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.