Martin Scorsese, born in the vibrant heart of New York City in 1942 to an Italian American family, had a rather unique journey into the world of cinema. His early years were shaped by health challenges, particularly asthma, which prevented him from engaging in sports activities. However, this setback opened another door. Supported by his parents, young Scorsese found solace and inspiration within the walls of film theaters.
As life progressed, so did his passion for cinema. This burgeoning love for cinema led him to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he sought to refine his skills and master the art of filmmaking. It was a pivotal moment in 1967 when Martin Scorsese directed his very first feature film, “Who’s Knocking at the Door,” alongside fellow student actors Harvey Keitel and the gifted editor Thelma Schoonmaker. This collaborative effort marked the inception of long-lasting creative partnership that would significantly shape his cinematic journey.
Notably, Thelma Schoonmaker’s exceptional talents as a film editor have propelled her to the forefront of her field. With eight Academy Award nominations for Best Film Editing and three wins for her work on Scorsese’s films, including “Raging Bull” (1980), “The Aviator” (2004), and “The Departed” (2006), she has earned her place among the greatest film editors in history.
Martin Scorsese’s filmography boasts a rich tapestry of classics and masterpieces that have left an indelible mark on the world of cinema. His signature lies in his ability to craft intricate, multifaceted characters and weave compelling narratives that delve into profound themes like violence, guilt, morality, and religion. Often referred to as the “OG of Cinema,” Scorsese has earned his place as one of the most celebrated filmmakers in history.
His passion and commitment to the art of filmmaking have remained undiminished over a career spanning more than five decades. While film appreciation is inherently subjective, it is the author’s subjective belief that Martin Scorsese is among the rare directors who have consistently delivered exceptional work, never faltering in the pursuit of cinematic excellence.
In Scorsese’s own words,
“What makes cinema to me, it’s something that for some reason stays with you, so that a few years later you could watch it again, or 10 years later you watch it again and it’s different. In other words, there’s more to learn about yourself or life.”
This sentiment underscores the enduring power of cinema to evolve with us, offering new insights and perspectives each time we revisit it.
Scorsese’s eagerly anticipated 28th cinematic endeavor, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” is on the brink of its global release, scheduled for October 20th. With the dynamic duo of Leonardo DiCaprio in his sixth collaboration with Scorsese and Robert De Niro making his tenth appearance under the maestro’s direction, expectations are soaring for what could potentially become a cinematic masterpiece.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” takes an intriguing narrative approach, presenting a true western-murder-mystery from the perspective of the murderers. The storyline revolves around a series of homicides entangling the oil-rich Native American tribe of Oklahoma. Initially relegated to the shadows of indifference, these crimes later piqued the interest of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation, as they meticulously assembled the puzzle.
Drawing its inspiration from David Grann’s journalistic non-fiction novel, the film unveils a dark historical backdrop where the killing of Native Americans was shockingly perceived as cruelty to animals rather than murder. This narrative undoubtedly holds a compelling grip, and the anticipation of witnessing it on the expansive cinema screen is palpable.
As the countdown to the film’s October 20th premiere continues, let’s not forget to revisit the cinematic gems of Scorsese’s oeuvre. Here are five Scorsese films that deserve your attention before you embark on the journey to experience what could potentially be his next cinematic triumph.
Cape Fear (1991)
“Cape Fear” is a modern retelling of a classic film originally helmed by J. Lee Thompson in 1962. This updated version quickly establishes its gripping hold, delivering a visceral and intellectually stimulating piece of cinematic art. Robert De Niro’s transformation into the character of Max Cady stands as one of the most unforgettable performances in cinematic history.
The story revolves around Max Cady, a recently released convict whose fixation on tormenting a lawyer who had let him down 14 years prior becomes the central focus. Director Martin Scorsese takes the helm, steering the narrative in the vein of a traditional, suspenseful thriller. However, he infuses it with his unique touch, ensuring that the experience remains consistently entertaining.
The stellar cast includes Robert De Niro, Jessica Lange, Nick Nolte, and Juliette Lewis, all of whom contribute to the film’s compelling tension and unforgettable moments. Cape Fear is a testament to Scorsese’s ability to reinvent classic tales for contemporary audiences while preserving the essence of a good, old-fashioned thriller.
The Departed (2006)
“The Departed” marked a significant turning point for Martin Scorsese, finally earning him the coveted Academy Award for Best Director after multiple nominations. Similar to “Cape Fear,” this Scorsese production is a remake, drawing inspiration from the Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs.” While it remains faithful to the core narrative, it introduces enough innovations to warrant the attention of both devoted fans and newcomers alike.
The storyline unfolds against the gritty backdrop of South Boston, where an undercover police officer embarks on a perilous mission to infiltrate an Irish gang. As the layers of deception unravel, it becomes clear that a police mole operates within the gang, reporting directly to the formidable Frank Costello, the gang’s leader. What ensues is a riveting cat-and-mouse game, with both the mole and the undercover agent striving to unmask each other’s true identities.
The film boasts a stellar ensemble cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson, all of whom deliver performances that add depth and authenticity to this suspenseful crime drama. The Departed showcases Scorsese’s mastery in adapting and reimagining narratives for a fresh audience while retaining the essence of a gripping crime thriller.
Gangs Of New York (2002)
“Gangs of New York” presents a compelling invitation to dive into a classical crime drama deeply rooted in historical realities. The film provides an unflinching glimpse into the harsh discrimination and animosity faced by Irish immigrants upon their arrival in the melting pot of New York City.
Inspired by Herbert Asbury’s timeless 1928 study, the narrative immerses viewers in the long-forgotten district of Lower Manhattan known as Five Points. Here, brutal gangs engage in fierce battles for supremacy, reflecting the tumultuous social landscape of the era. The story unfolds with the Natives, led by the formidable Bill “The Butcher,” on one side, while the Foreign Hordes, perceived as invaders, lay claim to the native territory under the leadership of Amsterdam Vallon.
This film boasts a formidable cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Cameron Diaz, whose performances breathe life into the intricate tapestry of characters and tensions. Gangs of New York serves as a testament to director Martin Scorsese’s ability to transport audiences into a bygone era, where the struggle for power and identity takes center stage amid the unforgiving streets of historical New York.
Raging Bull (1980)
“Raging Bull” stands as a pinnacle of Robert De Niro’s illustrious acting career. In a remarkable tour de force, he steps into the shoes of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, delivering a portrayal that remains unparalleled in his repertoire. The film’s lens delves deep into the tumultuous life of LaMotta, both within and beyond the confines of the boxing ring.
Even today, watching “Raging Bull” is an electrifying and, admittedly, at times uncomfortable experience. It is a cinematic masterpiece that refuses to age, gripping audiences with its unflinching portrayal of the human condition. Undoubtedly, this film ranks among the all-time greats in the realm of sports classics.
The stellar cast, including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty, contributes to the film’s enduring legacy. Raging Bull stands as a testament to the raw power of cinema, with De Niro’s performance as Jake LaMotta serving as a benchmark in the world of acting.
Taxi Driver (1976)
“Taxi Driver” provides a crucial glimpse into the distinctive filmmaking style of Martin Scorsese. It unfolds as a classical character study, peering deep into the troubled and isolated existence of its protagonist, Travis Bickle.
Robert De Niro delivers yet another remarkable performance, solidifying his status as a Hollywood icon. As Travis Bickle, De Niro immerses himself in a role that would leave an indelible mark on cinematic history.
The film’s exploration of urban alienation, moral decay, and one man’s descent into a harrowing abyss remains as hauntingly relevant today as it did upon its release. With an exceptional cast that also includes Jodie Foster and Cybill Shepherd, “Taxi Driver” masterfully navigates the gritty streets of New York City, offering a thought-provoking journey into the psyche of a disturbed individual. This cinematic masterpiece continues to captivate audiences with its raw intensity and socio-cultural commentary, firmly establishing it as a timeless classic in the world of cinema.
The author is currently pursuing Mass Communication at the Riphah Institute of Media Sciences. He has a strong and enduring passion for classic films and the craft of filmmaking.