Thoughts on Scorsese’s career in movies.
A title as momentous as ‘best filmmaker’ is one I’m almost certainly not qualified enough to bestow, but I do believe Martin Scorsese deserves it. Anyone can be daring and take creative risks; however, few can pull off such approaches consistently. Apart from being a notorious risk-taker (most notably through sticking to convention), Scorsese’s works are impressive in their originality, as well as the sheer number of different themes they touch upon. He has made over a dozen truly brilliant films, and is an active champion for great film and other filmmakers. No other working director so fully lives and breathes film the way Scorsese does.
In the same way that some actors like Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks continually seek out new and challenging roles, refuse to be typecast, and for the most part succeed, Scorsese has never followed a formula when trying out new material. Who ever would have guessed that the same man was behind Hugo, GoodFellas, The Age of Innocence, and The Last Temptation of Christ? And those are only four of his thirty-five feature-length films. In thirty-or-so years, when the work of new filmmakers who were influenced by Scorsese starts being released, I do not think it will be possible to call a sequence or shot ‘Scorsesian’ in the same way that we today can call something ‘Kurosawian’ or ‘Hitchcockian’. And that’s part of his appeal. His range from one film to another is astonishing. Consider the budgeting problems he encountered in the mid-eighties while filming his epic following the final days of Jesus Christ, titled The Last Temptation of Christ. Instead of bowing out, he put the project on hold for a few years and recharged his creative batteries by making After Hours, one of the most original films I’ve ever seen.
Furthermore, Scorsese’s movies contain intensely personal reflections of the auteur, and this makes him an unparalleled filmmaker. You could call Raging Bull, GoodFellas, and Hugo his most autobiographical works for entirely independent reasons. In his early childhood, Scorsese was unable to participate in sports because of his asthma. Instead, he was left to observe the other kids in his New York neighbourhood play, or his older brother would take him to the movies. The protagonist of GoodFellas similarly observed the activities of neighbourhood gangsters, longing to join their ranks. Moreover, Hugo has rightly been described as a love letter to cinema.
Growing up, Scorsese almost never had any books around, and was instead exposed predominantly to TV serials and other mediums of entertainment more closely resembling the movies. Thus, in visualizing a story in his earlier years of making short films, he would have in his head an already fully imagined story board-like sequence to work with. He truly has a gift, and he’s been putting it to its best possible use over the last forty-five years. Scorsese’s is one of the greatest careers we can ever hope to be around for.