If there is any man in tinsel town who needs no introduction, it is Mr Martin Scorsese. Hollywood film director, actor, producer and film preservationist, with a career that spans over 50 years, Scorsese is a true giant of cinema. When I heard that he would be at the British Film Institute (“BFI”) discussing his life’s work in movies, I knew I had to be in the audience.
Since the start of the year, the BFI has presented a celebration of Scorsese’s contribution to film, by not only screening the many classics he has directed but also movies he has personally curated. This rare public interview was the grand finale for their Scorsese season and the atmosphere in the auditorium was electric as lucky ticket holders excitedly took their seats (including special guests such as Damien Lewis and David Walliams).
After a short feature tribute to the distinguished guest, highlighting his back catalogue of incredible work, the man himself finally entered the auditorium to a rapturous applause and standing ovation. How incredibly lucky I felt to be in a room with one of my all time favourite heroes and such a legendary artist!! It didn’t feel real.
The audience began to settle and the interview could begin.
Nick James (Editor, Sight & Sound Magazine) was interviewing Scorsese on his life’s work and passion for cinema which was made clear from the start. His knowledge of the industry is mersmerising and flows in to his goal of protecting and restoring cinema. In the 1970’s, he learnt that many classic films that made him ” a part of who he is”, had not been taken care of and alongside other influential directors such as Steve Spielberg, made it their life’s work by introducing The Film Foundation so that these films could be enjoyed by generations to come.
People succeed in life through sheer grit and determination and Scorsese certainly inhabits this quality. We heard about the difficult process of getting his latest feature “Silence” made for the big screen. He discovered the novel in 1991 and it has taken this many years to get the project in to theatres. The film was self-financed and I took for granted the tricky discussions directors have with financiers to help fund their projects. Scorsese mentioned how he met with investors from all over the world and has since made every effort to visit these countries during his press tour. Exhausting stuff for the 74 year old but something he felt he had to do in appreciation for their much needed support.
Many of Scorsese’s movies show empathy towards psychotic characters, from classic De Niro icons such as Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” or Ray LaMotta in “Raging Bull” to Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito in “Goodfellas” and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels in “Shutter Island”. His thoughts on how to convey the antihero on screen stems from the type of people who surrounded him and how it wasn’t a stretch for him to explore these characters further. He took inspiration from darker elements in films such as “Sunset Boulevard” and Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy from “On the Waterfront” which he even evident in “Raging Bull’s” climatic scene in the mirror.
“I know good people who do bad things- it’s simple”.
I enjoyed hearing about his style of direction and how he achieves great creativity from the A-list stars who grace his films. During the filming of “The Wolf of Wall Street”, Scorsese saw his young cast jumping around set and knew he would be able to get something special out of them. On Leonardo DiCaprio, he realised that similarly to De Niro (despite the 30-year difference), he is unafraid. There is an element of trust with his actors where he can say “Don’t tell me. Show me and I’ll shoot”.
Prior to a short Q & A session from select members in the audience, Scorsese discussed his disappointment on being unable to get his Frank Sinatra biopic onto the big screen and his excitement to start the eagerly awaited “The Irishman”. Re-connecting with Robert De Niro and talented Joe Pesci after a twenty year hiatus, Scorsese also seemed thrilled to be working with Al Pacino- finally (He has been trying to work with Pacino since a 1971 introduction from Frances Ford Coppola).
“The original title is “I Heard You Paint Houses”, and that might be the one.”
The conversation concluded with Nick James declaring that he would like to see at least ten more movies from Scorsese and the audience cheered and applauded enthusiastically. We don’t know what the future holds, but Scorsese seemed in no rush to retire just yet. I exited the auditorium feeling awestruck and full of inspiration. Emerging Directors such as Damien Chazzelle and Barry Jenkins are hoping to go home with an Oscar for Best Director tonight.The future of movie making looks bright but there will only be one Marty.
What a privilege to have been able to attend this event. One to tell the grand kids I think!
“Each film is a separate journey. A separate universe that you go in to”.
My Favourite Scorsese Directing Moments
The Aviator (2004)
Gangs of New York (2002)
Michael Jackson’s Bad (1987)
This event was recorded by BBC Arts, and a version will be broadcast on BBC2 on Saturday 4 March at 10pm.
What are your favourite Scorsese movies? Let me know in the comments below!