MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #22 – MARTIN SCORSESE
Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.
— Martin Scorsese
I recently had a three-week career break while I was looking for a new job. I have since gratefully located employment and that would explain why I have not been as active on this blog as before. Because looking for work is more time consuming than an actual job! Anyway, aside from spending the day on the computer searching for gainful employment I also caught up on some TV shows and films that had been on my planner for a while. One of the those I watched was the HBO produced TV drama called VINYL (2016). Created, directed (first episode only) and produced by, among others, Martin Scorsese.
Vinyl (2016) was an incendiary, nostalgic and snorting cavalcade of 1970’s rock and roll music centred around a drug addicted record executive, portrayed by Bobby Cannavale, whose business and personal life are collapsing due to his addictive and self-destructive behaviour. Overall, the ten episodes were scintillating entertainment: loud, over-the-top, ballsy, in-your-face and darkly hilarious. The characters were despicable scumbags at best, yet Scorsese’s sensational style ensures the audience enthusiastically rubber-necks these human car crashes.
Alas, due to low ratings, poor critical response and the huge budget, HBO did not renew Vinyl (2016) for a second season. Thus, Scorsese’s blistering TV rock and roll creation was no more. However, in my latest piece in the My Cinematic Romance series, I have selected five of Scorsese cinematic classics. I could’ve, of course, chosen many, many more but have challenged myself to pick only ONE film from each of the last five decades of the master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Don’t worry Marty – I thought Vinyl (2016) absolutely rocked. F*ck the critics! You are a true genius.
TAXI DRIVER (1976)
Paul Schrader’s incredible screenplay about a lost soul travelling the mean streets of New York while on the edge of insanity, is given dark life by Scorsese’s evocative direction and Robert DeNiro’s fearless performance. One of the most memorably nightmarish thrillers and character studies of the 1970s; a period which arguably represents the most exceptional decade of American cinema. Having both the writer and director admit to substance addiction in the 1970’s, lends further to the monstrously illusory vision of urban decay within the pores of this amazing work of cinema.
RAGING BULL (1980)
Boxing champion Jake La Motta represented another morally complex vision of masculinity in crisis for both Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese. Both in and out of the ring he is man in pain who hurts those he loves and, above all else, himself. Each battering jab and uppercut and hook is felt by the audience via incredible editing and sound design. Overall, Scorsese delivers a brutal profile in stark black-and-white and a knockout box of cinematic tricks. Unsurprisingly, DeNiro won a Best Acting Oscar at the 1981 Academy Awards. Rather surprisingly, Ordinary People (1980) was winner of Best Picture. Go figure!
As far back as I can remember, this has been one of my favourite films of all time. Ray Liotta’s voiceover introduces and tells the story of the rise and fall of gangster, Henry Hill, while expertly supported by Scorsese’s selection of memorable shots, music and sequences. Further, Scorsese’s major skill here is too, is to make us both enamoured and disgusted by the actions of these charismatic criminals and killers. There are so many classic scenes in this incredible epic and the cast of Liotta, DeNiro and scene-stealing, Joe Pesci, make it one of those films that can be watched over and over. Did I forget to mention that it also has one of the greatest cinema soundtracks ever!
THE DEPARTED (2006)
A truly remarkable remake of Infernal Affairs (2002), the film is shot and edited, as expected, with immaculate precision; crammed with unrelenting and bone-crushing thrills and violence. Thematically, it’s powerful too. Throughout, honesty and truth are obliterated by lies and death. Costigan and Sullivan are no more than pawns at the hands of a corrupt system that lets people down from a great height. This is literally the case where Martin Sheen’s Captain Queenan is concerned. An immense cast including DiCaprio, Damon, Wahlberg and scenery-chewing, Jack Nicholson, take a twisting Kafkaesque plot where criminals and cops collide; ultimately chasing their shadows and souls to a treacherous, bloody and bitter end.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) feels like a greatest hits package combining all of the finer ingredients from Scorsese’s other films. You’ve got the classic swooning camera moves; the direct address to camera; cat-and-dog couples fighting as seen in Casino (1995) and Goodfellas (1990); the boat-in-peril sequence as seen in Cape Fear (1991); the multi-character voiceovers; the dumb criminals putting themselves in the shit; characters turning on each other and ratting each other out as seen in The Departed (2006); plus many more. But whereas Scorsese used to deal with outsiders, oddballs and working class criminals like Travis Bickle, Rupert Pupkin or Henry Hill, he presents via Jordan Belfort a white-collar criminal and venal member of the “Master-Race”, getting his just desserts in an incendiary morality tale of major power.