Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Martin Scorsese Film Festival

For the last 12 years, a friend of mine has argued that Martin Scorsese is our greatest living director. I've changed my counterargument from time to time. For a long time, I argued Spielberg was the greatest, but he's had a mediocre run for most of the last decade. You can make a surprisingly strong case for Clint Eastwood. I think Danny Boyle has entered the argument. The Coen Brothers, for sure. Ang Lee. There are others who I will counter with on occasion, but his answer has always been pat: Martin Scorsese.

I never understood exactly why film buffs love Scorsese so much. Raging Bull is a classic. So is Goodfellas. I'll grant you Taxi Driver. If I'd seen it in its era, I might have liked it more, but now, it's been imitated so much, it's hard to appreciate. Same for Mean Streets. And then.....

I just conceded to four movies considered to be great; two of which, I don't particularly like. Scorsese has been making films for more than 40 years! That's one great film every ten years. Not a great track record for someone who's made 20-plus films. Spielberg made Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders and E.T. in a span of 8 years. And that's an era that probably won't be considered his best!

Besides the four I mentioned, I've only seen New York, New York, The Color of Money, Cape Fear, Casino, Bringing Out the Dead, Gangs of New York, The Aviator and the Departed. So, of Scorsese's 21 non-documentary features, I've seen 12.

There are elements I find common in almost all of Scorsese's films. For one, Master Martin cannot seem to make a film less than two hours. Even when the film doesn't have enough story to warrant it. The hyperkinetic feel, with the tracking shots and zooms on faces, are there whether the movie requires it or not. Again, there's a lot of his movies I haven't seen yet. Maybe I missed something.

And so, the film festival was born. I decided to watch them in no particular order.

Day 1: Kundun

This is the kind of film Scorsese was born NOT to make. You don't make a movie about the freaking Dalai Lama with the feel of a movie about Henry Hill. It was like he was trying to build a sense of urgency in a film that had none. Nor needed it. Scorsese's style actually got in the way.

Day 2: The Age of Innocence

I'd tried watching this movie in the 90s. Fell asleep. Tried watching it for this blog. Fell asleep. Tried a third time. Stayed awake. It's one of Scorsese's more unusual efforts. Unlike his other movies which have loads of physical violence, the violence in Age is emotional. A very good movie, but his style doesn't work in the early scenes. And there are moments when explaining New York society that feel ripped right out of other Scorsese movies. At least in those cases, it works well, even if it's apparent that he's stealing from himself.

Next up.... Day 3: After Hours

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