Influences: Martin Scorsese

May 20, 2010

 

I’d Just like to start off with saying Martin Scorsese is my personal filmmaking idol. He is a living film legend that has had a huge influence on Cinema today. He has been making great films for 40 years now and is still going strong.

The first time I really had an experience with Scorsese was in the spring of 2007, it was what made me pursue filmmaking seriously. The Departed had just won the Oscar for Best Picture and gave Scorsese his first and long overdue Best Director win. My good friend Joseph and I decided to one day after school have what we called the Scorsesathon. We went to that horrid necessary evil known as Blockbuster and rented the Departed and Goodfellas. We decided to watch the Departed first to see what all of the buzz was all about. Although Joseph doesn’t particularly love this film now at our first viewing we were both amazed. We were blown away by the complex narrative, the amazing cinematography and the violence and profanity. I knew after watching that film that those were the kind of movies i wanted to make. Gritty stories of crime filled with violence, vulgarity but never forsaking an awesome narrative. It was such a huge influence and (although we didn’t know it at the time) it wasnt even one of Scorsese’s true masterpieces. unfortunately it was a school night and we didn’t have time to watch the Second film, which quickly became one of my all time favorites, Goodfellas. When Joe left for home decided to start watching it myself. I only got through the first hour of it but i remember saying to Joe the next day at school, “Vaske I watched the first hour of Goodfellas last night and only the first hour was better than the whole movie of the Departed.” So he came over that following weekend and we finish it together. Since that day I have Idolized Scorsese as a filmmaker and hope to one day be even a small fraction as he is at his worst.

Scorsese Films of Note

Mean Streets (1973)

This was one of Scorsese’s earliest movies. It was inspired by his on upbringing in Little Italy in New York City. This is the story on one person, Charlie, (played by a young Harvey Keitel)  struggling through trying to realize what God’s plan is for him while living a neighborhood filled with crime and colorful characters, one of which is the semipsychopathic Johnny Boy. (played by a young Robert De Niro) The thing I like most of all was it was a personal story for Scorsese set in his home neighborhood. It used a very small budget and was basically a cast and crew of family and friends. It needless to say this film is to Scorsese what Paint it Black is to me.

Enjoy this scene from Mean Streets

*vulgar language

 

Taxi Driver (1976)

This film is definitely in my top 10 favorite films of all time. This is the film that caught the attention of the entire film community and helped to usher in a new gritty subgenre of the American New Wave. Trust me when I say that this movie is not for the faint of heart it is extremely graphic in pretty much every meaning of the word. It was also very controversial in its day and is said to be one of the inspirations for John Hinckley Jr.’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.  It portrays the life of a psychopathic Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (masterfully played by Robert De Niro) and his struggle to make his way as a taxi driver in New York City. (In the 1970’s being a New York Cabbie was considered one of the most dangerous professions in the country)  This in my opinion is De Niro’s all time greatest performance. Yes even better than his Oscar-winning roles in Raging Bull and The Godfather Part II. This film has an excellent screenplay by Paul Schrader, excellent cinematography,  and not one performance is lacking.  I’m Serious nothing about this film is anything less than magnificent. Please do you self a favor if you havent seen this movie rent or by it immediately and enjoy one of the best films to come out of the 1970’s and definitely one of the greatest films ever made.  Its one of the few movies I can watch everyday and never get tired of.

Here’s the origional trailer. Enjoy.

Raging Bull (1980)

Most people agree that this is the best character study done since Citizen Kane. It is filmed in glorious black and white by artistic choice. This is another one of Scorsese’s films that will blow you away with its visuals. It was voted number 2 on ESPN’s top 25 Sports Movies of All Time, but this movie is so much more. It tell the true story of boxing legend Jake “the Bronx Bull” La Motta, awesomely portrayed by Robert DeNiro earning him his second Oscar (Best Actor his first being Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II). Joe Pesci also gives one of his best performances ever perfectly cast as Jake’s little brother and manager Joey La Motta. Many say this is Scorsese’s best film I would disagree saying that Taxi Driver is, but it is still one of his best and an absolutely terrific film. This is another one that you should do yourself a favor and rent.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)    

This is by far Martin Scorsese’s most controversial film. It is for the most part considered outright blasphemy by the Christian community. It is based on the controversial 1960 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis adapted to the screen by Paul Schrader. Being raised Catholic and going to Catholic schools all my life , I was even told by a my highschool religion teachers not to see this film. Although im not a very conservative Christian I expected to be at least a little offended by it. I was very surprised to find that I wasnt offended in the least. I found it to actually be a very interesting and thought provoking movie. It is the only film I have ever seen that portrays the more human side of Christ. Willem Defoe this unseen Jesus as a reluctant very human person almost flawed which is one of the problem Christians have with the movie. He knows that he is the son of God but he isn’t sure that he is ready for the responsiblity of starting ministry and changing the world forever which he knows will end with his own martyrdom. Scorsese does the interesting choice to let all of the actors in the film retain their own accents and having all American actors play the Jewish characters and all the Roman characters played by British actors. It definitely adds something to the film. If you aren’t very easily offended and have a pretty open mind I do suggest you give this one a viewing.

Here’s a clip. Notice the simplistic modern dialect.

 

Goodfellas (1990)

Another great film and one of my personal favorites. Other than the Godfather Part I & II this film in my opinion, and quite a few others’ as well, is the greatest Mafia film of all time. While the Godfather shows the upper levels of the mafia. Goodfellas is the true story of a street crew of mafia associates that spans from the 1950’s up until the 1980’s. This movie has a great story, great cast and absolutely amazing cinematography.  This movie is so great there is not much more I can say about it. See it if you havent, its amazing, you will not regret it. It is one of those movies that you can watch the first part of and easily finding yourself nearly 3 hours later not even noticing anything other than that movie was amazing.

Here’s a scene. Its one of my favorite shots in movie history. Notice its all one shot. No cuts. Just beautiful.

 

Gangs of New York (2002)

This may be considered one of Scorsese’s lesser works but it is still an incredibly entertaining movie. It was actually the first Martin Scorsese film i had ever seen. I loved it then and still enjoy it throughly. I was amazed by the amount of graphic violence in this movie. In retrospect I was probably to young to see it at the time. Because I am quite a history nerd I know that It’s all together not completely historically accurate but still a great depiction of a fairly forgotten part of American history. It tells the story of the street gangs that were a way of life in New York in the 1860’s. It chronicles the incredibly violent clash of new immigrants, Irish for the most part, and the Native New Yorkers know by history as “Know Nothings.”  It marks the first collaboration of Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. It features solid performances from DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, John C. Reilly, Brendan Gleeson and a typically amazing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. (In my opinion is the greatest actor alive today.)  It is definitely worth seeing even if only for Daniel Day-Lewis’s exceptional performance.

 

The Aviator (2004)

This one is a biopic of aviation pioneer and millionaire Howard Hughes. The film covers middle part of Hughes life while he was becoming a successful movie producer and airline tycoon. Leonardo DiCaprio gives and amazing performance as Howard Hughes. Scorsese returns to doing what he did you so well in Taxi Driver conveying one persons struggle with psychological disorder. This one isn’t in the same league as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas but it is still a wonderful film. It also features an amazing performance by Cate Blanchet as Katherine Hepburn for which she earned an Oscar for Best Supporting actress.

The Departed (2006)

I already talked about this one quite a bit at the top so ill keep it short here.  This was Scorsese’s first Oscar win for Best Director which many people see as more of a lifetime award than an award specifically for the Departed. although the Departed is a pretty good film he deserved a Best Director award long before and always was kinda just overlooked. I think it was the Academy saying, “Sorry Marty we fucked up all those other times.”

Ok Im going to give you the opening scene. Its pretty gritty but if you can handle this you can pretty much handle the whole movie.  

*warning extremely vulgar language, racial slurs, and violence.

 

-Danny Johnson


Influence-Jim Jarmusch

March 1, 2010

“The beauty of life is in small details, not in big events”

This is the beginning of what hopefully will be a series of blogs about the directors that have influenced us as filmmakers. The first in this series that I would like to highlight is American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. He’s a fascinating director who has made some fantastic films: Broken Flowers, Dead Man, Coffee and Cigarettes, Night on Earth and quite a few more. Jarmusch was born in Ohio in 1953 and he started making films in the early 80’s, beginning his career with the film Stranger Than Paradise which was made for $125,000 dollars. Stranger Than Paradise went on to win the Camera d’Or award for best first feature film at Cannes. Jarmusch is famous for his deadpan comedy and vignette style of telling a story. He has worked with Tom Waits, Isaach De Bankole, Roberto Benigni, Forest Whitaker, Bill Murray, RZA, GZA, Alfred Molina, and many more talented actors. He is one of the most celebrated indie filmmakers of all time and really started the indie movement that led to Tarantino’s groundbreaking indie film Reservoir Dogs in 1992. Jarmucsh’s films are often slow moving, even to the extent that it sometimes appears as though nothing has occurred. However, at closer examination it’s very easy to see that his films are filled with subtle moments that enhance the story being told, and brings the characters to life. He has made films in all different genres, from romantic comedy (Broken Flowers) to westerns (Dead Man) to samurai films (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) to films about taxi cab rides (Night on Earth). What makes Jarmusch such a great filmmaker and an auteur is that no matter what genre he does you can still tell that it is his film. The subtle humor and dialogue, the static shots, and the beautiful, sometimes not so beautiful music that permeates his films all point towards his artistry. Jim Jarmusch is an incredibly talented filmmaker whose films are focused solely on the characters and how they inhabit the world.

Night on Earth has a very simple premise. In short it’s about what occurs at the same time of night in 5 different places around the world inside of a taxicab. Throughout the film we are shown LA, New York, Paris, Rome, Helsinki and the characters that inhabit these places. It’s truly a fascinating work that allows one to get a brief, yet somehow complete look at the intertwining lives of these characters. Jarmusch populates this film with profane, world weary, and confrontational characters. Yet somehow by the end of each vignette we have connected with them and by the end of the film, as the sun finally comes up in Helsinki, you truly feel like you’ve spent a night on earth.

-JV