What can ya say about Marty? Arguably America’s best living filmmaker, but I don’t like making those distinctions. It’s like calling something the best cuisine. There’s just too many types of food to choose from. I will say he’s one of the only directors from the 70’s to make it out intact. Spielberg still makes money but…ahh, you know the rest.
Who’s That Knocking At My Door – It’s been forever since I’ve seen this, but it has historical significance in the Scorsese canon. Marty’s school chums Thelma Schoonmaker & Michael Wadleigh helped out on this (and of course there was Harvey Keitel) I believe this started as a student film and then expanded with some nudity to sell it internationally. You can certainly see some of Marty’s style in this early piece (music and camera moves).
Boxcar Bertha – Why is this on the list? It doesn’t really look or feel like a Scorsese picture, but it’s interesting nonetheless. He was working for Roger Corman and it was his first big break after being in Hollywood for a while working as an editor. There’s a pretty steamy sex scene in it too. He certainly hasn’t done anything that racy since (maybe in Kundun).
Mean Streets – This was his real calling card to the world. Harvey’s back, and he brought Bobby DeNiro with him. You will see LA sub for some of the trash strewn streets of New York in some scenes (not much different from the trash strewn streets of LA today). I don’t think before or since we’ve seen two tough guys discussing a loupe.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – Hollywood came knocking on Marty’s door (see what I did there? cute, huh?). Like M.A.S.H. I knew of the television show Alice first (the only footage from the film to make it into the TV show is the car driving down the road in the opening credits. Vic Tayback is also a holdover from the movie). This is a really good character study, with an Oscar winning performance by Ellen Burstyn (and Oscar nominated role by Diane Ladd). It took me a few viewing to get used to Kris Kristofferson, but I eventually warmed up to him. Harvey Keitel has a small part as an abusive cowboy. I think this was his first attempt at the accent he would use for Thelma & Louise. And whatever happened to good child actors like Alfred Lutter III? I don’t mean him personally, but kids that could actually act like kids and not creepy, super smart kids like we have in American movies today (yes Dakota, I’m looking at you). American films have forgotten how to utilize children in movies. To find some naturalistic portrayals of kids in movies, you’ll have to look to to Asia. And the next fucking screenwriter who has their kid character call their parents by their first names, should be kicked in the teeth. Goddamn hacks!
Trivia: Marcia Lucas (George’s ex-wife) was the editor on this.
Taxi Driver – Is that Marty sitting outside the campaign office? I swear it is. What else can be said about this? All the pieces came together on this one. Little Jodie Foster follows Marty over from Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and shows us the dark side of child prostitution. Keitel is back, donning a different kind of hat, and funnyman Albert Brooks dons an Isro. Oh, and DeNiro’s in this too.
Raging Bull – The best thing Marty did up that point. After the horrible experience of New York, New York, and ending up in the hospital, Marty got this project. His approach was to make this film as if he was never going to make another film again. I think it paid off. It still has the best edited fight scenes of all time (Thelma won her first Oscar), and the sound design was pretty good too. If I were to have a problem with anything, it would be Cathy Moriarty. I find her voice annoying. And even though she was young at the time, she still seemed 15 years older than her character.
This was beat at the Oscars by Ordinary People. How Ordinary People could win out over Raging Bull or The Elephant Man is beyond me. It has not aged well either. But it was Robert Redford’s directorial debut, and Hollywood loved Redford (back before he was so preachy).
The King of Comedy – I think this is pretty funny. It’s the funniest thing DeNiro has ever done (besides his awful accent in Cape Fear). It’s also one of the only Jerry Lewis films I can see without wanting to throw something through the screen (I’m not a fan). Even Sandra Bernhard is amusing. I think most creative folk can relate to the scene of Rupert Pupkin practicing his show in the basement (and the banter between him and his ma (Catherine Scorsese) is hilarious too). This tanked at the box office though.
After Hours – Not my favorite. Apparently it helps to be a New Yorker in the 80’s to really appreciate some of the details. It was an inexpensive indie, that did pretty well for itself. It was the first collaboration between him and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Plus it’s got Cheech & Chong in it.
The Color of Money – Marty’s biggest box office hit to that point. He was a hired gun on this one, and it is not a favorite among many Marty purists. Well, I liked it. Sure, some of Richard Price‘s dialogue is a little clunky, but I didn’t mind Tom Cruise (playing to his strengths) and Paul Newman was pretty good in his Oscar winning (life achievement award) reprisal of Fast Eddie Felson. And I like pool. I’m not particularly good at it, but this movie made it fun.
The Last Temptation of Christ – This is a flawed film, but a miracle it ever got made. I’m not sure it would’ve been any better with Aidan Quinn as Hay-seuss. As a non-believer it certainly didn’t affect me as much as others, and I don’t quite understand the controversy. I mean, Christ comes out okay in the end (so to speak). The score by Peter Gabriel was pretty cool and probably made more money than the actual film. I saw this at the defunct Fine Arts Theater in Chicago when the film came out.
Goodfellas – This was great. All the pieces came together on this. Breaking the 4th wall in the courtroom scene near the end was such a surprise to see in a film like this. Sure, we’ve seen stuff like that in comedies for ages, but there was something so bold and fresh about seeing it in modern gangster drama. The first time I heard about this film was when I was watching some program about filmmakers on PBS and there was an interview with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (they were showing a behind-the-scenes of the first time Henry saw a person get shot), and Ballhaus mentioned that he’d “never shot a movie like this before.” It was definitely fresh in a year where Goodfellas was competing against Ghost, Awakenings, Godfather Part III and Dances With Wolves. Now full disclosure, when I first saw Dances With Wolves, I liked it. I haven’t seen it in years, but I liked it. Those other three movies are absolute bullshit in getting nominations (especially Godfather III). Marty was probably robbed for best director.
A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies – This is a great documentary series that every cinephile should have. I had the original VHS (and I’ve got the book). I’ve seen it a few times, and I wish he would do a new set and discuss more modern fair. I know he didn’t really want to get into his contemporaries, but still, I’m sure what he’d have to say would be enjoyable.
Casino – Goodfellas Part II for some. It took me several viewings to get over that. For me it now stands on it’s own, and is very good. Yeah, Pesci still seems like he’s playing Tommy, and Sharon Stone does nothing but shout the entire time, but this is still very good and only gets better. And again, Marty breaks the 4th wall with Joe Pesci’s voice over when he’s going to meet his maker. That was impressive stuff.
Kundun – This was Marty at his most artistic, and he had cinematographer Roger Deakins to help him. I remember seeing some behind the scenes where Marty was standing next to a horse and he made the comment that this was his “Western.” Ever since then, I’ve wanted Marty to make a Western.
My Voyage to Italy – This is his documentary on Italian cinema. It’s not as good as “Personal Journey,” and movie scenes go on way too long. But it’s still a good primer for folks who want to learn a little about a certain time during Italian cinema.
Gangs of New York – I didn’t hate this like other folks did. I didn’t mind Cameron Diaz (I learned later that Marty wanted Sarah Polley, but the studio suits wanted a big name). My biggest issue with Gangs of New York were the electric guitars in the big fight at the beginning. Gangs, however, introduced me to the music of the late great Othar Turner.
The Departed – This was ok, but far from his best. This was a consolation Oscar (not that I would’ve voted for the other nominees). See the original Chinese film, Infernal Affairs. I hope he has a few more good ones in him.
Shutter Island – I thought the book was terrible. The plot was preposterous and completely unrealistic. If I had approached it more as a fantasy then maybe it would’ve been okay. But since Dennis Lehane’s other works were more realistic, I approached it with the real world angle. The movie on the other hand is better than the book. I’ll have to watch it a few more times, but I can say it’s certainly not one of Marty’s best.
I will also mention the films I don’t care for:
New York, New York – Big misfire. I don’t know what Marty was thinking (or if he was), but this is not good.
Cape Fear – Something about it always bothered me. Juliette Lewis was really good in her debut (what the heck happened to her?), but there’s just something off about this one. It was nice to see Freddie Francis shooting. Great DP (Elephant Man, The Straight Story and others), and not a bad genre director. What was up with that friggin’ accent Bobby D? You know how I feel about Yanks doing Southern accents.
The Age Of Innocence – It’s great to look at, but it simply bored me. Maybe I’ll give it another try someday since I didn’t outright hate it.
Bringing Out The Dead – The only Scorsese film to make me angry. I did not like this one. It felt thrown together. It was like Marty got together with some folks and said “Hey, we’ve got a few weeks, let’s shoot something.” Everything about it was wrong. The soundtrack was bad (“What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” Are you kidding me?), and even the editing was poor. I’m probably gonna get my car keyed for this, but I had to say it.