Creator: Martin Scorsese
My whole life has been movies and religion. That's it. Nothing else.
"Cuz he makes the best fuckin' filmsMartin Charles Scorsese (November 17, 1942-) is a beloved Italian-American filmmaker, born in New York City and grew up in the neighborhood of Little Italy. He is famous for his movies about organized crime in the United States. His early films quickly made him a critical favorite, culminating in Taxi Driver. This allowed him to make his big-budgeted dream project, New York, New York, which bombed. The '80s were an uneven period, with Raging Bull drawing from his struggles with kicking cocaine, and Gangs Of New York and The Last Temptation of Christ caught in Development Hell. The '90s saw the release of Goodfellas, often cited as his best movie, and Casino, a very similar (and almost similarly respected) film. Gangs of New York was finally released in 2002.He uses many of the same actors in his movies, including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, and Leonardo DiCaprio.He is famous for not having won an Oscar for Best Picture or Best Director at the height of his popularity and critical recognition. He eventually won his Best Director Oscar for The Departed, which won three other Oscars (including Best Picture) and immediately suffered from Hype Backlash.Well-known for his big bushy eyebrows, talking really fast and his physical staturenote which is inverse to his standing as a filmmaker. Aside from filmmaking, he also does occasional acting.
He makes the best fuckin' films
I've ever seen in my life
I fuckin' love him, I fuckin' love him"
He makes the best fuckin' films
I've ever seen in my life
I fuckin' love him, I fuckin' love him"
—King Missile, "Martin Scorsese"
- Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967)
- Boxcar Bertha (1972)
- Mean Streets (1973)
- Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
- Taxi Driver (1976)
- New York, New York (1977)
- The Last Waltz (1978)
- Raging Bull (1980)
- The King Of Comedy (1983)
- After Hours (1985)
- The Color of Money (1986)
- The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
- Goodfellas (1990)
- Cape Fear (1991)
- The Age of Innocence (1993)
- Casino (1995)
- Kundun (1997)
- Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
- Gangs of New York (2002)
- The Aviator (2004)
- The Departed (2006)
- Shine a Light (2008)
- Shutter Island (2010)
- The pilot of Boardwalk Empire (2010)
- Hugo (2011)
- The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
- Silence (2016)
- Upcoming biopic of Mike Tyson starring Jamie Foxx.
- The pilot of the HBO miniseries about Hernán Cortés (est. 2015)
Tropes common to Scorsese and his works include:
- Anti-Hero: The Nominal Hero and the Villainous show up a lot. Scorsese himself doesn't believe in conventional ideas of heroism with characters who want to be heroes like Travis Bickle proving themselves to be Knight Templar in their belief that they can pass judgment on the "scum".
- Ax-Crazy: His more pervasively violent movies will no doubt have at least one character that qualifies.
- All There in the Manual: A lot of Scorsese's ideas and influences and observations of his films can be discerned in books like Scorsese On Scorsese as well as DVD Commentaries and interviews available on YouTube.
- Big Applesauce: New York is a common setting for his works.
- Big Name Fan: To Michael Powell, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Elia Kazan and several directors who he championed and introduced new audiences to. His documentaries, A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies and My Voyage to Italy as well as A Letter to Elia served as primers to appreciating films for audiences around the world.
- For Michael Powell, when the latter's career was on the skids and he was living in a trailer, Scorsese befriended him and later attached his name to a re-release of Peeping Tom, his career-killing masterpiece, which paved the way for its later re-evaluation. He has since helped in restoring many of Powell's works as well as that of other directors.
- Big Ol' Eyebrows
- Bittersweet Ending: Hugo and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore are the only two Scorsese films with happy endings. Indeed he mocked the concept in New York, New York in the famous Happy Endings number. Scorsese's movies are unusual in also ending on a note of irresolution (Mean Streets), the Gainax Ending (Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy, After Hours) and the full-fledged Downer Ending. Raging Bull is worth mentioning, given that it ends on a note of hope, even if the hero has lost everything, he has become Older and Wiser and presumably will be more peaceful now.
- Black Comedy / Comedic Sociopathy : Whatever comedy is in his films, it's gonna be this, and it's black.
- Black and Gray Morality: Present in a number of his films since, as mentioned above, he doesn't believe in conventional heroism. That being said, there are some relatively idealistic exceptions.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Somewhat justified, in that the majority of characters in his best known films (i.e. the ones involving organised crime) tend to be Italian or Irish, two strongly Catholic ethnicities. Scorsese himself was raised Catholic and initially planned to become a priest.
- Averted for two of Scorsese's religious films. The Last Temptation of Christ is an adaptation of a work by a Greek Orthodox writer and its screenplay written by Paul Schrader who was Dutch Calvinist. His film Kundun likewise is a biopic of the 14th Dalai Lama(the one we know today), exploring Buddhist concepts and culture with an eye for detail far beyond more simplistic portraits.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Raging Bull, Casino, Goodfellas , The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street. Indeed Casino held the record for most Fs for a film for a fiction film until beaten out by The Wolf of Wall Street.
- Creator Breakdown: He reportedly came very close to killing himself in the late '70s, having a cocaine addiction and depressed over the state of his career and the failure to get his dream project Gangs of New York off the ground (it ultimately wouldn't be made until 2002). He credits a phone call from Robert De Niro asking him to direct Raging Bull as stopping him from going through with it.
- Creator Provincialism: He's born and raised in New York City and many of his most famous films are considered to be among the definitive portraits of the city. Likewise two of his historical films (The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York) are period films of Old New York from two totally different social classes.
- Interestingly, Mean Streets which was seen, at the time, as the quintessential movie about tenement New York was largely shot in Los Angeles (since producer Roger Corman would only produce it if it was shot in LA). While New York New York was done entirely on studio sets.
- Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy, After Hours and Life Lessons are considered by some to be time capsules of New York, and regarded to be unusually accurate in general topography and city layout as opposed to the scattered touristy manner most films use New York locations.
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster : When discussing films like the original Scarface(by Howard Hawks, not Brian De Palma's remake) and a western like The Wild Bunch, Scorsese admits that audiences tend to root for the bad guys and overt Do Not Do This Cool Thing admonitions never work. In his movies, he shows gangsters more or less as they are, showing them as a kind of counter-culture with its own rules and what happens to people who step out of line and by and large leaves it to the audience to sort out their moral alignment.
- Darkest Hour: He was heavily addicted to cocaine during the 70s and 80s, which along with a troubled marriage, drove him to the edge of despair. He credits such things as the experience of filming Raging Bull as well as the support of critics like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert with pulling him out of his depression.
- Doing It for the Art : He aspires all his films to be this, but is pragmatic to make a couple of well-made Money, Dear Boy films, by his own admission(and which he put good work on nevertheless), along with his personal films. The remake of Cape Fear was by his own admission made to fund films like The Age of Innocence.
- Early Installment Weirdness: His debut film Who's That Knocking At My Door? is a Romantic Comedy. But it features a surprising number of what would become his trademarks (New York setting, Italian-American community, Catholic guilt, awesome use of old rock songs on the soundtrack, Harvey Keitel).
- Family Versus Career : As a Big Name Fan of The Red Shoes, a running theme of some of his films is the sacrifices you need to make to follow your passion. His film New York, New York famously explored this and averted Always Female by showing this an equal conflict between the man and woman, showing a relationship between creative people who are both The Determinator in their field. His film is notable for its Reality Ensues showing that the relationship would never work, even if they were still very much in love.
- Genre Roulette: Showed his versatility by making biopics (Raging Bull, The Aviator, The Wolf of Wall Street, Hugo), historical dramas (The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York), comedy (The King Of Comedy, After Hours), film noir/real life drama (Taxi Driver), musical (New York New York), gangster films (Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, the remake The Departed), bible movies (The Last Temptation of Christ), thrillers (Cape Fear), concert films (The Last Waltz, Shine A Light), documentaries (Italianamerican, A Personal Journey Through American Films, A Personal Journey Through Italian Films, Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues,...), horror (Shutter Island)
- Gentleman and a Scholar: In his interviews he reveals himself to be a history buff and an autodidact who is knowledgeable about history, art and literature who is as much at home at discussing the influence of Caravaggio on his work as well as his love for B-Movies, genre films and directors like Mario Bava and Roger Corman.
- Glory Days: In the commentary on Casino, Scorsese discusses his identification with the nostalgia for the Vegas in the 70s(which he doesn't share) to his own lament for the end of the New Hollywood generation, the last time directors like him were given access to decent budgets.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Several of his characters display this and suffer as a consequence.
- Hidden Depths: All his characters show this, even someone who is otherwise The Brute like Jake La Motta in Raging Bull.
- Jerkass : A lot of his protagonists are like this, and Scorsese admits that he chooses them as a deliberate provocation against conventional good guys.
- In his addiction phase, he was this. He said while on cocaine, he would provoke people, throw glass at anyone, and overall became very unpleasant to be around. It got so bad to the point where he alienated those close to him.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Then again, the main characters in his more dramatic works tend to be well-intentioned or have scruples underneath.
- Laser-Guided Karma: His gangster films usually end badly for the Villain Protagonist.
- The Mafia: He's created the most iconic Mafia films outside of The Godfather. Having grown up in Little Italy, he knew that culture and mentality well, while The Godfather was not a realistic film by any means(as admitted by Coppola). His films show the Italian-American mob as merely a part of the larger immigration story and failure of assimilation into American society and The American Dream.
- Magnum Opus Dissonance:
- Fans debate whether Taxi Driver, Raging Bull or Goodfellas are his True Magnum Opus.
- Scorsese himself treasures Italianamerican a documentary about his parents. In Scorsese on Scorsese he has cited The Age of Innocence and Kundun as two films which he feels are productions where he had a free reign and achieved exactly what he had visioned and cites them as his favorites.
- The Mentor: He himself was at both ends.
- The actor-director John Cassavetes served as this to Scorsese, telling him after seeing Boxcar Bertha that he could do better and should make more personal films instead of genre pieces, which, while well made, were a waste of his talents.
- Scorsese is also grateful to legendary producer Roger Corman for giving him the chance for Boxcar Bertha which he says helped him learn how to do a professional studio production rather than the piecemeal way he had made his student films.
- Michael Powell served as an important advisor during their friendship, inspiring Scorsese to shoot Raging Bull in black and white. Scorsese's favorite editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, was also Powell's last wife.
- Scorsese himself served as this for Oliver Stone and Spike Lee as a teacher at NYU.
- Missing Episode:
- Who's that Knocking At My Door was supposed to be the second installment of a trilogy of films based around the idea of crime and Catholic guilt. Mean Streets was the third part. The first part, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, would have involved the Harvey Keitel character going to a seminary retreat and would have been based around symbolism from the stages of the cross. No studio would fund it due to its overtly religious nature.
- Scorsese's initial plans for Gangs of New York were considerably more radical and ambitious. In the 70s, he planned to make it a collaboration with The Clash, making it a punk musical and starring De Niro. In the 90s, he initially said that he planned to make a trilogy. He also stated that it was his hope that the film launch a new genre, a 19th Century Urban Western, with many films set in nascent conurbations. A real What Could Have Been.
- The Movie Buff: His knowledge of films, not only silent and classic American, but Italian, Russian, French, Japanese films as well as avant garde films, from different eras is so encyclopedic that many film historians believe he has seen every movie ever made.
- The Narrator : Makes frequent use of it on most of his films. In interviews, Scorsese has even argued against conventional wisdom about narrators by the screenwriting gurus who argue that reliance on this leads to an avoidance of Show, Don't Tell. In his movies narrators never directly discuss or explain the plot or motivation, but merely add another layer of interaction and observation in his films.
- New York City: He grew up there and many films take place there.
- Nothing But Hits: An example of the trope at its finest; Scorsese's movies possess some of the best soundtracks ever. Scorsese averts the extreme uses of this, because of his extraordinary knowledge of music (nearly as extensive as his knowledge about cinema) and his music uses varies from the popular, to the unexpected and the Giant Space Flea from Nowhere such as the use of Georges Delerue's theme from Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt in Casino.
- One of Us:
- He is on record as a huge fan of The Rolling Stones. He used their music in many of his movies, even directed the concert movie Shine A Light. Apart from that Scorsese was also a technician on Woodstock in 1969 and devoted an entire documentary series Martin Scorsese Present The Blues about his love for blues music. Two of his other documentary series A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese expressed his love for both American and Italian movies. Scorsese is a huge admirer of Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini and also loves to watch Fawlty Towers.
- While most of today's filmmakers operate with an "out with the old, in with the new" mentality, Scorsese is president of The Film Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of film (including the very obscure, very old ones). For this passion alone he is adored by many a fan of silent film and classics alike. A good part of the reason Hugo works so well is because of this.
- During his childhood he would constantly borrow a certain book from the New York Public Library featuring photos from various films up to 1950, and a few times succumbed to the temptation to clip a picture out.
- Watch his documentaries about American and Italian cinema to see Scorsese in full-on film geek mode.
- Scorsese once surprised Dave Chappelle by saying he was a fan and quoting from "The Playa Haters Ball".
- In the book "Monty Python Live," there's a little anecdote about how Scorsese went to dinner with the Monty Python troupe soon after Mean Streets premiered. This became a Hilarious in Hindsight moment for the Pythons as they had no clue who Scorsese was.
- The One That Got Away: Following his breakup with Isabella Rossellini, Scorsese couldn't bring himself to watch her films again, or even visit places where they had spent time together. In fact, he could no longer bear to watch anything made by studios that had employed his ex, even if she wasn't in the film in question."I'd see the United Artists logo, and it would ruin the movie for me!" *nervous chuckle*
- The One Who Made It Out:
- A favored theme for Scorsese, especially his early films, is the desire for his characters to be this, of getting out of the ghetto, but lacking the ruthlessness, commitment and drive to go ahead. This even extends to The Age of Innocence, a story about a man in a superficial society with a banal marriage who longed for a more intellectually fulfilling life. Scorsese's films generally show the tragedy of this experience and to what extent this is possible.
- Scorsese is himself this in Real Life. Many of his friends were street hoodlums in Little Italy, but he became a rich, successful, famous artist. His commentaries and interviews often talks of the poignancy of this experience.
- Playing with a Trope: Because of his wide knowledge of film history, Scorsese's movies frequently engage with genre conventions with and a wider historical and intellectual context.
- Pigeonholed Director: He's known for his gangster films but he only made three films about the Mob, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino. His other films vary in genre and style, from period epics to musical to biopic of the 14th Dalai Lama. This is lampshaded by Billy Crystal during the 84th Academy Awards in regards to Hugo. "Are you sure this is a Scorsese movie? No one's gotten whacked yet."
- Pride : A stated theme in a lot of his films, is identifying and arguing against all kinds of pride, which fits in with his Catholic background. Whether it's unsavory characters over-reaching on excess like in The Wolf of Wall Street or supposed good guys who think their moral crisis justifies a need to punish people like in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Bringing out the dead.
- Production Posse: For actors, the leads will most likely go to Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio, with Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Victor Argo and Harry Northup in other types of roles. His parents usually got cameo appearances in his movies and Daniel Day-Lewis, John C. Reilly, Ben Kingsley and many others have collaborated on multiple occasions. For crew, he's got Thelma Schoonmaker as editor, Paul Schrader, Nicholas Pileggi, John Logan and Mardik Martin as screenwriters, Sandy Powell as costume designer, Howard Shore and Elmer Bernstein as composers, Dante Ferreti as Production Designer, Rob Legato as Visual Effects supervisor, Michael Ballhaus and Robert Richardson as cinematographers, and Saul Bass did some of his last titles for Scorsese.
- Promoted Fanboy: As a young boy, Scorsese grew up seeing classic films on TV in the hope of becoming a great film-maker. He succeeded. Scorsese's understanding of this trope is what makes The King of Comedy so poignant, as he says in interviews, he identified with both the hungry crazy fan, who he was growing up, and the established comedian who was a Consummate Professional, which he had become when he made the film.
- Raised Catholic: He was raised in a devoutly Catholic environment, and originally wanted to be a priest. He once said "I'm a lapsed Catholic. But I am Roman Catholic - there's no way out of it." His films often deal with Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption. In an interview with Roger Ebert, he was convinced that he was headed to Hell for divorcing his first wife (Isabella Rosallini). No ifs, ands, or buts. On the other side of the coin, Scorsese is perfectly able to make a beautiful film about Buddhism, as in Kundun.
- Reality Ensues: What makes his films so controversial is his willingness to strip his narrative of genre conventions and let things follow on as they do in real life. With select exceptions, his movies tend to be biopics or historical films or Based on a True Story. Unlike Hollywood History, he generally stays true to the facts and only makes changes for dramatic effect rather than audience considerations.
- Redemption Quest: Some of his characters yearn for this, but Scorsese shows that it's hard to achieve in life and in fact his more religious films explore constantly what the idea of redemption actually means in everyday life."You don't make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it."
- Shout-Out: Martin Scorsese's movies are filled with numerous film and music references, only very subtle that careful viewers and cinephiles can recognize. It's not so much in dialogue as in compositions, gestures by characters, editing and cutting. The range of references in his movies in terms of variety as well as the subtlety with which it is done is a lesson in itself, in that they are there for a reason, suggesting like Alan Moore's Watchmen a deeper layer and connection. Any Scorsese movie will have references to American films, famous and obscure, Italian films, Japanese films or experimental works. Taxi Driver refers to Hitchcock's obscure film The Wrong Man, Michael Snow's experimental Wavelength and Jean-Luc Godard's 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. They are that dense.
- A good example comes through this page detailing his homages to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's movies. And these are the ones Scorsese has acknowledged.
- Shown Their Work : Scorsese's films are almost anthropological for the level of details and visual information that is placed in the frame and the background without having a direct impact on the plot. In fact, a good portion of his films are period films and set in different historical periods, and thus needing that level of research. He averts Hollywood History by a great margin, while still finding much visual invention and creativity in storytelling.
- So My Kids Can Watch: He said he made Hugo so he'd have at least one film his daughter could see.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Lots of oldies and classic rock. Lampshaded in Mean Streets.
- Scorsese excels at mixing songs to the appropriate scene. Goodfellas is the perfect example.
- Those Two Guys: He and Robert De Niro in the 70s through 90s were often a double act in their public appearances. Now, with Sidekick Graduations Stick, Leonardo DiCaprio has taken the same spot.
- Usage of The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter as a Signature Song, usually as a subtle premonitory sign. Ironically, it does not appear in Shine A Light, as noted by Mick Jagger.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: The content of his films are generally not True Art Is Incomprehensible but by and large they challenge narrative conventions and genre expectations that audiences are otherwise comfortable with. As a film historian, Scorsese has an eclectic taste and wide knowledge of cinema from around the world, and fully believes that audiences can enjoy all kinds of films, even the ones that require some effort.
- Villain Protagonist: The main characters in several of his films aren't nice people, to say the least. Martin Scorsese is unapologetic about this and notes his belief that Humans Are Flawed and that people who society deems as villains are Not So Different from more respectable people.
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are: John Cassavetes gave him a speech of this nature after seeing Boxcar Bertha. He also said he considered the (incredibly rare, for him) negative review given to The Color of Money by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert another version of it, one that he appreciated greatly.