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"My whole life has been movies and religion. That's it. Nothing else."
Martin Scorsese

Martin Charles Scorsese (born November 17, 1942) is an Italian-American filmmaker, born in New York City and raised in the neighborhood of Little Italy. He began his career as part of the New Hollywood generation of film school students. He is regarded as one of America's greatest film-makers and one of the most influential in the latter half of the 20th Century.

He gained fame for his gritty urban dramas of The '70s starring Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. Movies that were shocking for their visual invention, unconventional editing, intense performances and graphic violence. They made him a critical favorite, culminating in Taxi Driver. After the commercial setback of New York, New York and Raging Bull, he entered an uncertain and uneven period in The '80s, but returned to public and critical favour with Goodfellas and a new prolific period where he has averaged one film every two years since 1990. He remains active well into the 21st Century, winning Best Director and Best Picture for The Departed after being a notable case of Award Snub for more than 30 years. Scorsese is best known for his films about The Mafia but he has in fact made films in a wide variety of genres: Documentaries, concert films, music videos (Michael Jackson's "Bad"), literary adaptations (The Age of Innocence), Black Comedy (The King of Comedy, After Hours, The Wolf of Wall Street), Biopics and religious films.

Scorsese is also well known in the wider media since The '80s for his advocacy of film preservation and restoration, serving as a founder and an active spokesman for The Film Foundation and the World Cinema Foundation. He raised attention for the decay of film stock and the preservation of film prints of several film-makers, both well known and obscure. He also champions cinema as an artform and has devoted considerable attention to restoring the reputations of forgotten film-makers and supporting up-and-coming artists from across the world.

He uses many of the same actors in his movies, including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Publicly, he's 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, in his own movies and others. He also appeared in Shark Tale.

Important books on Martin Scorsese's career include: Martin Scorsese: A Journey by Mary Pat Kelly, The Scorsese Picture by David Ehrenstein (for early Scorsese from his student films to The Last Temptation of Christ), Conversations with Scorsese, which consists of several, long interviews from Scorsese by Richard Schickel in the style of Hitchcock/Truffaut, and the long-running constantly updated Scorsese on Scorsese oral interviews (by Ian Christie and David Thompson) (for middle Scorsese: Between Goodfellas and Gangs of New York) note .

Vote for your favorite Martin Scorsese film here!


Filmography:

Fiction

Non-Fiction

  • A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies (1995)
  • Il mio Viaggio in Italia (1999)
  • No Direction Home (2005, Bob Dylan documentary)
  • Shine a Light (2008, The Rolling Stones rockumentary)
  • A Letter to Elia (2010)
  • Public Speaking (2010)
  • George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)
  • The 50 Year Argument (2014)


Tropes common to Scorsese and his works include:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Mean Streets released in 1973 is actually intended, by Scorsese, to be set in the mid-60s. Bringing out the Dead was released in 1999 but intended by him to be set in the early 90s before New York became entirely gentrified and is described as such in the opening title card disclaimer.
  • Adam Westing: Appeared in a highly amusing American Express commercial in which he nit picks one-hour photos of his nephew's birthday party as if they were a poorly-executed movie shoot. As the man would later claim, this is exactly how his actual movie shoots go.
  • 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.
    • He played as one in Taxi Driver.
  • 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, Scorsese: A Journey, The Scorsese Picture as well as DVD Commentaries and interviews available on YouTube.
  • Banned in China: For making Kundun his film about the Dalai Lama. This is especially sad given that Scorsese has long championed Chinese cinema and films by Tian Zhuangzhuang, Jian Zhangke and several Chinese film-makers have testified to his influence on their works.
  • Being Good Sucks: Among the basic themes in his movies is that it's very hard, very difficult, and oftentimes punishing to be good. And those who try to be good or do good in Scorsese's movies, whether it's Frank in Bringing out the Dead, or the Dalai Lama in Kundun, or Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence, Fr. Rodrigues in Silence, or the FBI Agent Denham in The Wolf of Wall Street, often end up with very little reward, often lose, and at best can hope to survive to continue the struggle. His movie about Jesus, The Last Temptation of Christ, was controversial because it deglamorized Christ's story and merely brought out how painful and almost incomprehensibly heroic (and so divine) Jesus had to have been to make his sacrifice.
  • 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.
  • Biopic: Raging Bull, Kundun, The Aviator, The Wolf of Wall Street and even Hugo (albeit a Sidelong Glance Biopic).
  • Big Applesauce: New York is a common setting for his works.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Sports some pretty prominent ones.
  • 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.
  • Career Resurrection: Several:
    • Raging Bull was not a wide commercial success but on a personal and professional level was important in making Scorsese continue to commit himself to narrative film-making and also to make himself more disciplined in both his personal and professional life (such as kicking his drug habit). The Color of Money made in the middle of The '80s likewise became his first major commercial success since Taxi Driver and was important for his career which until had stalled with the first version of Last Temptation being canceled and his other movies getting mixed critical views (even if The King of Comedy is now considered a classic).
    • Cape Fear and GoodFellas more or less gave him Auteur License again and restored his commercial cache and critical reputation, allowing him to make films with bigger budgets and take on uncommercial subject mater like The Age Of Innocence and Kundun and still continue to thrive.
    • His career dipped again in The Oughties with Gangs of New York and The Aviator which while profitable were not very big hits and were critically divisive. Then The Departed became a major commercial success, won critical acclaim, got him a long-delayed Oscar and since then most of his movies have been commercial successes (with Hugo and Silence being the only exception though are widely acclaimed).
  • 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.
    • Played straight however with Silence, his 2016 adaptation of Japanese Catholic author Shusaku Endo, which deals with Portuguese Jesuits trying to proselytize their faith in Japan.
  • 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.
  • Cool Old Guy: Definitely. He's extremely popular among actors not only due to his extraordinary talent but for his benevolent, good-natured personality and it's clear the years haven't dulled his love or passion for cinema in the slightest.
  • Costume Porn: Scorsese was the son of parents who worked in New York's garment district, as such his movies are filled with detailed recreations and attention to suits, shirts and fittings. His movies have even inspired fashion designers such as Giorgio Armani, who was quite taken with the period costumes for New York, New York. For Goodfellas, his parents actually pressed the suits on-set solely to make it accurate to period stylings.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: From very early in his career onwards, Scorsese heroines tend to be blondes, starting from Zina Bethune in Who's that Knocking on My Door to Cybill Shephard in Taxi Driver, Cathy Moriarty in Raging Bull, Roseanna Arquette (After Hours, Life Lessons)note , Michelle Pfeiffer in The Age of Innocence, Sharon Stone in Casino, Vera Farmiga in The Departed, Michelle Williams in Shutter Island, and of course, Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact there are more blonde actresses in Scorsese's movies than in Alfred Hitchcock.
  • 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.
  • The Film of the Book: Quite a number of his films are based on novels or non-fiction works: Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, Casino, Bringing out the Dead, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street and the upcoming Silence.
  • 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, Silence), 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.
  • Humans Are Bastards / Humans Are Flawed: He infuses his characters with realistic flaws. However, in his more cynical films (i.e. Goodfellas, The King of Comedy, The Wolf of Wall Street, etc.), good luck finding a character who isnít an absolute Hate Sink.
  • Jerkass : A lot of his protagonists are like this, and Scorsese admits that he chooses them as a deliberate provocation against conventional good guys.
    • 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.
  • Historical Fiction: It's often forgotten that very few of his movies are actually contemporary to the year they are released in (Who's that Knocking on My Door, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, The Color of Money, Life Lessons, The Departed). The vast majority of his movies are period films set either in the 40s-through-70s and some of them are straight up historical films (Silence, The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York, Kundun).
  • 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: Despite the acclaimed status of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, 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.
  • Money, Dear Boy: Some of his movies were commercial assignments intended to provide a platform for his more personal films. Nevertheless, he puts in good work on these projects and takes them as experiments.
    • The Color of Money and the remake of Cape Fear was by his own admission made to fund films like The Last Temptation of Christ, The Age of Innocence and even Goodfellasnote . Casino was also partly a commercial project since the studios were keen for the Goodfellas team to return and that paved the way for Kundun and later Gangs of New York. The Departed was intended as a commercial venture for Scorsese to eventually make his long-gestating adaptation of Silence, and Scorsese was surprised that what he considered to be a genre movie ended up winning a long-delayed Oscar.
    • It has also backfired occassionally. From his perspective, he expected New York New York to be a more commercial venture while Taxi Driver would be the art film made for the micro-budget that he expected no one would see. Then Taxi Driver was a hit and the other film was a flop. Likewise he thought Hugo would be a hit and a family friendly film, instead it barely recouped its loss and became an Acclaimed Flop, while The Wolf of Wall Street became the biggest hit of his career.
  • 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.
    Steven Spielberg: We were gobbling up images as fast as as they would come. We were speaking this dialogue from the great movies of the '30's and '40's out loud, led by Scorsese who knew more than anyone else put together. He inspired us to look at movies we'd never heard of before. He'd get these 16mm Michael Powell films that we'd all sit around looking at.
  • Motor Mouth: Noted for talking very fast, an aspect that shows up in many Scorsese spoofs and informed Robert De Niro's performance in Angel Heart. Scorsese's own cameos in his films and his performances in other films (like Round Midnight by Bertrand Tavernier and in Shark Tale) also has him play characters like this.
  • 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.
    Scorsese: "I know that often when a film isnít working, people say, Ďuse a narratorí and it can be a cheat, but thatís a simplistic interpretation of what narration does. I grew up watching movies like Kind Hearts and Coronets and Jules and Jim and I thought that narration was the voice of the storyteller. Does that tell rather than show? I donít think so. For me, the storytellerís voice is the entryway into the story."
  • Nice Guy: In his later years, he has a reputation as a polite, kind and humble man whom actors and crew members enjoy working with as evidenced by the amount who've done multiple films with him.
  • 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 for the Money; One for the Art: For much of his career, he's followed this rule. (He's also the source of the quote at the top of the relevant Trivia page on the subject.
  • 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, Ingmar Bergman, 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*
    • Of course many of his own characters are haunted by doomed romance. Newland Archer in The Age Of Innocence especially.
  • 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.
  • Overcrank: He was famous for popularizing this in his films, especially Raging Bull. Scorsese did this in-camera during production, moving the frame rate fast and slow in the middle of action, going from over-to-under crank (most prominently in the boxing scenes) and all his films since then use this in various ways, sometimes obvious (the close-up on Robert De Niro as "Sunshine of your Love" plays in Goodfellas), other-times quite subtle (such as in The Age Of Innocence when Winona Ryder gives the climactic Wham Line, and the Wham Shot of the tracking shot where Newland realizes his crush on Ellen Olenska was an Open Secret).
  • The Perfectionist: That American Express commercial he did? That's actually how seriously he takes his movies, and he or any of his assistants will tell you.
  • 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, Liam Neeson, John C. Reilly, Ben Kingsley and many others have collaborated on multiple occasions. For crew, he's got Thelma Schoonmaker as editornote , Paul Schrader, Nicholas Pileggi, Jay Cocks, 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.
  • Reality Subtext: Scorsese doesn't share Casino's nostalgia for the decline of Las Vegas in the early 1980s. But, parallels can be drawn between this and the decline of the New Hollywood era of filmmaking, after which studios held directors on a much tighter leash. Scorsese, like many New Hollywood directors, views that era as the last time directors like him had access to decent budgets and creative freedom.
    Sam "Ace" Rothstein: "It should have been so sweet, too. But it turned out to be the last time that street guys like us were ever given anything that fuckin' valuable again."
  • 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."
  • Rockumentary:
    • The Last Waltz (1978) is about The Band's farewell concert in 1976, while Shine A Light (2008) captures The Rolling Stones in concert in 2006.
    • Early in his career, Scorsese was assistant director and editor for the Woodstock film.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: He's on the Enlightenment side on the whole, both in content (realistic and critical deconstructive approach to character and narrative) and style (documentary and detail-rich period recreations). Even Scorsese's religious films, largely grapple with how one can deal with spiritual questions in a meaningful way in the real world, subversive of conventional ideas of Redemption Quest.
  • Saved from Development Hell: When Scorsese is determined to make a film he follows through, and he is known for his persistence in following on his passion projects:
    • The Last Temptation of Christ was first recommended by actress Barbara Hershey (who eventually played Mary Magdaelene 19 years later) to Scorsese during the making of Boxcar Bertha. Scorsese had always planned on making a film about Jesus, and initially he even considered adapting Robert Graves' King Jesus before settling on Nikos Kazantzakis' unusual take. The Last Temptation actually entered pre-production in The '80s with Aiden Quinn as Jesus and Sting in key roles but Paramount pulled of and cancelled the film. Scorsese then made After Hours and followed with The Color of Money whose box-office success he parlayed, successfully, into getting The Last Temptation of Christ off the ground by the end of the decade.
    • Gangs of New York was planned since the 70s before finally entering production in the late 90s, and released in 2002. Scorsese's initial plans for Gangs of New York were considerably radical and ambitious. In the 70s, he planned to make it a collaboration with The Clash, making it a punk musical starring Robert De Niro. In the 90s, he considered making it 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.
    • Silence his adaptation of Shusaku Endo's novel was planned since The '90s (after Cape Fear) and entered production in 2015 and set for a 2016 release. The film was always regarded as "uncommercial" and Scorsese has hinted in interviews that several films made in The Noughties were essentially Money, Dear Boy projects to finally give him the cache to make Silence. It was planned to be produced after The Departed with Benicio del Toro and Daniel Day-Lewis but finally had Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson take over.
    • Scorsese and Mick Jagger had talked about making The Long Play in The '90s, a movie about the music business, its ups and downs. Eventually, the ideas behind it got repurposed for HBO and it became Vinyl, which has been cancelled after one season.
  • 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.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: His movies lean to the cynical side at least as conventionally understood. Being Good Sucks but Being Evil Sucks too, and even those characters who seem all powerful and secure have their problems and insecurities:
    • All of his love stories tend to be either Destructive Romance (Casino, Shutter Island), or Unrequited Love Lasts Forever (The Age of Innocence), and almost always the hero Did Not Get the Girl. Even when he's making movies about artists, he keeps highlighting how painful, difficult, and challenging it is, and how many sacrifices you have to make (as in New York New York, Life Lessons, The King of Comedy, Hugo).
    • His crime movies keep insisting that most of the time crime does pay, and that while some gangsters and criminals do get caught, it often has less to do with justice, and more because Society Marches On and a new kind of crime has arrived (such as Casino showing organized crime being modernized and updated by a more corporate and bureaucratic crime). Most of the time, Society Is to Blame, and it's an achievement for Scorsese's characters not so much when they redeem themselves but feel they have something to redeem and feel remorse for, because most of them learn to stifle their conscience.
    • And of course no matter how good your intentions are, and how noble you want to be, whether you are the Dalai Lama and the head of Tibet, or a simple priest on a mission in Silence, or a romantic aristocratic in New York (The Age of Innocence), if you are weak, the strong will abuse their power and screw you over, morality and good sense be damned. As Stacy Keach notes in Shutter Island, "There's no order as pure as the storm we have just seen. There is no moral order at all" and if people want morality, they have to make it happen.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: He wears thick black-rimmed glasses and he's one of the most acclaimed directors in history in addition to being a walking encyclopedia of film.
  • 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.
    • 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, his Rolling Stones concert film, because it wasn't on the set list, as noted by Mick Jagger.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Villainous Gentrification: A repeated theme in his movies, is consistently portraying gentrification as more or less a conservative attitude to deny the ugliness of reality and human frailty, and simply pretend that physical cleansing is the same as cleansing in a moral, political, and historical sense:
    • Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is a Mid-westerner who arrives to The Big Rotten Apple and develops a perverse love-hate attitude to the city whose scum he wants to wash clean of.
    • The end of Casino has Ace Rothstein criticize the "family friendly" Disney-fied Las Vegas that came in after the Mafia went bust. The Mafia were pretty bad but they didn't try to sell gambling to kids, nor did they operate in the legalized gambling of "junk bonds" that was used to rebuilt the pyramids.
    • In Kundun, the Chinese are imperialists who want to take over Tibet and get rid of its feudal and theocratic society, which the film doesn't deny is part of the fabric of Pre-Conquest Tibet. The Dalai Lama himself is an Internal Reformist, but ultimately the Chinese want to to be the ones who modernize Tibet because they are strong and Tibet is weak.
    • The coda of Gangs of New York has Amsterdam Vallon lamenting in voiceover the result of this:
    Amsterdam Vallon: "We never knew how many New Yorkers died that week before the city was finally delivered. My father told me we was all born of blood and tribulation, and so then too was our great city. But for those of us what lived and died in them furious days, it was like everything we knew was mightily swept away. And no matter what they did to build this city up again... for the rest of time... it would be like no one ever knew we was even here."
    • Scorsese in general has lamented the gentrification of New York in the Giuliani-Bloomberg era. His documentary Public Speaking has him interviewing Fran Liebowitz a noted critic of the phenomenon. He noted that he generally didn't like making films in contemporary New York because he barely recognizes the city. His most recent New York films Bringing out the Dead and The Wolf of Wall Street are period films about The '90s. Bringing out the Dead had a title card announcing it was set 20 Minutes into the Past precisely because the film chronicles an ambulance driver in the tail-end of The Big Rotten Apple era.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • 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.
    • Dino a film about Dean Martin and his friendship with Jerry Lewis during their years as a stand-up act and eventual breakup. He planned the film with Tom Hanks in mind but the project fell apart because the studio wanted a more clear take on the rivalry. Scorsese wanted a Gray and Grey Morality situation where both Dean and Jerry (who was after all his friend since The King of Comedy) were in the right and compared the studio's simplistic focus to a film version of The Beatles where film-makers chooses sides between Lennon and McCartney.
    • Gershwin a biopic of the famous composer. A script was written by playwright John Guare and Scorsese discussed the film with David Bowie, who was going to play Fred Astaire, with Astaire's blessing no-less.
    • A planned biopic of Frank Sinatra also fell apart despite being a project Scorsese expressed repeated intention in doing. He planned an experimental approach where multiple actors play Sinatra at different ages and the movie flashes back and forth in time. The reason it fell apart is similar to Dino, Scorsese wanted a Warts and All approach but Sinatra's estate didn't want a movie that avoided the Biopic formula.
    • Scorsese considered adapting a few of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novels. He planned to do Notes from Underground before coming across Paul Schrader's screenplay for Taxi Driver (which he noted was inspired by Dostoevsky's book and in his mind counts as a Spiritual Adaptation). He also wanted to adapt The Idiot and discussed the project with John Guare. The only Dostoevsky story he ever adapted was The Gambler for his short film Life Lessons for New York Stories.
  • 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.

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