Collyrium – A small deepening on the great cinema of Scorsese

It’s time to spend a few lines to talk about the cinema of Martin Scorsese who over the years has managed to become one of the most important filmmakers.

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9 April 2019

Who has never seen a Martin Scorsese film? No one I think is the most popular answer.

This is because Martin Scorsese is perhaps the most famous living director along with Tarantino, Woody Allen, and a few others. In his career, he has made films for all tastes that have almost always told the weakness of the human being in all its ingenuity and sometimes cruelty. His films are not easily labeled, so it is easy to associate him with Taxi Driver, Those Good Guys, Raging Bull or the more recent The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, Shutter Island. All his films are clearly different but nevertheless deeply similar. Scorsese’s characters are often nasty although sometimes not for their choice rather for an absurd but very tangible social imposition. Often we see them being wicked because they are driven by alienation, insecurity or simply by an inauspicious social context. But let’s not go too fast. This week we’re going to take a closer look at Martin Scorsese’s cinema.

Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1

Martin was born in New York, obviously from a family of Italian Americans who surely contributed to providing him with all the folkloristic and extremely characterizing background of which his films are rich. However, the future legend of cinema does not have a pleasant childhood. Due to strong and continuous asthma convulsions, Scorsese’s life is different from his peers’. Martin will, in fact, spends the day observing the bustling life of Little Italy from the window sill of his room. Activities which, as just said, will be at center stage in the decades to come.

In these years the director, due to his illness, approaches cinema showing a particular love towards Italian neorealism. The filmmaker enrolls in the New York University’s Tisch School of Arts where he takes his first steps directing short films and documentaries, among which is a documentary denouncing the war in Vietnam called The Big Shave.

However, Scorsese’s first real feature film came in 1997 with Who’s knocking on my door? a movie featuring a very young Harvey Keitel, who will also be present in various future works, as in the following Mean Streets where the director approaches the issue of crime by telling the story of a young boy striving to get in harmony with the neighborhood’s gang. This second film marked a real rupture by showing the first indications of the style marking his future production: strong men, violence, religion, and revenge. In Mean Streets, we also see a very young Robert de Niro who from this moment on will become a real fetish actor.

It is in fact with the seventies approaching that the first real success for Scorsese arrives, probably also thanks to the stimulating friendships and knowledge surrounding him: Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Brian de Palma, George Lucas, and John Cassavetes, only to name a few. The planetary success we are talking about comes in 1976 and has a single name: Taxi Driver. With this film, which deals with the subject of psychological alienation of a Vietnam veteran, the American director lands in Europe where he earns a Palm d’Or at the Cannes festival. Taxi Driver is undoubtedly a film which has entered the common imagination, with its iconic red and yellow lights and the shooting of a New York torn by crime and prostitution. But Taxi driver is not only an icon for its strong aesthetics, for the incredible acting of De Niro or for the unforgettable dialogues. Taxi Driver speaks of private revenge, speaks of justice. It tells of a country devastated by a useless war whose inhabitants are unable to look in the mirror and recognize themselves.

The collapse of certainties. 

Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1
Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1

Difficulties also come with success, and for Scorsese its name is cocaine. It will indeed take De Niro driving him out of the parties and drugs tunnel and convincing him to direct Raging Bull. This last effort by the director tells the story of Jake LaMotta, a historic American boxer who, thanks to his ardor and destructive power, entered American history. Raging Bull is nominated for an Oscar in multiple categories but only De Niro took home the golden statuette for his role as best leading actor.

Scorsese now consecrated to Hollywood has become one of the faces of American cinema and during the 80’s he shoots a multitude of films achieving alternate success.

Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1
Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1

In fact, for the next masterpiece we will have to wait almost a decade, when Those Good Guys arrives in theaters, a film entirely dedicated to Italian-American crime, but treated without a shred of banality, telling the daily life of gangsters, making, together with Coppola Godfather trilogy, the underworld figure as legendary and pop, nevertheless the film denies any moral judgment limiting itself to a mere description.

Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1

Over the years Scorsese has managed to win numerous prizes, has entered the screen of many people and nevertheless has never stopped shining. Many are his most recent films are of the highest cinematic level. Of course, to quote them all we would need an essay and we are not here for that. But it is certainly a duty to spend a few words mentioning some. To begin with Gangs of New York which was released in cinemas in 2002, a film picturing a nineteenth-century New York that serves as fertile ground for bloody gang battles. Although the film has no ambition to be realistic, or didactic, it does, however, offer a glimpse of a now non-existent social reality which has strongly contributed to the establishment of contemporary America. An urban far west, in which on the one hand we see tolerance and openness to the “foreigner” and on the other, we see a blind hatred, nourished by feelings of revenge and violence.

Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1
Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1

Gangs of New York obtained an immediate success, also for the splendid interpretation of Leonardo DiCaprio that from here on will become a Scorsese actor.

2006 is instead the year of The Departed, a movie that once again tells the world of crime but from the point of view of both the criminal and the policeman, but leaving plenty of room for plot twists. For the second time, the role of the protagonist is entrusted to DiCaprio joined by personalities of the standing of Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon.

Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1
Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1

As if that weren’t enough, the new decade is full of commercial success and criticism for Martin Scorsese, let’s think for example of Shutter Island or The Wolf of Wall Street.

Martin Scorsese | Collater.al 1

But not only that, in these years we have seen the award-winning director compete, like many of his colleagues, with the small screen: first with Boardwalk Empire, a series set in Atlantic City during prohibition, and finally with Vynil, this time set in the world of rock in the New York of the 70s, which however did not achieve the desired success. A number of films will be released in the coming years, to start in 2019 with The Irish Man which brings together personalities such as De Niro and Al Pacino acting once again on crime although in a completely new way.

Scorsese is an old-school director, one of the few remaining, who managed with his visionary eye to radically change contemporary cinema. So many are his innovations that we now take for granted. It is here that the director’s strength lies. over the years, in fact, Scorsese has entered the pop language by raising his person to a true contemporary icon.

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