It says much for the esteem in which Martin Scorsese is held that when critic and historian Peter Biskind came up with a title for his epochal 1998 study of New Hollywood, he chose his 1980 black-and-white boxing picture to bookend the period, along with Dennis Hopper's seminal 1969 road movie. Inspired by the page-turning bestseller, Kenneth Bower's 2003 documentary, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, confirms Scorsese's significance to the group of auteurs known as 'the Movie Brats', as well as his importance as both a film-maker and a custodian of cinema's global heritage.
He may not have set the box-office bells ringing like Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, scooped Academy Awards like Francis Ford Coppola or earned cult status like John Milius or Brian De Palma. But Scorsese most consistently produced personal pictures that not only reflected an encyclopaedic knowledge of world cinema, but also a deep fund of often bitter experience that helped shape him as a man and define him as an artist. Consequently, regardless of the time or place in which the action is set, it's always possible to detect the telltale Scorsese traits of urgency, authenticity and humanity.
Born in Flushing in the New York borough of Queens on 17 November 1942, Martin Scorsese was the son Charles and Catherine, a presser and a seamstress in the nearby Garment District, whose families had originated from the Sicilian province of Palermo. Shortly afterwards, the Scorseses moved to Elizabeth Street in the Little Italy neighbourhood of Manhattan's Lower East Side and it was here that Marty and his older brother Frank shared a tiny bedroom, attended school and served as altar boys at Old St Patrick's Cathedral.
They also joined their relations in crowding around the family's 16-inch television set and Scorsese recalls listening to his uncles pointing out plot holes in the old movies that the networks used to pad out schedules of mostly live broadcasts. As asthma prevented Scorsese from doing sport or playing in the street, his parents often took him to the local movie theatre to cheer him up and, from the moment he saw Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck in King Vidor's Duel in the Sun (1946), he was hooked and started keeping shot-by-shot records of pictures starring idols like Victor Mature and Sabu. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951) also made a deep impression, as the 12 year-old began storyboarding original scenarios bearing the credit 'Directed and Produced by Martin Scorsese'.
However, attending Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, the teenage Scorsese wondered whether he had a higher calling to become a priest. But, while he studied at a preparatory seminary, he was thrown out for 'roughhousing during prayers' at the end of his first year and turned his attention back to his true vocation. Inspired by widescreen blockbusters set in the ancient world, Scorsese made Vesuvius VI (1959), a DIY Roman epic that bore the influence of the popular TV show, 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64). Yet, he retained a childhood desire to make a film about Jesus Christ and never forgot the debt he owed to Catherine and Charles, who were themselves aspiring actors and featured in their son's affectionate 1974 documentary, Italianamerican.
By the time he enrolled on the English course at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Scorsese had already developed a keen appreciation of European cinema. He would discuss his passion for neo-realists like Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica and such Second Renaissance maestros as Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini in My Voyage to Italy (1999), an unmissable companion to his earlier Hollywood paean, A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995). However, Scorsese also imbibed the influence of the nouvelle vague, as well as such distinctive auteurs as Jean Renoir, Satyajit Ray and Ingmar Bergman.
It's worth pausing to consider the dozen films that Scorsese chose for the 2012 edition of Sight & Sound's decennial poll, with The Red Shoes being joined on the list by Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941), Rosselini's Paisà (1946), Renoir's The River (1951), Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari (1953), John Ford's The Searchers (1956), Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds (both 1958), Pasolini's Salvatore Giuliano (1962), Fellini's 8½, Visconti's The Leopard (both 1963) and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Interestingly, only one title postdated Scorsese's own feature bow, but he is anything but a man stuck in the past.
Having already made the shorts What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963) and It's Not Just You, Murray! (1964), few were surprised when Scorsese signed up for the NYU film course under inspirational tutor Haig P. Manoogian, who mentored him through the savage anti-Vietnam satire, The Big Shave, and his first feature, Who's That Knocking at My Door (both 1967), which was edited by one classmate, Thelma Schoonmaker, and starred another, Harvey Keitel, as a working-class Catholic from Little Italy whose passion for uptown girl Zina Bethune cools when he discovers she is no longer a virgin.
Clearly impressed by his work on the US Information Agency documentary, New York City... Melting Point (1966), CBS hired Scorsese to train as a news editor and he used his new skills on his own anti-war actuality, Street Scenes (1970), as well as such iconic concert films as Mike Wadleigh's Oscar-winning Woodstock (1970), François Reichenbach's Medicine Ball Caravan (1971) and Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge's Elvis on Tour (1972). A huge music fan whose knowledge is evident from the songtracks on his features, Scorsese has produced several rockumentaries during his career, with The Last Waltz (1978), Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (2005), Shine a Light (2008) and George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011) all being available to rent from Cinema Paradiso, as is The Concert for New York City (2001), for which Scorsese directed the segment entitled, 'The Neighborhood'.
New Kid on the Block
While serving his apprenticeship, Scorsese made the acquaintance of actor and pioneering independent director John Cassavetes and producer Warren Steibel. The latter hired him to direct The Honeymoon Killers, only for Scorsese to be fired after a week for working too slowly. However, replacement Donald Volkman only lasted a fortnight before Steibel asked composer roommate Leonard Kastle to take over. Undaunted, Scorsese accepted maverick director-producer Roger Corman's invitation to make a sequel to his low-budget crime saga, Bloody Mama (1970). Having already played a key role in Coppola's career, Corman recognised Scorsese's nascent talent. But he only gave him $650,000 and 24 days to make Boxcar Bertha (1972) and, while it made a profit and gave Scorsese the chance to work with Barbara Hershey and David Carradine as a pair of Depression-era train robbers, Cassavetes dismissed it as garbage and urged Scorsese to keep out of the clutches of commercial cinema and make personal pictures.
Thus, excusing himself from Corman's I Escaped From Devil's Island, Scorsese embarked upon Mean Streets (both 1973), which he scripted with Mardik Martin for Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro to play New York cousins whose small-time finagling lands them in trouble with a vicious loan shark. Owing much to Cassavetes, Samuel Fuller and Jean-Luc Godard, the film was hailed as an instant classic by influential critics like Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert and established the Scorsese template of using authentic locations, pugnaciously posturing performances, edgy editing and a rock soundtrack to examine themes like American machismo, Catholic guilt, the random nature of violence and humanity's potential for redemption.
Yet, rather than follow up his success with another personal project, Scorsese agreed to direct Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974). Following a widow's efforts to make it as a lounge singer, the dramedy struck a chord with audiences and critics alike and resulted in Burstyn winning both the Academy Award and the BAFTA for Best Actress. Diane Ladd was Oscar-nominated for her performance as Burstyn's best friend, while Scorsese only lost out on the BAFTA for Best Director to Stanley Kubrick for Barry Lyndon (1975). His original cut had run to 196 minutes, but his readiness to trim the picture and supply a happy ending impressed Warner Bros as much as the fact that they recouped $21 million on their $1.8 million outlay.
Crazy Drivers, Raging Bulls
Suddenly a force to be reckoned with, Scorsese seized the opportunity to make Taxi Driver (1976), a bruising bulletin on the state of the nation in the wake of the Watergate scandal and defeat in Vietnam. Written by Paul Schrader, photographed by Michael Chapman and scored by Bernard Herrmann, the story centres on traumatised war veteran Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), whose failure to impress political aide Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) during a disastrous date at a porn cinema prompts him to plot the assassination of her boss and the rescue of child prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster)from her abusive pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel). Such was Scorsese's bleak depiction of the rotting Big Apple that critics reached for the superlatives, as De Niro, Foster and Herrmann were nominated for Oscars. But Scorsese couldn't add the Best Picture statuette to the Palme d'Or from Cannes and he was hit hard by the critical backlash meted out to New York, New York (1977), a tribute to the musicals of his youth that charts the fortunes of saxophonist Robert De Niro and lounge singer Liza Minnelli.
Frank Sinatra would base his comeback around the theme tune, but the picture nearly ended Scorsese's career. Depressed after the break-up of his second marriage and after walking away from his Broadway debut, The Act (which had reunited him with Minnelli), he became heavily dependent upon drugs while working on American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (1978), a short profile of the actor who had played the gun salesman in Taxi Driver. After suffering internal bleeding, Scorsese had to be hospitalised. But, De Niro was so dismayed at seeing his friend fritter away his talent that he urged him to clean up his act so that they could start work on a boxing picture based on the career of former world middleweight champion, Jake La Motta.
Fortunately, Scorsese identified with the story of a flawed individual seizing his last chance of redemption and adopted what he called a 'kamikaze' approach to filming a script that went through countless drafts before Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin received the final credit. With Michael Chapman's evocative monochrome photography and Robert De Niro's bravura performance catching the eye, Raging Bull (1980) earned Scorsese the first of his eight Oscar nominations for Best Director. Yet, while De Niro and Schoonmaker won for their acting and editing, Chapman and Scorsese were overlooked, with the latter losing out to Robert Redford for Ordinary People. Convinced that he was doomed to remain a Hollywood outsider, Scorsese launched a fierce attack on celebrity and the media in The King of Comedy (1983), for which he abandoned the visual pyrotechnics that had become his trademark and opted for a largely static and surreally detached approach to the story of aspiring stand-up Robert De Niro's bid to boost his career prospects by holding comedian Jerry Lewis hostage in return for a slot on his chat show.
Man of Many Parts
Frustrated in his efforts to cast Aidan Quinn and Sting as Jesus and Pontius Pilate in an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's 1951 novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese returned to his indie roots to make After Hours (1985), a darkly comic night of the soul starring Griffin Dunne that rather unexpectedly earned Scorsese the Best Director prize at Cannes. Once again, however, he opted against continuing down the same road to follow the video for Michael Jackson's 'Bad' (1986) with another tilt at the Hollywood big time. He had reservations about directing The Color of Money, an adaptation of a novel by Walter Tevis that gave Paul Newman a chance to reprise the character of Fast Eddie Felson that he had played in Martin Ritt's The Hustler (1961). But, the prospect of working with an established idol and reigning box-office king Tom Cruise proved irresistible and, confirming that God does indeed move in mysterious ways, Newman's Best Actor win at the Oscars opened the doors that enabled Scorsese to turn down offers to direct Sea of Love (Harold Becker, 1989) and White Palace (Luis Mandoki, 1990) and finally make The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
As Barbara Hershey had first given him the book in 1972, Scorsese thanked her with the role of Mary Magdalene. But the sequence in which the crucified Christ (Willem Dafoe) imagines them as a couple sparked outrage in Christian quarters. Nevertheless, Scorsese landed another Oscar nomination, only to lose out to Barry Levinson for Rain Man. Rather than rush into another feature project, however, Scorsese took a key supporting role in Bertrand Tavernier's chic jazz drama, 'Round Midnight (1986), which earned a Best Actor nomination for Dexter Gordon and the Oscar for Best Score for Herbie Hancock.
This wasn't the first time that Scorsese had appeared in front of the camera, as he had followed Alfred Hitchcock's lead in taking cameos in many of his own films. He had also guested in Paul Bartel's comic caper, Cannonball (1976), as well as Michael Powell and Emil Lotianu's documentary, Pavlova: A Woman For All Time (1983). Since Akira Kurosawa cast him as Vincent Van Gogh in Dreams (1990), Scorsese has also cropped up in various guises in pictures as diverse as Stephen Frears's The Grifters (1990), Irwin Winkler's Guilty By Suspicion (1991), Robert Redford's Quiz Show (1994), David Salle's Search and Destroy (1995), Albert Brooks's The Muse (1999), Bibo Bergeron and Vicky Jenson's Shark Tale (2004), James Toback's Seduced and Abandoned (2013) and Time Shifters (2015), which was directed by his daughter, Cathy, and Kenneth M. Waddell.
In addition to appearing as himself in TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock and Entourage, Scorsese has also been an informed interviewee in numerous documentary. Several are available from Cinema Paradiso, including Jan Harlan's Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001), Richard Schickel's Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, Ted Demme and Richard Lagravenese's A Decade Under the Influence (both 2003), Charles Stuart's Mary Magdalene: An Intimate Portrait (2006), Scott Hicks's Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (2007), Stephen Kijak's Rolling Stones: Stones in Exile, Sé Merry Doyle's Dreaming The Quiet Man, Craig McCall's Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (all 2010), Robert B. Weide's Woody Allen: A Documentary, Christopher Kenneally's Side By Side (both 2012), Morgan Spurlock's One Direction: This Is Us (2013), Steve James's Life Itself (2014), Alex Gibney's Frank Sinatra: All or Nothing At All, Kent Jones's Hitchcock/Truffaut (both 2015), Steven Okazaki's Mifune: The Last Samurai (2016) and Alexandre Q. Philippe's 78/52 (2017).
Back on the directing front, Scorsese contributed 'Life Lessons' to New York Stories (1989), a portmanteau that also included shorts by Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola, and completed Made in Milan (1990); a short profile of Giorgio Armani. The year was more significant, however, as it saw Scorsese launch the Film Foundation to encourage the restoration and preservation of celluloid features in Hollywood and beyond. Among the pictures that he personally championed were André de Toth's Ramrod (1947) and Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil (1948). But he has also done much to raise the profile of subtitled films with the World Cinema Project, which has joined forces with Criterion to release two selections of landmark features from Asia, Africa and Europe.
Hits and Misses
Having started the 1980s with a masterpiece, Scorsese repeated the trick by adapting Nicholas Pileggi's factual bestseller, Wiseguy, as GoodFellas (1990). Reuniting with Robert De Niro and allowing him and co-stars Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci to ad lib during rehearsals, Scorsese achieved a verbal dynamism that he complemented with Michael Ballhaus's roving camera work, Thelma Schoonmaker's kinetic editing and another scorching soundtrack. Telling the story of New York mob associate Henry Hill, the picture earned Scorsese the Silver Lion for Best Direction at the Venice Film Festival and a BAFTA. But, while Joe Pesci won Best Supporting Actor, Scorsese was pipped to the Oscar by Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves.
While in post-production, Scorsese agreed to helm a remake of J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear (1962), even though he detested the script after reading it three times. With Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro taking over the roles created by Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum (who took knowing supporting roles), Scorsese's Cape Fear (1991) borrowed heavily from Alfred Hitchcock and Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter (1955) in tracking the efforts of a convicted rapist to wreak revenge on the lawyer who suppressed evidence to have him jailed. Playing to the crowd paid dividends, however, as this exciting thriller grossed $80 million and remained Scorsese's biggest box-office hit for the next 13 years.
Many were taken aback when Scorsese again defied expectations by venturing into Merchant Ivory territory with a meticulous adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (1993). In fact, in seeking to capture the psychological depth of the turmoil facing an 1880s New York lawyer who has fallen in love with his respectable fiancée's unconventional cousin, Scorsese took his cues from Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954) and The Leopard (1963). But, while the critics were enthusiastic, the public failed to appreciate the intellectual and emotional nuances and the picture lost money. However, it would go on to make a compelling companion piece to Gangs of New York (2002), which reunited Scorsese with actor Daniel Day-Lewis for a study of life on the lower rungs in the Manhattan slum district of Five Points in the mid-19th century.
This film also marked the beginning of Scorsese's collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio, who replaced Robert De Niro as the director's muse after Casino (1995). Amusingly, all three teamed for the 2015 short, The Audition, which was made to promote the Studio City casino in the Chinese city of Macau and City of Dreams in the Philippine capital, Manila. But, two decades earlier, Scorsese had taken his inspiration from Nicholas Pileggi's tome, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, for the 70s-set story of a Chicago mob fixer's struggle to control both his wife and his sidekick's antics in Sin City.
For once, De Niro and Joe Pesci were upstaged by Sharon Stone, who drew an Oscar nomination for her career-best performance. Yet, the reviews and the takings proved disappointing and Scorsese and De Niro went their separate ways. However, they will resume their remarkable 10-picture partnership later this year on The Irishman, an adaptation of Charles Brandt's book, I Heard You Paint Houses, in which De Niro plays a union leader-cum-hitman alongside Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino, who got to work with Scorsese for the first time at the age of 78.
Once more refusing to be pigeon-holed, Scorsese followed his epic crime opus with Kundun (1997), an account of the early life of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, who was forced into Indian exile following the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese People's Liberation Army in 1950. Coming so soon after Jean-Jacques Annaud had covered similar territory in Seven Years in Tibet (1997), which starred Brad Pitt as Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, this episodic biopic received a mixed reception and the critics were no more impressed by Scorsese's reunion with Paul Schrader on Bringing Out the Dead (1999), a Bressonian adaptation of a Joe Connelly novel that starred Nicolas Cage as a paramedic facing burn out in the Hell's Kitchen district of New York.
As the century drew to a close, Scorsese started spending more of his time producing or executive producing pictures for others. We have already seen how he took cameos in some of these projects, but it's also worth drawing your attention to some of the other highly eclectic titles on offer from Cinema Paradiso, including John McNaughton's Mad Dog and Glory (1993), Spike Lee's Clockers (1995), Allison Anders's Grace of My Heart (1996), Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count on Me (2000), Christine Jeffs's Rain (2001), Marcus Nispel's Frankenstein (2004), Derick Martini's Lymelife (2008), Jean-Marc Vallée's The Young Victoria (2009), Luc Besson's The Family (2013), Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo's Revenge of the Green Dragons (2014), Nick Sandow's The Wannabe (2015), Ben Younger's Bleed For This, Ben Wheatley's Free Fire (both 2016), Tomas Alfredson's The Snowman and Jonas Carpignano's The Ciambra (both 2017).
Oscar and After
Despite enduring a difficult collaboration with Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein and winning a Golden Globe for Gangs of New York, Scorsese missed out again on the Academy Award when Roman Polanski was selected for The Pianist. Indeed, the film failed to convert any of its 10 nominations and Scorsese consoled himself by producing the TV documentary series The Blues (2003). In addition to directing the opening episode, 'Feel Like Going Home', Scorsese also supervised Wim Wenders's 'The Soul of a Man', Richard Pearce's 'The Road to Memphis', Charles Burnett's 'Warming By the Devil's Fire', Marc Levin's 'Godfathers and Sons', Mike Figgis's 'Red, White and Blues', and Clint Eastwood's 'Piano Blues'. Scorsese's directed other documentaries during this decade, including the two he co-directed with Kent Jones and David Tedeschi.
When he returned to features, Scorsese once again stuck to what he knew with The Aviator (2004), a biopic of Howard Hughes, the aviation tycoon who also tried his hand at being a Hollywood mogul in the 1940s. Among the 11 Oscar nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio was cited for his assured performance, while Cate Blanchett became the first person to land an Academy Award by playing a former winner in portraying the great Katharine Hepburn. But Scorsese, who had inherited the project from Michael Mann, was as snubbed for Best Director, as Clint Eastwood got the nod for Million Dollar Baby.
His wait for Academy recognition finally came to an end after he picked up a Grammy for No Direction Home, the Bob Dylan chronicle that is due to be followed by Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. In truth, The Departed (2006) is not one of Scorsese's front-rank achievements. But, with Leonardo DiCaprio teaming with Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg, this Boston-set reworking of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's police corruption thriller, Infernal Affairs (2002), raked in $129.4 million at the US box office to become Scorsese's most commercially successful picture. However, he could not be tempted into revisiting either of Lau and Mak's 2003 sequels (which are also available to rent from Cinema Paradiso).
Indeed, he resisted making any hasty decisions and opted to return to TV fiction for the first time since contributing 'Mirror, Mirror' to Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories (1985-86) series. In addition to directing the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire (2010), HBO's show about Atlantic City in the 1920s for which he won a Primetime Emmy, Scorsese also performed similar duties on Vinyl (2016), a drama about a 1970s record executive that he had co-conceived with Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.
When Scorsese did return to the big screen, however, he did so with a bang, as his adaptation of Dennis Lehane's neo-noir novel, Shutter Island (2010), grossed over $294 million worldwide and shattered Scorsese's existing box-office record. Moreover, the 1950s story of US Marshal Leonardo DiCaprio's search for a missing patient at the psychiatric unit run by Ben Kingsley used classical rather than pop music on the soundtrack. But, for all its commercial success, the film received a lukewarm critical welcome and failed to snag a single Oscar nomination.
Normal service was resumed when Scorsese was cited for Hugo (2011), his first 3-D outing that followed Brian Selznick's novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by revisiting the last days of cinema pioneer Georges Méliès, whose films are rediscovered by a small boy who stumbles across his toy store at Gare Montparnasse. Curiously, Scorsese was beaten to the Academy Award by Michel Hazanavicius, a Frenchman who harked back to the golden age of Hollywood in The Artist, which became the first silent film to win Best Picture since William Wellman's Wings (1927) took the inaugural award.
In 2013, Scorsese returned to more familiar territory in allying with Leonardo DiCaprio for a fifth time on The Wolf of Wall Street, a treatise on greed, duplicity and excess that was inspired by the memoirs of disgraced stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Ironically, the picture became mired in controversy over certain aspects of its funding, while some felt that it glamorised actions deserving of censure. But DiCaprio picked up a Golden Globe for his full-throttle performance, although Scorsese had to adopt his gracious loser face once more, as Alfonso Cuarón took the Best Director Oscar for Gravity.
As if to atone for perceived cinematic sins, Scorsese returned with Silence (2016), a long-delayed adaptation of Shusaku Endo's novel about a Portuguese Jesuit mission to 17th-century Japan, which reunited Scorsese with old writing partner Jay Cocks and earned respectful reviews for the sincerity of the project and Andrew Garfield's performance. But the film's modest grosses and failure to receive any Academy recognition beyond Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography ramped up the pressure on Scorsese, as he considered his next project.
Among the books he is rumoured to have been considering are Billy Ray's The Devil in the White City and David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, while gossip also circulated about biopics of such contrasting characters as George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra and Mike Tyson, Ultimately, he plumped for The Irishman and the Dylan documentary. But speculation has already started about what Martin Scorsese will make next, as he enters his seventh decade as a director.