The Good Fella

Martin Scorcese Filmography

It’s no bad thing Martin Marcantonio Luciano Scorsese didn’t follow his parents into the clothing business. Gareth Mason looks at what film gained…  

Born and bred in New York’s Garment District, the young Scorsese’s enthusiasm for the pictures has led to a glittering directorial career that’s spanned almost half a century. Often drawing heavily on his family’s uprooted Sicilian roots, he has now made over 40 movies along with earning multiple credits as a producer, screenwriter and actor. In 2007, Total Film magazine voted him the second greatest director of all time behind a Mr A Hitchcock.

Scorsese developed a style that draws on fast edits, eclectic music and initially, small budgets. His early influences ranged from low budget director Samuel Fuller, French New Wave Auteur Jean Luc Godard, and his friend actor-director John Cassavetes.

Along with the recurring backdrop of New York street life, his films often called upon favoured actors – none more so than Robert DeNiro.

DeNiro has played a string of struggling and disturbed Italian-American characters whose response to the slings and arrows of daily life tends to be a psychotic and disproportionate use of fists or firearms. These seminal roles have ranged from the self-destructive boxing champion Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (1980) to Travis Bickle, the eponymous anti-hero of Taxi Driver, who powerfully demonstrates why ‘having a nice day’ is not a given in the Big Apple. (We probably shouldn’t be surprised that it was DeNiro who was instrumental in helping Scorsese give up a life-threatening dependency on cocaine.)

Scorsese has also extracted great performances from actors such as Harvey Keitel, Daniel Day Lewis, and more recently, Leonardo DiCaprio. With DiCaprio, Scorsese made his most expensive film, Gangs of New York (2002), which cost over $100m, and the Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator (2004), which garnered the director 11 Oscar nominations. More recently, The Departed became not only his highest grossing film, but the one that earned him an overdue Academy Award for Best Director, along with three others including Best Picture.

Along with the familiar themes and settings of Italian-American life, Scorsese hasn’t shied away from less well-trod subjects. He was ahead of his time with his satire on celebrity and the entertainment industry with the King of Comedy (1983), while the highly controversial Last Temptation of Christ (1988), imagined the reality of the life of Christ. It also attracted worldwide criticism from placard waving religious conservatives mainly for a scene that few of them seemed to have waited two and a half hours to see. The repressed sexuality of 19th century society drama signalled another new departure in The Age of Innocence (1993), while the innovative biopic No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005), used a montage of actors and actresses to play the young singer.

Scorsese’s latest film Shutter Island is out now and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley. Based on the horror-thriller by Dennis Lehane, it’s set on an island nowhere near Manhattan, let alone the Bronx. It is however, teeming with brooding psychopathic men.

Home Cinema Choice 2009