A sickly child, much confined indoors by asthma, he became addicted to movies at an early age.
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In the s, he abandoned ambitions to become a Catholic priest and joined the New York University film school, where he wrote and directed several award-winning shorts, including The Big Shave , while the ideas germinated for his first full-length feature, Who's That Knocking at My Door? Starring the young Harvey Keitel, making his film debut, the story concerned an Italian-American trapped by his working-class background and ever present Catholic guilt, which would become characteristic Scorsese themes. Made on a very low budget, the film combined realistic street scenes with nouvelle vague techniques that revealed Scorsese's self-confessed enthusiasm for the European cinema of the time, and can be seen as a basic template for work to follow.
He then hired himself out as supervising editor on Woodstock and Elvis on Tour , and had a directorial breakthrough when Roger Corman gave him Boxcar Bertha , a Depression-era tale of Arkansas misfits who turn to robbing trains.
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It was, however, with Mean Streets that critics and the industry were alerted to the arrival of a major new talent. The film traversed similar territory to that of his first, dealing with the life of streetwise youth and petty crime in Little Italy, and once again starred Harvey Keitel.
Pulsating with felt life and a pounding rock soundtrack in its depiction of friendship, betrayal, guilt, and casual violence, the film packed a punch and unleashed an electrifying Italian-American New York actor whose future collaboration with Scorsese would result in a handful of major films on which the director's reputation rests: Robert De Niro.
The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese / Edition 1
Then in , came the most completely realized example of Scorsese's particular vision of New York as a hell-on-earth, and the first of his unsurpassed major films with De Niro. Moving away from the bonding of brothers, friends, and hoods that had characterized Mean Streets, Taxi Driver focused on an alienated, disturbed loner, the taxi-driving Vietnam veteran, Travis Bickle, whose abhorrence of anti-social behavior he encounters in the city sends him over the edge into psychopathic violence.
Self-appointed to cleanse the city of its pimps, prostitutes, and other human detritus, Bickle embarks on a spree of organized savagery, calculated with impeccable logic from his point of view. As Bickle, De Niro gave one of the best screen performances of the later twentieth century, aided by Paul Schrader's penetrating screenplay and Bernard Herrmann 's atmospheric and Oscar-nominated score. The film, which introduced a teenage Jodie Foster , Oscar-nominated as a drug-addicted whore, also received nominations for best picture and best actor.
Director John G. Avildsen actually won the best picture and director Oscars that year for the highly commercial Rocky, but the signal failure of the Academy even to nominate Scorsese as director of Taxi Driver displayed a gulf in appreciation for Scorsese's work between the Hollywood powerbrokers who vote at Oscar time and respected critics and serious moviegoers—a gulf which, by the late s, had still not been entirely bridged.
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This film, much under-rated, was a box-office failure, as were two later excursions into new subject matter—that of ironic comedy— King of Comedy , with De Niro and After Hours , both brilliant. After making the "rockumentary" The Last Waltz , Scorsese began the s with Raging Bull , which many consider to be his masterpiece.
Based on the autobiography of heavyweight boxer Jake La Motta, the film—shot in black-and-white—revealed the interior as well as exterior violence of the fight profession and its deleterious effect on the life and relationships of its protagonist. With an astonishing and authentic Oscar-winning performance by De Niro at its center, the film laid bare the brutality of its subject matter, both in the ring the fights are filmed with uncompromising accuracy, grace, and alternating speed and out; similarly, the performances are sheer rage, and the documentary style of the domestic scenes resonates with the verbal blows.
The whole film, technically flawless, was enhanced by the editing of Thelma Schoonmaker, an integral fixture of Scorsese's team. This time, at least, the Academy nominated both film and director, but the awards went to Robert Redford and his Ordinary People. During the s, continuing his attempts to vary his choice of material, Scorsese successfully entered more reliably commercial territory with The Color of Money , a sequel to Robert Rossen's classic, The Hustler , starring Tom Cruise and Paul Newman in a reprise of his original role.
From there, Scorsese placed himself at the center of an international controversy with The Last Temptation of Christ Adapted by Paul Schrader from the Nikos Kazantzakis novel, the film presents Christ Willem Dafoe as a fallible human, a victim of circumstance, who longs to escape his destiny and live the life of a normal man.
Overlong and verbose, but rich in ideas and striking photography by Michael Ballhaus , The Last Temptation suffered from the welter of pre-release condemnation it drew, but its director did earn an Oscar nomination, and the film has continued to occupy a respected place in the canon of his work. Starring Ray Liotta and a galaxy of America's finest character actors, including De Niro and Joe Pesci in support, the film graphically depicts the criminal sub-culture in all its shoddy vaingloriousness and misplaced devotions in a masterful blend of uncompromising violence and an exposure of the corruption it renders within the individual.
As a piece of filmmaking, GoodFellas dazzles with its technique and control, enthrals with its plot, and entertains with its relationships, wisecracks, threats, and performances.
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It does not, however, neglect to make manifest the complexity of the moral issues that abound within the enclosed world it inhabits. Screenplay and picture were Academy Award -nominated; the director was not. Opinion remains divided about Cape Fear. Once again technically expert, this remake of the film that had starred Robert Mitchum as a convict released from prison and seeking sadistic vengeance against the lawyer who got him convicted cast De Niro—covered in full-body tattoos—in the Mitchum role.
An unqualified success in the delivery of tension and menace, Cape Fear bludgeoned its audience with shock tactics and conveyed an unmistakable voyeuristic nastiness that many found hard to swallow. The New York Times called it Scorsese's "worst picture—an ugly, incoherent piece of work. The director—who also makes cameo acting appearances in several of his own films, and in some made by others Bertrand Tavernier 's Round Midnight, , and Kurosawa's Dreams, , among them —having commenced both the s and the s with a masterpiece, now turned to a classic literary source to venture into his first period piece.
The essays concerning Scorsese's films about crime and violence investigate the nature of friendship, the ethics of vigilantism, and the nature of unhappiness. The authors delve deeply into the minds of Scorsese's tortured characters and explore how the men and women he depicts grapple with moral codes and their emotions. Several of the essays explore specific themes in individual films.
The authors describe how Scorsese addresses the nuances of social mores and values in The Age of Innocence, the nature of temptation and self-sacrifice in The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out the Dead, and the complexities of innovation and ambition in The Aviator.
The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese (Philosophy Of Popular Culture)
Other chapters in the collection examine larger philosophical questions. In a world where everything can be interpreted as meaningful, Scorsese at times uses his films to teach audiences about the meaning in life beyond the everyday world depicted in the cinema. For example, his films touching on religious subjects, such as Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ, allow the director to explore spiritualism and peaceful ways of responding to the chaos in the world. Filled with penetrating insights on Scorsese's body of work, The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese shows the director engaging with many of the most basic questions about our humanity and how we relate to one another in a complex world.
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