Martin Scorsese – Part 1 (1960’s – early 70’s)
Martin Charles Scorsese (born November 17, 1942) is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film historian. In 1990 he founded The Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to film preservation, and in 2007 he founded the World Cinema Foundation. He is a recipient of the AFI Life Achievemant Award for his contributions to cinema, and has won awards from the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globe, BAFTA and the Directors Guild of America. He won the Academy Award for Best Director for ‘The Departed’ , having been nominated a previous five times.
Scorsese’s body of work addresses such themes as Italian American identity, Roman Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption, machismo, modern crime and violence. Scorsese is hailed as one of the most significant and influential American filmmakers of all time, directing landmark films such as ‘Mean Streets’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’ – all of which he collaborated on with actor and close friend Robert De Niro.
Martin Scorsese was born in New York City; where he was raised in a devoutly Catholic environment. As a boy, he had asthma and couldn’t play sports or do any activities with other kids and so his parents and his older brother would often take him to movie theaters; it was at this stage in his life that he developed passion for cinema. His initial desire to become a priest while attending Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx gave way to cinema, and, consequently, Scorsese enrolled in NYU’s University College of Arts and Science, (now known as the College of Arts and Science), where he earned a B.A. in English in 1964. He went on to earn his M.F.A. from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1966, a year after the school was founded.
Scorsese attended New York University’s film school (B.A., English, 1964; M.F.A., film, 1966) making the short films ‘What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?’ (1963) and ‘It’s Not Just You, Murray!’ (1964). His most famous short of the period is the darkly comic ‘The Big Shave’ (1967), which features Peter Bernuth. The film is an indictment of America’s involvement in Vietnam, suggested by its alternative title Viet ’67.
Also in 1967, Scorsese made his first feature-length film, the black and white ‘I Call first’, which was later retitled ‘Who’s That Knocking at My Door?’ with fellow student, actor Harvey Keitel, and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, both of whom were to become long-term collaborators. Even in embryonic form, the “Scorsese style” was already evident: a feel for New York Italian American street-life, rapid editing, an eclectic rock soundtrack, and a troubled male protagonist.
From there he became friends with the influential “movie brats” of the 1970s: Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. It was Brian De Palma who introduced Scorsese to Robert De Niro. During this period he worked as the assistant director and one of the editors on the documentary film ‘Woodstock’ and met actor-director John Cassavetes, who would also go on to become a close friend and mentor.
In 1972 Scorsese made the Depression-era exploition flick, ‘Boxcar Bertha’ for B-movie producer Roger Corman, who has also helped directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron and John Sayles launch their careers. It was Corman who taught Scorsese that entertaining films could be shot with next to no money or time, preparing the young director well for the challenges to come with ‘Mean Streets’ (1973). following the film’s release, Cassavetes encouraged Scorsese to make the films that he wanted to make, rather than someone else’s projects.
Championed by influential movie critic Pauline Kael, Mean Streets was a breakthrough for Scorsese, De Niro, and Keitel. By now the signature Scorsese style was in place: macho posturing, bloody violence, Catholic guilt and redemption, gritty New York locale (though the majority of Mean Streets was actually shot in Los Angeles), rapid-fire editing, and a rock soundtrack. Although the film was innovative, its wired atmosphere, edgy documentary style, and gritty street-level direction owed a debt to directors Cassavetes, Samuel Fuller, and early Jean-Luc Godard. The film was completed with much encouragement from Cassavetes, who felt Boxcar Bertha was undeserving of the young director’s prodigious talent.
In 1974, after the success of ‘The Exorcist’, actress Ellen Burstyn was allowed to choose whoever she wanted to direct her next project; she chose Scorsese to direct her in ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress. Although well regarded, the film remains an anomaly in the director’s early career, as it focuses on a central female character. It is a film that is used regularly as a rebuttal to those who maintain that Scorsese only makes macho movies.
Returning to Little Italy to explore his ethnic roots, Scorsese next came up with ‘Italianamerican’, a documentary featuring his parents, Charles and Catherine Scorsese. He would return with his greatest triumph…