Thursday, March 11, 2010

Film Yap: Underappreciated Scorsese

Next week I’m giving a speech about Martin Scorsese. For part of my research I’ve gone back and rewatched his films throughout the past few months. One thing I’ve noticed is how there is almost something interesting in each of his films. Sure some of his films are duds (New York New York, Casino, Bringing Out the Dead), but they are always trying for something. There are a lot of his films that are just as great as the Taxi Drivers and the Raging Bulls, but haven’t received the proper treatment. Such as…

Who’s That Knocking at My Door?

If you like a director, it’s always a good idea to go back and see their first film. It’s a good way to learn a lot about them as artists. In the case of Scorsese you can see what he can accomplish with little to no money. This is the surprisingly compelling story of J.R. (Harvey Keitel in his first major role) who meets a girl in New York. This world will be later explored in Mean Streets, but there are some very innovative scenes with a new way to edit scenes. Cold violence, juxtaposed music and experimental camera movements; three of the reasons we are subconsciously drawn to his films.

The King of Comedy

This actually serves as the best companion piece to Taxi Driver. Once again DeNiro plays a probable sociopath who should not be in contact with humanity. This time he wants to work in show business. DeNiro’s Rupert Pupkin stalks Jerry Lewis who is playing a Carson-esque late night host. Pupkin is not interested in actually going through the steps to become famous; he wants it immediately. His reality is always in question. In the age of reality TV, this was brilliantly ahead of its time.

After Hours

It took me way too long to see this one. This is the only straight-up comedy Scorsese has ever made and it’s great. It’s really one of the best on-screen farces I’ve ever seen. On a whim, a word processor (Griffin Dunne) decides to go downtown to meet a girl. One thing leads to another and he ends up being trapped in the city jumping from one crazy place to another. It’s very funny and very clever on how all of the madness ties together for poor Dunne. It has a great supporting cast composed of Rosanna Arquette, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, and even Cheech & Chong. Of all of his films, this is the one I wish was talked about more.

New York Stories – Life Lessons

In the late 80s there was an anthology film called New York Stories. Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, and Scorsese each made a short film about the city they love. With such talent involved, it’s shocking only of these films was memorable. Written by the great novelist Richard Price, “Life Lessons” is about a painter (Nick Nolte) and his muse/assistant (Rosanna Arquette). They used to be lovers and she wants to move on, but he’s not as willing. This is one of the best films I’ve seen about art and what it means to be an artist, not just with paintings. Watching someone paint could be incredibly dull but once again Scorsese brings in a strong life to the visual style as if we were right there painting a possible masterpiece. Worth looking for.


Breaking away from his usual Catholic observations, Scorsese went ahead and made a movie about the 14th Dalai Lama. The visual style is beautiful with the wide array of colors and landscape. As much as I love The Last Temptation of Christ, it makes you wonder about what he could have accomplished if he had a budget. I found this movie to be fascinating especially considering how little I knew about this spirituality and the political struggles during this time. At the very least, it’s worth watching to understand the parallels with John Locke in the show LOST.

The Key to Reserva

This actually started out as an advertisement for a winery. Now it’s a beloved cult short film among film buffs. It’s a pseudo-documentary about Martin Scorsese finding a missing three pages of a lost Hitchcock script. He’s in comedic conflict on how to shoot the pages because he wants to shoot them like Hitchcock would back then. Halfway through the short, we get to see the filmed scene and it’s amazing. Not only does it capture Hitchcock but it sneaks in about a dozen references as well. It’s very clever and very funny. Also it’s still available for free online!

There are of course many many more Scorsese films worth checking out. He has been working consistently since the late 60s and shows no sign of slowing down creatively. He embraces the world of cinema unlike another other director, with a true love for the medium. If you want to hear me blabber on about him some more, I’ll be at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center in Muncie, Indiana on Thursday at 10AM. Tickets are free, but you have to RSVP at 765-285-8975.

I am such a whore.


  1. Hey Austin, I am bummed that I slept in this morning and completely missed the lecture. First of all, I really LOVE movies, and secondly, I really LOVE the Ball mansions and wanted to see the inside. Oh well. Is there any way I can either view a recording of or read the lecture you gave? You can email me if you want. I'd appreciate it.

    Sam Noble (also a Ball State student)

  2. Oh those places are really incredible. I'm thrilled I get to work there a few days of the week. I can send you my written speech if you wish, but the way I give speeches is with a PowerPoint. On the PowerPoint are very few if any words and there are matching pictures to what I'm saying. Then sometimes the pictures, like The Colbert Report, mock what I am saying or be their own joke.

    There was also a portion of the speech where I staged a shooting of one of the audience members. So as of this moment the Word document doesn't make a lot of sense on its own. Yet, I'm thrilled that you wanted to attend and thank you reading my blog.