See also: Scorsese Marathon (1980 – 1995)
Two months ago, I had only seen four movies by Martin Scorsese: “Gangs of New York” and “The Departed” in the cinema (and dubbed, so I didn’t really see them), plus “Shutter Island” and “Hugo” at home. No “Taxi Driver,” no “Raging Bull,” no “GoodFellas.”
I knew that had to change. And since I’m no fan of half measures, I set out to watch everything the man ever directed, a few other things he was involved in, and even one or two movies he’d later remake. In less than a month I consumed more than 1,800 hours of movies, short films and audio commentaries, starting with his second student film from 1963 (the first one, 1959’s “Vesuvius VI,” seems to be forever lost) all the way up to his 1978 profile of Steven Prince. There is still a lot left to watch (“Raging Bull” is next), but in the meantime, let’s look back at what I’ve seen so far.
I enjoyed “Murray” the most, but all three shorts are nice precursors of the films to come, sometimes violent, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but always interesting. They’re all on YouTube, so click and watch away!
Influenced by Cassavetes’ “Shadows,” this movie introduced not only Scorsese but also frequent collaborator Harvey Keitel to the silver screen. And what an introduction it is! While the director isn’t all that satisfied with the finished product (spliced together from three years of fractured filming), “Knocking” struck a chord with me like no other movie in a long while. The scene of Keitel’s J.R. meeting the girl (Zina Bethune) for the first time is easily one of my top ten scenes of all-time. It and the whole movie screamed Tarantino to me, which is backwards, of course. And it’s not the last time we see something that clearly “inspired” Tarantino in Scorsese’s filmography. (Rating: 5 out of 5 stars)
Scorsese’s friend Roger Corman asked him to direct this adaptation of “Sister of the Road.” Talking about it in commentaries for other movies, Scorsese kind of dismisses it as a job-for-hire that wasn’t really his work, but there is clear evidence of the director’s hand to be found, if you know where to look. Barbara Hershey is great in the title role, and again there are scenes, especially near the end, that Quentin Tarantino must have watched more than once when storyboarding “Django Unchained.” (4)
By his own count, “Mean Streets” is Scorsese’s first real film, meaning it’s the first he had full control over, and although it deals with some of the same themes (and stars some of the same people) as “Who’s That Knocking,” I understand why people see this as the template for much of his later work. It’s the director’s first time working with Robert DeNiro, who, much to my dismay, would go on to replace Keitel as his go-to lead actor. (Nothing against DeNiro, but, c’mon, he’s no Harvey Keitel.) (4.5)
Scorsese’s endearing parents tell their life’s story, sharing a few good anecdotes and a recipe for Italian sauce. A nice time capsule. One of these days I gotta turn the camera on my mother and let her tell stories.
After “Boxcar Bertha” another great movie with a strong female lead, something that hasn’t really happened since in Martin Scorsese’s filmography, as far as I can tell. The performances here are beautiful, even the precocious kid is a hoot. 11 year-old Jodie Foster steals it. (4.5)
Didn’t entirely win me over at first viewing, but I revisited it (with a different commentary) three more times and came to see what a masterful, complex and important picture it is. There’s been enough said about it, so I’ll just add this: the contrast between the two author commentaries (one by Scorsese, one by Paul Schrader) and the scholar commentary (by Robert Kolker) is very intriguing, especially to someone like me who would always challenge their teachers when they attributed intent or definite meaning to any work of art without having the author there to defend himself against it. “Taxi Driver,” like any movie, is just the last iteration of innumerable variations of collaborating, writing, acting, editing, etc., both random and intended. Art like this just doesn’t appear fully formed, and definitely not from a singular source. (Another wonderful way to learn this lesson is to listen to the official Breaking Bad podcast.) (4.5)
Oh, boy. If you liked all the yelling and fighting in “Silver Linings Playbook” but could do without the aggressively handsome people, this movie is for you. (1.5)
Couldn’t have enjoyed this more. Seeing these people perform makes the music sound so much better than just listening to the album. Beautifully shot and edited. (4.5)
Steven Prince is an entertaining spinner of tales, and once again we have the direct inspiration for something that would later show up in a Tarantino movie. (3.5)
And one extra-curricular viewing:
Of course I’ve seen the Simpsons episode a million times, and I expected a similar deja-vu-like experience to the one I had when I finally watched “Psycho” last year, but it looks like “The Simpsons” reference the Scorsese remake more than the original. And I am very curious to see Scorsese’s take on this, because the 1962 film is a masterpiece, as far as I’m concerned. Robert Mitchum is, once again, perfect playing the creepy sociopath. DeNiro has got some big shoes to fill. (5 stars.)