Martin Scorsese’s latest entry into his stellar filmography, The Wolf Of Wall Street, has hit cinemas this month. Before seeing it this Friday, I’ve been re-watching his back catalogue at any given opportunity. Ever since I watched the VHS of Goodfellas, I was hooked on the frantic, overwhelming and lacerating method of storytelling. I can’t think of any other filmmaker that can craft a feature pushing close to the 180 minute needle that barely gives the viewer time to take a breath. Each shot length seems meticulously planned and every bit intentional, and the way he brings New York City to life is mesmerising. He seems to capture each American time period perfectly. Along with the bluesy soundtracks and fast editing (thanks to long term collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker) there’s common themes of family, alienation, compulsion, ambition, temptation, redemption, identity and even surrogate fathers (who turn out to do more harm than good). Each are driven with such intensity and high emotion that it actually becomes somewhat cathartic to watch. If movies can be about escapism to another world, Scorsese takes us into other personas. Countless other filmmakers have vocally sited him as an influence on their work. Marty (I’m definitely not there yet, but hey, it’s certainly worth a shot), your movies have comforted me through the good times and bad. Here’s a few words of insight on the chapters that I’ve revisited over the past fortnight.
The Aviator (2004)
This is one of the Scorsese movies that I have to fully admit, didn’t appreciate back in 2004. I’d only scratched the surface with the turbulent Goodfellas, Casino, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull; the The Aviator seemed more like a movie that was chasing an Oscar. However, DiCaprio smashes through his Titanic persona and delivers an incredible iteration of eccentric and OCD-ridden billionaire Howard Hughes, right down to the tiny nuances. The time period appears beautiful and glamorous on screen. The way the film was coloured in post-production, reflecting the technology available during each era (most noticeably the purple peas on Hughes’ plate), was a very impressive touch. The extent to which the crippling OCDs affected Hughes’ life was profound and emotional.
Some might say that this is just “Goodfellas redux”, but there isn’t really any way to tell a story about the 1970s glitz and glamour hey-day of Las Vegas. There are some incredible and powerful scenes in this movie, such as when Sam and Ginger’s relationship breaks down, and it manages to stand toe-to-toe with Goodfellas every step of the way. I imagine there are some fans that would actually be able to pick a side and stand proudly on the Casino one. Sharon Stone’s performance has quite rightfully been praised and influential ever since.
For me, Goodfellas is Scorsese’s magnum opus; pure and utterly perfect (intentional and perhaps non-intentional). From the Copacabana long take to Frankie Carbone getting that coffee “to go”, Goodfellas is one of the reasons I fell in love with cinema and is my all-time favourite film. Less operatic than The Godfather, it showcases the everyday and blue-collar side of the mafia, which in turn gave birth to The Sopranos. It displays true-to-life characters who go from rags to riches and then tumble back down again. Even the soundtrack is so perfectly implemented; starting off with the playful and innocent 50s music and then finishing on the Sex Pistols’ punk version of Sinatra’s “My Way”, reflecting Henry’s drug-fuelled state of mind. Everyone is perfectly cast and pulls in a powerhouse performance. Ray Liotta is perfect as Henry Hill, and needless to say De Niro and Pesci bring so much gravitas to Jimmy Conway and psychopath Tommy DeVito. Thelma Schoomaker’s editing is key in this film too (“He was pushing me into the car, then pulling me out.”). Even if certain key moments weren’t planned and came off by mistake, the gods were surely shining down on this one. Words cannot describe the cinematic inspirational effect that this movie has had on me.
The Color Of Money (1986)
This movie is worth seeing for Paul Newman’s heart-felt revist to American pool hustler “Fast” Eddie Felson. Acting as a cautionary mentor to Tom Cruise’s cocksure rookie, even without seeing 1961’s ‘The Hustler’ you can feel the regret that Newman’s character feels from its consequences. There are some great shots (!) featured in The Color Of Money, and this movie has its critics too (one of the few Scorsese “thumbs down” from Siskel and Ebert), but overall it has a lot more merits than failures.
Bringing Out The Dead (1999)
Another entry that I didn’t fully appreciate upon it’s release. I initially watched this just so I could tick another Scorsese movie off of my list, but after a first revisit to it this week, it’s now actually one of my favourites. The dark humour and subject matter may turn some people off, but there is still the classic director/editor footprint of a rocky-blues soundtrack and punky editing. Nicolas Cage’s burnt-out and alcoholic paramedic echoes Travis Bickle and New York City looks stunningly noir-ish at 2am (the book was screaming for Paul Schrader to adapt). It has some great moments that are fused with it’s soundtrack, from it’s Van Morrison ‘TB Sheets’ opening titles to REM’s ‘What’s The Frequency Kenneth’. If Scorsese failed to convey dark humour in The King Of Comedy, the lessons learnt have certainly been made up for in Bringing Out The Dead.
The King Of Comedy (1983)
Whilst this may not be a revolutionary entry into the filmography, De Niro turns in a subtly outstanding performance as delusional wannabe stand-up comic Rupert Pupkin. Scenes in Rupert’s basement “studio” and when he’s performing in front of the poster wall audience a both amusing and disturbing. The film was misunderstood during its original release but has since received cult status on home video. “But, look, I figure it this way. Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”
The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
Clocking in slightly longer than Casino at a 3 hour run time, I could have happily sat there for another 30 minutes during The Wolf Of Wall Street. I had read the book before going into the cinema screen, but I had no worries of boredom during a Scorsese movie, and I wasn’t disappointed. I was hesitant about Leonardo DiCaprio playing drug-fuelled stock broker Jordan Belfort, but I was so pleasantly surprised. Yet another powerhouse performance. The movie was actually very amusing too, and I know comedy has been a bit of a struggle for Scorsese. The book was without doubt written with Scorsese in mind, it can almost be labelled “Casino on Wall Street”. It will cause absolute outrage to some, but overall the message screams that this is a cautionary tale of excess.
Other honourable mentions in the filmography are of course Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Departed, Shutter Island and Mean Streets. Check back soon for a follow up article soon where these will be covered.