say that I like Scorsese's enthusiasm even while wincing at some of the results…. (p. 71)
Scorsese is effective in isolating the moments of "Marty"-like boredom that J. R. accepts as concomitants to life…. However, the director … hasn't succeeded in making a drama that is really much more aware than the characters themselves. The result is a movie that is as precise—and as small—as a contact print. (pp. 71-2)
Vincent Canby, "Scorsese's 'Who's That Knocking at My Door'," in The New York Times (© 1969 by The New York Times...
(The entire section is 254 words.)
[Who's That Knocking at My Door? explores] the hermetic environments of working-class post-immigrant American society…. Knocking's Italian-America [is a social structure] in which the isolation of imported nationalism and Roman Catholicism collides with dreary urban or industrial town living to produce characters somewhat dislocated in time and place. [The film doesn't seem] quite up to date…. A world where guys still wear white shirts and grey suits to a party … becomes a world stable enough so that plot premises like … Knocking's Italo-Catholic obsessions with virgin brides become acceptable because no alternative forms of behavior are even suggested. If the results are somewhat synthetic and theatrical, they also have an admirable austerity and containment lacking in the wilder, so-called swinging movies so currently prevalent.
Synthetic and theatrical, too, are much of the [picture's] acting and dialogue. Lines seem lifted off the typewritten script-page and thrust into the mouths of the actors in desperate attempts to sound realistic. But all of the false starts, digressions, sputterings and silences of real conversation, while continually aped, become, in the attempt, all the more conspicuously affected and artificial under the camera-eye's glare…. Scorsese may not approve of his characters, or even like them, and he may handle them awkwardly at times, but at least he respects their humanity, which...
(The entire section is 339 words.)
Watching "Street Scenes 1970" was a tingling, often riveting experience. This documentary was put together from footage taken during the turbulent demonstrations on Wall Street last May and in other parts of town and finally in Washington at the antiwar rally….
As a fast-flying, naturally piecemeal assemblage of tense events, often exploding violently and shot through with marvelously revealing human vignettes and testimonies, the final picture, supervised by Martin Scorsese, is admirable on two counts, especially.
One is the frightening vitality of actuality as recorded on raw film, especially in the churning chaos of the earlier Wall Street portion. The other is the balanced, accumulative tone of utterances, from all sides, directed at the candid camera.
Original though it may be, the final chapter, when the young moviemakers sprawl around a Washington hotel room and take personal political inventory, is entirely redundant….
Obviously, Mr. Scorsese and his team care deeply about vital issues. In their picture, so do many others.
Howard Thompson, "'Street Scenes 1970'," in The New York Times (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 15, 1970 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1969–1970, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1971, p. 215)....
(The entire section is 197 words.)
Mean Streets, the most original American movie of the year, doesn't just explode—it erupts with volcanic force. It is a shocking, jolting, even pulverizing view of "Desolation Row," the claustrophobic, small-time petty Mafia world that is Martin Scorsese's vision of New York's Little Italy. In this semi-feudal empire, the random and the ritual, sacred and profane, and sane and insane are in perpetual conflict—and Scorsese shows us the turmoil bubbling beneath the society's surfaces just as he knows it, without a trace of Hollywood glamorizing, demystifying Italian criminal life even as he personalizes it….
Scorsese integrates realism, stylized elements, symbolism, surrealism and other nonlinear modes of exposition as part of a continuing struggle to relate method to meaning.
The film is suffused with an extraordinary realism. Scorsese's camera moves around like a tiger on the prowl, hand-held and lurking in forbidden places one moment, stationary, coolly observing the unexpected in the next. The often improvised, largely comic, always overlapping dialogue provides a perfect aural equivalent, while the acting virtually leaps off the screen….
Nearly every location contributes to the film's claustrophobic atmosphere. Scorsese shot the movie during the San Gennaro Festival so that the streets are crawling with people, imprisoning each character on his native turf. The incessant music...
(The entire section is 687 words.)
Martin Scorsese grew up in New York's Little Italy and has made a film about his home neighborhood. This personal impulse, which would not exactly be hot news in any other art, is so unusual in American film that it has already knocked some people sideways…. [Scorsese] has made a previous feature set in lower Manhattan, Who's That Knocking at My Door? His new picture Mean Streets is very much better—more intense, better integrated. Nevertheless its intensity is often theatrical in the wrong way, it's both lumpy and discursive, and it ends up as only a fairly bright promissory note. (p. 229)
I think we're supposed to feel that the plot is not the point, that the film exists for its milieu and texture, but it doesn't come out that way. So much of the script gets mired in the tropes of gangster melodrama that plottiness intrudes; and, conversely, some scenes limp, so the very plottiness is bilked. As for texture the editing is jumpy and irresolute…. The color is garish and flashy in barroom scenes, in the esthetic fallacy of trying to look like what it's about, but abandoning this idea elsewhere…. Scorsese simply hasn't found the objective correlative in his … method…. (pp. 229-30)
The incompleteness of every inner motion affects the film as a whole. When it's over we want to know what it was about. To tell us what life is like today in Little Italy? A twenty-minute documentary could have made...
(The entire section is 349 words.)
[Mean Streets is certainly] a 'little' New York film …, with no stars and not much variety or glamour in the settings—in some respects the movie is the culmination of the lonely-streets-and-sullen-bedrooms style of student films produced in the last decade…. But emotionally, Mean Streets is grandiose and amazingly intense—'operatic' … in the manner of mid-Visconti, yet peculiarly American in its speed, energy, obscenity and humour. And Scorsese is no sweet little talent, but a large, dangerous and deeply flawed talent….
As Scorsese introduces his people in short, character-revealing vignettes, for one dismaying moment you might think he was making a conventional 'wacky' caper picture about bumblers who want to be gangsters, or possibly an American Big Deal on Madonna Street. But it turns out that he doesn't need satire to ingratiate his characters with the audience; Scorsese, who grew up in Little Italy and obviously knows the scene, discovers the humour in the life itself and in the characters' naturally obscene idiom. And because he doesn't see these bums as 'little' people, but rather as very familiar friends who got bogged down, his film has none of the patronising, sentimental tone of bourgeois American movies about the working class (e.g. Marty). Pursuing his friends relentlessly in and out of bars, bedrooms and restaurants, up and down streets, stairways and hallways, he creates a life of...
(The entire section is 1042 words.)
My expectations of [Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More] were based mainly on Scorsese's previous feature, Mean Streets. Though "widely acclaimed," as the ads say, this left me cold. Oh yes, I admired the efficiency of its making. Dark, glinting interiors, edgy dialogue, strategic bursts of action, long takes with the camera immobile or slowly prowling like a hit man waiting to strike—sure, Scorsese knew what he wanted to put on the screen and how to get it there. You can see this ability taking shape in his short student films: the satirical It's Not Just You, Murray skips nimbly through space and time while the simple joke of The Big Shave comes out in a linear crescendo. Scorsese is not only efficient but versatile, matching different means to different ends. But what was the end in Mean Streets?
It seemed to be little more than high-class melodrama—a display of hyped-up situations and attitudes. (pp. 55-6)
Scorsese told interviewers that the film distilled youthful memories of New York City's Little Italy—it really was like that, he said, referring to the general atmosphere of the film rather than to specific events. If so, I could give Mean Streets the benefit of the doubt and assume a cultural gap due to my own English background.
But with Scorsese's short documentary on his parents, Italian-american …, the presumed cultural gap failed to...
(The entire section is 824 words.)
Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More is a [slick] Hollywood comedy, taken from [an] artificial, highly structured script by Robert Getchell. However, since it was directed by Martin Scorsese, the talented dynamo who made Mean Streets, the film has a raw energy that shatters some of the script's contrivances…. Alice Graham is a survivor, a woman with an enterprising spirit and a resilient sense of humor. (p. 415)
[But] Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More cannot be taken very seriously as a study of a contemporary woman…. [The] heroine's limited potential radically limits the scope of the film. At first Alice seems determined to make it on her own, but in the end, after a few crummy jobs as a barroom singer and waitress, she decides to settle down with Kris Kristofferson, a tranquil, warm-hearted Arizona rancher. Although she plans to continue with her singing career, she gives up her dream of returning to Monterey, the town where she started out as a singer. Some women have criticized the ending as a copout, but that misses the point; the whole movie is a copout because Alice's career ambitions are so unrealistic to begin with. She has no real singing talent; her obsession with singing springs from a childhood infatuation with Alice Faye, and she refuses to grow up.
The film might have been more interesting if Alice had come to realize the absurdity of her singing career, and then readjusted her...
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Julian C. Rice
[Taxi Driver] is, in part, a film about films. But it is unusual in being expressive of, and simultaneously about, a particular kind of film, which might be called "the pornography of violence." Through the windshield of Travis Bickle's cab, the audience sees the repeated image of movie marquees. Through most of the film, these marquees advertise erotic films, displaying titles like "Swedish Marriage Manual" or "Anita Nymphet." But after the film's bloody catharsis, and subsequent apotheosis of Travis, as a vigilante hero, the surrealistic street scene behind the closing credits reveals marquees, which contain the following camera-selected fragments, "Charles Bronson," "Mafia," "Blood," and "Killer." Although the cathartic scene of Taxi Driver includes the bloody killing of a "mafioso," the effect of the film is far different from that of other vigilante films, such as the Bronson vehicle, Death Wish. Scorsese [and coscreenwriter Paul Schrader] … present a protagonist with whom the audience will initially identify, but from whom they will unexpectedly be jolted into alienation. The alienation effect differentiates the film from the Violence genre, upon which it comments, and is achieved through the metamorphosis of Travis from a figure of naturalistic film fantasy to a horrifyingly familiar image of media "reality." After his brief incarnation as a political assassin, Travis returns in the final scene to the conventional hero...
(The entire section is 1554 words.)
Robert E. Lauder
Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver has to be one of the most disturbing films ever made. Working with the metaphor of the city as sewer, Scorsese catches the sin-stained sensations of New York's teeming streets, where prostitutes, pimps and pushers parade under the scrutiny of Travis Bickle, the cruising cab driver who is a kind of contemporary Quixote. For Travis …, the city is a pile of filth that someone ought to clean up….
Make no mistake about it: … the extraordinary talent of Scorsese is evident again and again. In the past critics have wondered if the young director's gifts were limited; even though his Mean Streets (1973) was widely acclaimed, this depiction of young hoodlums in Little Italy was similar in locale and characterization to Scorsese's earlier Who's That Knocking at My Door? But then the critical reception accorded Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) confirmed that Scorsese could handle a wider world. His flexible talent is most evident if one contrasts Taxi Driver with the best film he has yet made, Italianamerican. That the same man could have made both films is amazing. In Taxi Driver the sophisticated use of lighting, color, camera angle and editing make the city streets so real that a viewer can feel fear even before violence occurs; in the documentary Italianamerican, Scorsese tenderly turns his camera on his own parents for 45 minutes and allows them...
(The entire section is 541 words.)
Taxi Driver is a remarkable achievement, a crazy, excessive, erratic masterpiece, but a masterpiece just the same. Scorsese has always interested me as a director, but he has also always annoyed me with his seeming inability to impose a cohesive structure upon his films. One of his chief weaknesses has been his tendency to play too many scenes at fever pitch. The absence of variation in the tone of Mean Streets and particularly Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore irrevocably undercut the genuine climaxes of both films. In Taxi Driver, confronted with volatile material which would readily lend itself to a similar treatment, Scorsese has wisely chosen the opposite tactic. He builds the film slowly, quietly, creating a mood of anxiety and imminent violence so that when the explosions finally occur within Travis Bickle's twisted psyche, the effect is all the more harrowing.
A positive side effect of this increased sense of formal structure is the marvelous way Scorsese continually surprises us throughout the film. Just when we feel certain the movie is going to go one way, he pulls the ground from under our feet and aims the material in another direction….
With Taxi Driver, a thematic consistency becomes clear throughout Scorsese's work. The contradictions in Travis Bickle between a Puritan ethic and the need to find an outlet for his inarticulate rage and repression haunt [Charlie] in...
(The entire section is 376 words.)
[Calculated] evasion is typical not only of [Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More], but of a disconcerting number of American items in which an alleged social inquest is taking place with sub-social witnesses whom we're supposed to take on trust as reliable emblems of the human lot. Alice is a boring nobody trying to become a boring somebody, with a minimum of qualifications for being anybody, a peculiar addiction to putrid language and, as extra baggage, [a] monstrous little hostage….
What in the name of God constitutes a viable problem in this bogus history? A suburban housewife, unexpectedly widowed at a ripe age, discovers—or in fact does not discover—that she's insufficiently equipped to be anything more useful than a waitress, while clinging to the illusion that she's a talented singer because once in her salad days she placed in an amateur contest. So a waitress she becomes and this is supposed to pass as a spectacle of human waste or of the Female Search for Identity—yet all we're viewing is a dislocated mediocrity with a false notion of her own value and a knack for getting sympathy by weeping into her cocktail when she has "walked her feet off all afternoon" … and the crummy world hasn't given her instantly a crummy, well-paid job. (p. 260)
Vernon Young, "Nobody Lives Here Any More," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1976 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by...
(The entire section is 243 words.)
The opening shot of Taxi Driver plays probably the most seductive of trumps in the recent craze for power totems that has overtaken the American screen…. Out of a cloud of steam gushing over a New York street, a yellow cab floats majestically, mysteriously forward, its foreboding trajectory paced to the growling thunder of [the] score, its surface awash with abstract patterns of neon light. The powerful physicality of the image, and the state of extreme dislocation which it conveys, are the key to a kind of muscle-flexing sense of paradox on many levels: the film is about the soul sickness of urban alienation, played out … as a series of extrovert power plays involving American myths of gunmanship and Ideal Womanhood; its mood is one of determinist doom, feverishly embraced …; and, following from this, its method is to construct a series of steel traps for its hero, all of which have firmly shut before the film is half over, though Scorsese's grandstanding style and Schrader's Bressonian pretensions continue to push for moments of religious transcendence. What is locked tightest into the contradiction, and most disturbingly into the film, is a confusion between objective and subjective viewpoints…. [A] strong streak of misogyny and racist sentiment (women are principally identified by Travis with betrayal; blacks with the irredeemable otherness and corruption of the city) often seems to be floating through the film, unattached to the...
(The entire section is 536 words.)
Scorsese's first feature was premiered at the Chicago Film Festival in 1967 under the title of I Call First. To increase the film's chances of distribution, Scorsese was persuaded to shoot a nude fantasy scene, and with this sequence added, I Call First was released and the title later changed to Who's That Knocking at My Door. Although at first glance this added sequence seems to dovetail quite neatly into the film, it is in fact almost disastrously disruptive for two reasons. First, it suggests that J. R.'s problem is that he wants to screw girls but can't because of his Catholic brainwashing, whereas Scorsese is really making a subtler point about the broads that can be screwed and the virgins that can be married. Now coming immediately after the nude sequence's interpolated implications of erotic frustration, the marvellously tender and absurd scene where J. R. toils upward through a pale and wintry forest, finally to stand like Cortez on the crest of the hill discovering undreamed-of vistas of unspoiled nature beyond, has acquired Freudian connotations which obscure the original point: tender in his aspiration, absurd in its magniloquent naiveté, it is an exact parallel to the doomed ingenuousness of his confident quest for an ideal purity. Secondly, by adding pointless complication, this interpolation of an undoubted fantasy in a film which is already playing tentatively with time and memory, raises totally unnecessary doubts...
(The entire section is 359 words.)
[There are ritualized conceits in] "New York, New York," Martin Scorsese's elaborate, ponderous salute to Hollywood movies of the 1940's and early 50's in the form of a backstage musical of the period. (p. 70)
The big-band sounds are right, as are the sets and costumes and especially the movie conventions. "New York, New York" knowingly embraces a narrative line as formal and strict in its way as the shape of a sonnet. Even the sets are meant to look like back-lot sets, not the real world….
Yet, after one has appreciated the scholarship for about an hour or so … one begins to wonder what Mr. Scorsese and his writers are up to. "New York, New York" is not a "parody," but the original genre is really not interesting enough to have had all of this attention to detail spent on it. It's not that the movie runs out of steam long before it has gone on for two hours and 33 minutes, but that we have figured it out and become increasingly dumbfounded. Why should a man of Mr. Scorsese's talent … be giving us what amounts to no more than a film buff's essay on a pop-film form that was never, at any point in film history, of the first freshness?
Even more disturbing is the movie's lack of feeling for the genuine feelings that those old movies were meant to inspire….
"New York, New York" is not a disaster of the order of Peter Bogdanovich's "At Long Last Love." … Yet, "New York, New...
(The entire section is 304 words.)
New York, New York looks at first glance like a tolerably successful pastiche, full of wayward longueurs that perversely assert themselves as being among its major pleasures. On reflection, one realises that Scorsese has simply inverted the basic premises of the musical, a move that requires a certain adjustment in the spectator. The protracted opening sequence (after a brief evocation of the V-J Day celebrations in Times Square), for instance, is entirely concerned with Jimmy Doyle's tortuously ingenious attempts, after seeing his pick-up routine rejected by two other girls, to deny Francine the privilege of saying no. Linguistically and dramatically speaking, it should outstay its welcome; but the peculiar pleasure of the sequence is that, being structured musically in a sort of rondo form (theme, variation, return), it assumes the role that would normally be played by a ballad in stating the hero's initial attraction to … the heroine…. Several other dramatic (i.e. non-musical) scenes emerge, in an analogous sense, as musical numbers, formally choreographed rather than dramatically staged…. In consciously quoting the Hollywood musical, these scenes have a little fun with its clichés: in making his last-minute dash for the train, Jimmy leaves it a little too late, and is last seen on the platform, forlornly trying to hold back the already departing train; and when he knocks up the J.P., he inadvertently breaks a pane of glass in the door,...
(The entire section is 630 words.)
If there is one central paradox to Martin Scorsese's movies, it must be their knack for harnessing a single-minded intensity of purpose to an instinct for charging off in a variety of directions. Such contradictory energy is also what makes his protagonists run; and on his home ground, in a Little Italy suffused with the pain of ruling passions running up blind alleys in Mean Streets, Scorsese is the peerless spokesman for a world where hell-raising is the only escape from some hell-bent obsession of temperament or ambition.
But, as indicated by the hesitant sketch of Who's That Knocking at My Door and the sterile steel trap of Taxi Driver—the before and after of Mean Streets—Scorsese may be a director with only one 'personal' movie to make and, on the other hand, too much talent and too little control to play the Hollywood genre game….
With New York, New York … Scorsese has, if anything, taken on a slice of Hollywood—the showbiz musical—even more insulated by tradition and upholstery, and has turned out a craftier pastiche and something quite brilliant in the way of recreation…. Scorsese has made over a Hollywood staple in a wholly original way, not so much adapting the musical as invading it like some long-abandoned relic, turning many of its salient features inside out and generally confounding audience expectations with every second scene.
(The entire section is 727 words.)
[Given The Last Waltz's] title and subject, and Scorsese's tendency to work in an apocalyptic register, an air of Götterdämmerung hangs over The Last Waltz. This is the end of an era in popular music, one apostrophised finally by [Robbie] Robertson when he marvels that he and The Band have spent sixteen years on the road, quails before the prospect of pushing their luck any further, and then enumerates the performers, from Hank Williams through Janis Joplin to Elvis Presley, who have given their lives to the tradition. But more than this, the film is a collage of two decades of beginnings and endings, a two-hour whistle stop tour across the map of pop music, its sense of the history of its subject peculiarly internalised so that, in Scorsese's words, 'there's connective sense, but not really in terms of one thing leading to another; it makes spiritual sense.'
Such a notion of order, of course, is largely a matter of imposing private meanings on the public event. And this is the paradox on which The Last Waltz turns, in more than one direction. The emotional significance of the music for Scorsese, the selection of numbers he has made from the seven-hour concert featuring not only The Band but a galaxy of guests, the progression through the varieties of country, blues and rock'n'roll music, establish this as one of his most personal films. Consequently—yet unexpectedly, given the cinéma vérité...
(The entire section is 973 words.)
[Italianamerican] is funny and touching. It's richer than a less personal documentary would have been, supplementing well [Scorsese's] hallucinated depiction of the mean streets outside.
In a sense, Italianamerican … is a home movie in reverse, with the grown child turning the camera on parents or parental figures. But Scorsese is fortunate: his progenitors are a delight. Prompted by his jumpy, occasionally bemused, presence at the edge of the frame, they recount their own parents' tales of the old country, show Instamatics … made during a trip back there, and detail their childhoods on the mythic Lower East Side….
The film is interspersed with family photographs and street footage of 50 or 60 years ago, but an equally evocative visual element is the living room where most of the interview takes place….
Scorsese intercuts this "only in America" setting with his mother's running commentary on her special sauce as she prepares it in the kitchen. For the most part, the elder Scorseses' enjoyment of the limelight is equaled by their son's pride in being able to give it to them. Through editing or will power, he's able to keep the conversation from focusing on their prize joint creation—himself….
Although the pleasure that the family takes in each other's company is truly infectious, Scorsese ends the film on a slightly darker note. As the crew starts breaking...
(The entire section is 319 words.)
Terry Curtis Fox
The Last Waltz was not just work; it was a special kind of anchor. [Marty Scorsese's] love affair with rock and roll, his commitment to music as a form, is at least as deep and abiding as his love and commitment to film. He has always used music in his films, knowing just what the kid would listen to in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, manipulating the track of Taxi Driver with disc-jockey ease. The cultural conflict in Mean Streets is most directly expressed as a war between two styles of music, Italian and rock….
The Last Waltz was conceived as "an opera."… If Scorsese's fiction films have musical structure, then The Last Waltz, with its meticulous script and preplanned camera angles, was constructed in the same manner as his narratives.
Unlike most rock-concert pictures, The Last Waltz is an extremely formal film. Coming off New York, New York, Marty shot the movie with the same dark, totally interior look. This is a movie in which daylight is never seen, in which the world is totally artificial, limited to stages and studios….
The result is a movie that is about music and musicians, about living the life of rock and roll. In addition to the concert footage, Marty interspersed three studio-shot numbers, which gave him a chance to practice his pyrotechnics, as well as his own interviews with members of the Band, which give the...
(The entire section is 556 words.)
None of the new filmmakers has created as strong a public persona as Martin Scorsese. Hunted, haunted, asthmatic, diminutive, darkly bearded, a victim of religious nightmares, a mass of raging anxieties, Scorsese as we know him from interviews and photographs makes Paul Schrader, his only rival in film-noir paranoia, look by comparison like a happily adjusted Midwestern businessman. In fact, Scorsese's real success is to have made films at all. Each new project brings with it a baggage of stories about the director's agonies. The movies—even the ones with relatively pleasant atmospheres—seem rooted in this pain.
Perhaps this suffering need not be in vain: within Scorsese there may lie an Italian-American Bergman waiting for the right moment to show himself. Bergman himself made a dozen unremarkable films before he found the necessary key of objectivity to turn his own nightmares into art. Scorsese may, too. He's already shown evidence that he can in Who's That Knocking at My Door? and Mean Streets. But right now, he remains the most brilliant of the New Hollywood's disappointments, seemingly torn between two recurrent, obsessive dreams: his own childhood in New York's Little Italy, whose basic components were a malevolent Church and a (to him) frightening ethic of machismo, and the opiates that Hollywood offered as an alternative to that disturbing reality. When he sticks to the earlier set of compulsions, he produces...
(The entire section is 976 words.)
The violence in Raging Bull is ghastly and overdone. A nose crunches, broken for us to hear close up; copious amounts of blood gush out of orifices and gashes, drenching the ringside swells. To what purpose? There are, it seems to me, three possible motives for such displays of brutality. First, the obvious one: to exploit the worst in boxing and in us. Second, the reverse: to expose this barbaric exercise, drum up the reformers and hasten its abolition from the 20th century. Or third: as a dramatic device to inform us about the characters.
Alas, in Raging Bull, the spectacle of exaggerated violence is put to no use whatsoever. It is introduced in the same way the director of a skin flick every so often tosses in another bedroom adventure just because it's a skin flick. To me, that is asexual, just as Raging Bull is, ultimately, a-athletic, and amoral as well. This is the story of a boxer, Jake LaMotta—but what is he to boxing or boxing to him? About all the film tells us about LaMotta the middleweight is that, given his druthers, he would rather not give up sex and food before a fight. LaMotta might just as well be a bus driver.
As a man, he is revealed as scum…. But then, none of the characters around him possesses redeeming qualities, either. As a consequence, nothing changes and the film—like a lopsided fight—could be stopped at any point without altering the outcome.
(The entire section is 469 words.)
Seeing Martin Scorsese's [Raging Bull] is like visiting a human zoo. That's certainly not to say that it's dull: good zoos are not dull. But the life we watch is stripped to elemental drives, with just enough décor of complexity—especially the heraldry of Catholicism—to underscore how elemental it basically is.
Scorsese specializes in the primitive aspects of urban life, with an emphasis on the colors and conflicts of Italian-Americans. American films have developed a latter-day line in this vein…. Most Italian-Americans may very understandably be tired of this canted concentration on gutter and crime, but they had better brace themselves: because here it is again and—which may irritate them further—done better than ever, done excellently. Scorsese has filmed the life of the boxer Jake La Motta, his rises and falls and eventual retirement, and this time Scorsese's work is purged of heavy symbolism, of film-school display, of facile portent. His directing is imaginative but controlled; egregious mannerisms have coalesced and evolved into a strong style. Some of Raging Bull is shocking, but all of it is irresistible. (p. 26)
[Most] cheering is Scorsese's growth. Little Italy, the ceaseless conflict between the support and the restrictions of Catholicism, the alliances and counteralliances of family and of the Mafia are still his home ground. He tells us in the sequence under the opening credits...
(The entire section is 763 words.)
At first, we may think that we're going to find out what makes Jake La Motta's life special and why ["Raging Bull" has been] made about him. But as the picture dives in and out of La Motta's life, with a few minutes of each of his big fights …, it becomes clear that Scorsese isn't concerned with how La Motta got where he did, or what, specifically, happened to him. Scorsese gives us exact details of the Bronx Italian neighborhoods of the forties—everything is sharp, realistic, lived-in. But he doesn't give us specific insights into La Motta….
"Raging Bull" isn't a biographical film about a fighter's rise and fall; it's a biography of the genre of prizefight films. Scorsese loves the visual effects and the powerful melodramatic moments of movies such as [Renée Daalder's] "Body and Soul," [Robert Wise's] "The Set-Up," and [Rouben Mamoulian's] "Golden Boy." He makes this movie out of remembered high points, leaping from one to another….
Scorsese appears to be trying to purify the characters of forties movies to universalize them. Vickie is an icon—a big, lacquered virgin-doll of the forties…. Sitting at the edge of a swimming pool,… Vickie is a Life cover girl of the war years. (p. 217)
Scorsese is also trying to purify forties style by using the conventions in new ways. If you look at forties movies now, the clichés … may seem like fun, and it's easy to see why Scorsese is...
(The entire section is 947 words.)
Robert Phillip Kolker
[Scorsese] does not create narratives that are easily assimilable. The formal structure of his work is never completely at the service of the viewer or of the story it is creating. There is an unashamed self-consciousness in his work and a sense of kinetic energy that sometimes threatens to overtake both viewer and story, but always provides a commentary upon the viewer's experience and prevents him or her from easily slipping into a series of narrative events. (pp. 207-08)
Scorsese is interested in the psychological manifestations of individuals who are representative either of a class or of a certain ideological grouping; he is concerned with their relationships to each other or to an antagonistic environment. Scorsese's films involve antagonism and struggle, and constant movement, even if that movement is within a tightly circumscribed area that has no exit…. [There] is no triumph for his characters. With the notable exception of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore all of his characters lose to their isolation or their antagonism…. [His] work shows a degree of stylization which eschews, for the most part, the sixties conventions of realism, defined primarily by location shooting and natural acting styles. In New York, New York he moves indoors entirely, depending on studio sets to achieve an expressive artificiality. But even in the preceding films, where locations are used, there is a sense that the place inhabited by...
(The entire section is 4173 words.)
Not since the beginnings of [Akira] Kurosawa have we seen such nervous authority. From [Martin Scorsese's] earliest films he started a dialogue with the audience compelling them to take part. Together with Robert De Niro he has invented a new film language. (p. 1)
[Scorsese and De Niro] are using a film language that dares the audience to stay ahead of them. It's the greatest compliment a filmmaker can pay to his audience; and we appreciate it. Half the time we yawn our heads off, as the film director underlines some point we found out for ourselves ten minutes ago. Scorsese-De Niro is a different ball game. Visual and verbal points are made with rapier-like touches. A word creates an image, an image begets a sequence, a one-line joke ends it, a reaction is long in coming and then explodes with unexpected violence, emotions are concealed, nothing is predictable, a sudden word, a face caught at the moment of truth, bring tears to our eyes. This is the world of Martin Scorsese. (pp. 1, 3)
I have heard people whine about the violence in Mean Streets, the violence in Taxi Driver. Scorsese is an artist. Pick up a copy of The Disasters of War. See that naked, maimed figure of a man, impaled on a stake? See those tumbled women, raped and murdered? See that priest hanged from a tree? Do you think that Goya was trying to get a cheap thrill out of these horrors? No more is Martin Scorsese. He has an eye...
(The entire section is 333 words.)