Study Guide

Martin Scorsese Introduction

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Martin Scorsese Introduction

"You Shmoopin' me? You Shmoopin' me?"

While other directors make movies with bombs that go off in the sky, under the water, and in your face, with Martin Scorsese, all of the explosions turn inward. The moment of epiphany is the implicit discovery of man at his most base. Scorsese seems to have an escalator that leads directly to some higher power, undoubtedly delivered to him from his early childhood as an altar boy and devout member of the Catholic Church. His diminutive stature gave him a unique perspective on the violent frailties that human beings must conquer in order to discover themselves and each other. The beasts Scorsese likes to taunt are those of frustration, anger, alienation, sexual isolation, and despair. But despite his dark subject material, beneath all of his films is a force that somehow seems to rise up in the grimmest crises. That force distinguishes an elite few from the legions of mediocrity, drawing us like gravity to a kind of shared acceptance. That force is...a raging bull.

With his infectious enthusiasm for cinema, religious devotion to craft and unmistakable New York mannerisms, Martin Scorsese has become one of film's best-loved directors, and a master of the art form. A workaholic with more than three dozen feature films under his belt (and, famously, just one Best Director Academy Award) Scorsese is associated with gritty dramas like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed. But his real passion lies in exploring the murky gray areas of morality, and he has explored those themes in settings as diverse as the 19th century New York of The Age of Innocence and the Biblical Mideast of The Last Temptation of Christ. More than just the criminal underworld, New York City or any of the other themes that frequently appear in his work, Scorsese is a master of filming the conflicts in the human soul.

Scorsese's devotion to his work has not always been kind to his personal life. He's struggled with severe depression and substance abuse, and has been married five times. His entire life, Scorsese has said, "has been movies and religion. That's it. Nothing else."

Martin Scorsese Trivia

Scorsese saved the difficult shots of Jesus' crucifixion in The Last Temptation of Christ for the end of filming. After the grueling shoot wrapped, a young production assistant accidentally exposed the only take of Jesus' reaction shot, played by actor Willem Dafoe. When Scorsese saw the washed-out image, however, he loved it, and it stayed in the film despite the protests of his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker.

Scorsese draws his own storyboards for his films.

Scorsese directed the 1987 music video for Michael Jackson's "Bad."

In the 1970s, Scorsese had a superstitious fear of the number 11. He refused to take flights whose numbers added up to 11, travel on the 11th of the month, or stay on the 11th floor of a hotel.

When John Hinckley, Jr., attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, he cited as his motivation a desire to impress the actress Jodie Foster, whose child prostitute character in Taxi Driver he was obsessed with. Hinckley saw Taxi Driver at least 15 times in the theater.

Scorsese cast his own mother, Catherine, as the mother of Joe Pesci's character in Goodfellas. She has also had cameos in his films Casino, The Age of Innocence, Cape Fear, The King of Comedy, Mean Streets, Who's That Knocking at My Door and his first film, It's Not Just You, Murray!

The film critic Roger Ebert wrote a positive review of Scorsese's film Mean Streets in which he predicted that Scorsese could become the American version of Federico Fellini within a decade - a pretty big compliment. The next time the director met Ebert, he worriedly asked, "Do you really think it's going to take ten years?"

Martin Scorsese Resources


Roger Ebert, Scorsese by Ebert (2009)
The august film critic Roger Ebert recognized Scorsese's talent early, praising the young director as one of the next great directors. In this book of criticism, Ebert insightfully dissects what it is that makes a Scorsese film a Scorsese, and what it is that makes a Scorsese film great.

Peter Brunette, Martin Scorsese: Interviews (1999)
This book is one of a series of anthologies of interviews with great directors. Scorsese is most interesting in his own words, and this collection is just that. The interviews cover a wide-ranging assortment of topics from Scorsese's personal life to his views on cinema and art.

Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (1999)
This non-fiction history book by Peter Biskind is a fascinating, page-turning, un-put-downable history of the sex, drugs and rock n' roll-fueled world of the 1970s film scene. In addition to sharing some juicy tidbits about then-young auteurs like Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Roman Polanski, the book gives an inside look into a decade that has permanently changed the look and feel of American movies. A fun read.

David Thompson and Ian Christie, Scorsese on Scorsese (2004)
Authors Thompson and Christie essentially got Scorsese on the record for a series of long, book-length interviews. In this series of conversations, Scorsese shares insights into his background, his filmmaking process and what inspires him to create art. Definitely an interesting read.

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)
Scorsese received a copy of Wharton's The Age of Innocence shortly after he finished Raging Bull, and spent a decade thinking about the movie he wanted to make. While the period costumes and social intrigue of Wharton's 19th century drama may seem an odd choice for the maker of Mean Streets and Gangs of New York, it's actually not as great a departure as you might think. Wharton's novel explores the gray areas of morality and judgment that so inspire Scorsese.

Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
Scorsese chose this children's book as the inspiration for his forthcoming 3-D movie Hugo Cabret, scheduled for release in 2011. This beautifully illustrated book (it won the Caldecott Medal for illustration) is about a 12-year-old orphan living in a Paris train station in the 1930s. Read it and get excited for Scorsese's interpretation.


Various Artists, Director's Cut: Music From the Films of Martin Scorsese
Music is huge in Martin Scorsese films. He chooses his musical cues with the same exacting care that he puts into every visual frame. Scorsese is also a master of what's known as diegetic music - music that both the characters and the viewer can hear (like when a character is listening to the radio and starts singing along). He is a huge music buff, frequently mixing the blues, rock, Italian opera and doo-wop into his soundtracks. This album highlights the best selections from a range of Scorsese films.

Various Artists, Goodfellas Soundtrack
It's really hard to choose the ideal Scorsese soundtrack, but if you want one example of his mastery of the playlist you could do worse than to start with Goodfellas. The music evokes the setting, theme and mood of Scorsese's movie, with songs from the doo-wop world of Scorsese's 1950s Italian-American gangsters. And if you're a serious film nerd (hey - we think it's cool) several bloggers have compiled exhaustive lists of EVERY song that appears in the film.

Various Artists, Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues
Scorsese is a big blues fan. In 2003, he produced a seven-part documentary about the genre entitled, fittingly, The Blues. Seven directors - including Scorsese - each directed a feature focusing on a particular aspect of this musical genre. The massive five-disc soundtrack is like an anthology of the greatest blues musicians ever, including B.B. King, the Count Basie Orchestra and dozens more.

Frank Sinatra, Nothing But the Best
Scorsese's films instantly conjure up a certain sliver of a bygone New York City, and so in its own way does the music of Frank Sinatra. Though separated by a generation, Scorsese and Sinatra were born in the New York area (Scorsese in Queens, Sinatra in Hoboken) and raised by working-class Italian-American parents. Neither was one to shy away from gangsters or a good New York dive bar. In fact, Scorsese is at work on a biopic of Sinatra, scheduled for release in 2011.

The Band, The Last Waltz
On Thanksgiving Day 1976, the Canadian rock group The Band held their final concert in San Francisco. The show turned into a rock legend, with appearances from Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and other greats. Scorsese was there with his cameras to document the concert for a 1978 documentary called The Last Waltz. The movie has been hailed as one of the greatest rock films of all time. If you can't catch the film, check out the recordings of the concert.

Michael Jackson, "Bad"
Believe it or not, that subway station dance-off in the video for Michael Jackson's 1987 single "Bad" is a Martin Scorsese joint. Scorsese directed the "Bad" video at the request of music producer Quincy Jones, and the result is one of the most famous music videos of all time. Scorsese paid tribute to his fellow artist when Jackson died in 2009, saying, "I was in awe of his absolute mastery of movement on the one hand, and of the music on the other. Every step he took was absolutely precise and fluid at the same time. It was like watching quicksilver in motion. . . . He was wonderful to work with, an absolute professional at all times, and - it really goes without saying - a true artist."


Martin Scorsese
A portrait of the director.

Scorsese With Oscar
Martin Scorsese in 2007 after winning his first Best Director Oscar for The Departed.

Scorsese on the Set
Martin Scorsese behind the camera.

Scorsese and DeNiro
Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro on the set of Taxi Driver.

Scorsese and DiCaprio
Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of Gangs of New York.

The Departed
Martin Scorsese on the set of his Oscar-winning film The Departed.

The Aviator
Scorsese on the set of his Howard Hughes biopic.

Bring Out the Dead
Scorsese and Nicolas Cage on the set of Bringing Out the Dead.

Movies & TV

Taxi Driver (1976)
Choosing just six of Martin Scorsese's films to highlight is like . . . well, choosing just six of Scorsese's thirty-plus films to highlight. But you can't make a list like this, or really any list of great American films, without mentioning Taxi Driver. Mean Streets was his first film that made people take notice of him as a director; Taxi Driver was the first one that made people say, Dang.

Raging Bull (1980)
And then after you take Taxi Driver out of the DVD player, take a deep breath and pop in Raging Bull. DeNiro's next collaboration with Scorsese is a biopic of the boxer Jake LaMotta. Scorsese explores how the same drives that propel LaMotta in the ring wreak havoc on his life outside of it. Definitely a must-see.

Who's That Knocking At My Door? (1967)
For true film geeks, this black and white mystery is Scorsese's first feature film. Originally entitled I Call First, the movie features Italian-Americans, Catholic guilt, inner torment - you know, typical Scorsese stuff. And, fun fact - Scorsese cast his mother Catherine in a cameo appearance.

Goodfellas (1990)
I'm funny how? I mean, funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? If you had to make a list of the best gangster movies of all time, Scorsese's Goodfellas would have to be on it. Scorsese's mother makes another cameo, as the mother of Joe Pesci's character Tommy, and his father plays a prisoner. And the f-bomb is dropped nearly 300 times. Really. Someone counted.

Gangs of New York (2002)
Scorsese wanted to make this picture as early as 1978, but a few decades of filmmaking got in the way. Though actors from John Belushi to Mel Gibson were considered for the lead roles at various times, Scorsese eventually cast Daniel Day-Lewis as The Butcher and Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallone, the leaders of two rival gangs in 19th century New York. The film is a graphic, unsparing depiction of the violence and tensions in New York City's underworld. Fun fact: DiCaprio accidentally broke Day Lewis's nose during a fight scene. Daniel Day Lewis kept fighting through the scene.

The Departed (2006)
This is the movie that finally won Scorsese his Academy Award. It features an unbelievable cast - Jack Nicholson as an absolute psycho Irish gangster, Leonardo DiCaprio as a tormented undercover cop, Matt Damon as the crooked cop, and Alec Baldwin in a hilarious small part as a police captain. The movie is about crime, violence, deception, screwed-up father issues - everything you need in a good Scorsese picture.


Scorsese and His Films
This unofficial fan site is a pretty complete index of current Scorsese news and old movie history. It's also got a lot of funky trivia that's a ton of fun to read, though without footnotes or sources it's probably best to take it all with a grain of salt. We desperately hope it's true, however, that Neil Diamond did a screen test for the part of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

Martin Scorsese's IMDB Page
It is really hard to keep track of all the various pieces of Scorsese's prolific career, but his page at the Internet Movie Database does just that. This is the best place to start for a quick and thorough overview of Scorsese's career. It lists all of his work in front of and behind the camera, including the Alfred Hitchcock-style cameos of himself he has inserted in some of his films.

Taxi Driver Movie Site
This site hosted by Michigan State University is a handy reference on Taxi Driver, a film that has to be on any true movie buff's Top 100 list. It's pretty basic, but the archive of contemporary movie reviews of the film is an interesting read. There's also a great collection of sound clips - crank up the speakers and let DeNiro ask if you're talkin' to him all day long.

American Masters: Martin Scorsese
Scorsese was profiled as part of PBS's American Masters series, which spotlights people at the absolute top of their chosen creative field. This is the web accompaniment to the documentary. It features a brief but informative biography of Scorsese.

AFI Life Achievement Award
Scorsese was awarded the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award in 1997 - quite an honor for any member of the cinema world. (Previous winners have included Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford and Orson Welles.) AFI's webpage on Scorsese includes his biography, links to his filmography and a gallery of photos.

Biography Channel
If you're looking for a short but thorough biography of Scorsese (in addition to this great one here at Shmoop, of course) check out the Biography Channel's exhaustive archive of celebrity biographies. It has a quick and thorough rundown of Scorsese's life, with links to his filmography and photos.

Video & Audio

Inside the Actors Studio
Scorsese discusses his craft with James Lipton.

Scorsese's Favorite Films
Scorsese names the movies that influenced him most.

Martin Scorsese Profile
A BBC documentary about the director.

You Talkin' to Me?
Robert DeNiro's iconic scene in Scorsese's film Taxi Driver.

Scorsese Wins His Oscar
Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg present Scorsese with his first Best Director Oscar in 2007.

Martin Scorsese Picks Up His Photos
An American Express commercial showing the director's sense of humor.

Silence Your Cell Phone
Martin Scorsese reminds you to silence your phone in the theater in this funny spot.

Primary Sources

Mean Streets Review
Roger Ebert's 1973 review of Mean Streets.

Taxi Driver Review
Roger Ebert's 1976 review of Taxi Driver.

Raging Bull Review
Roger Ebert's 1980 review of Raging Bull.

Color of Money Review
The 1986 New York Times review of The Color of Money.

The Age of Innocence Review
Roger Ebert's 1993 review of The Age of Innocence

Taxi Driver Trailer
The 1976 trailer for Taxi Driver.

Raging Bull Trailer
The trailer for Scorsese's classic 1980 film Raging Bull.

Lee on Scorsese
Director Spike Lee interviews Martin Scorsese

Scorsese on the Immigrant Experience
A 2007 transcript of Scorsese speaking about the history of immigrants and film.

Oscar Interview
The transcript of Scorsese's press interview immediately after winning his first Best Director Academy Award in 2007.

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