Martin Scorsese: Gangster or Lucky Bastard?
PERSONA
by Ivan Kuznetsov
17.11.2020
November 17 marks the 78th birthday of one of the most significant and influential American filmmakers of the late 20th century, Martin Scorsese. He is a vivid example of how imperfection can serve as a brand new directing standard. Scorsese has never been afraid to look unpleasant or absurd. He has never been afraid to shoot the way he wanted. In the meantime, he managed to create a credible image of a devoted-to-Hollywood director. Today, Scorsese is considered to be the most renowned gangster director in the filmmaking industry. However, this is not exactly true of him or his films.

Born in 1942 in a Sicilian family, Scorsese spent his childhood on the streets of New York's Little Italy. He became infatuated with drawing and photography and would often draw cowboys and wander around the neighborhood shooting industrial-scapes. That was the time when Scorsese started absorbing influences and inspirations that were soon reflected in his early works.
Mean Streets is a combination of maximalism, violence, humor and drama that just worked out well. The film was a starting point of Martin's collaboration with Robert De Niro whose one of a kind versatility developed under the supervision of Scorsese. He was able to skillfully pull together all of his teenage reminiscences, spice them up with grotesque and catch a glimpse of modernity. Ridiculous plot twists, mood and rhythm shifts, car chases, Charlie's band wild antics, all wrapped up in the early 70s' American vibe, make this film a real nugget. Scorsese has always recognized Mean Streets as a violent drama but with a reservation that violence used to be a part of lifestyle in those days.
1976 saw Scorsese's universal success with his Taxi Driver which was just a pure violation act. The film shook up America with its screaming urgency and atrocity. Together with actor Robert De Niro and scriptwriter Paul Schrader, Scorsese created a new national hero in the face of Travis who would perfectly blend with the grim ambience of New York and ensembles of neon signs. Travis was a sign of the times' character, a jetsam prone to nothing but absolute madness. To this day, Taxi Driver remains one of Scorsese's most acknowledged films.
1980 was a tough year for Scorsese as he struggled simultaneously with personal health problems and with difficulties on the set of his new work Raging Bull. Martin was tired of working with De Niro and didn't feel like teaming up once again. However, Robert was able to persuade Scorsese which resulted in a very personal, yet again extremely aggressive styled to 60s' black and white film with strict and straightforward nature. Raging Bull is a story about self-destruction, loneliness and fear that one cannot always overcome. It is a story about two: One would spend thousands of hours in the ring doing real boxing, gaining and losing weight and getting into his character and the other one would fight with himself.
Goodfellas (1990)
In Goodfellas Scorsese was able to take his grotesque using skills to the next level. He decided to walk down the same path he had done in Mean Streets and that decision was the right one. Scorsese wanted to shoot a two-hour long trailer-like gangster farce with ruthless shootouts, a roundabout of character connections and ludicrous dialogues. He was supposed to make the mobsters look unpleasant and unattractive, but they, on the contrary, were immediately taken as the generational role models. Scorsese was strongly criticized for his "irresponsible" approach. Goodfellas, however, became a gangster film benchmark inspiring movies like Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Blow (2001).
There you have it. Scorsese has never been an actual gangster, he only sometimes pretended he was one. In fact, he was more of a violence master, a classy joker and a director who could set trends from usual standards. His films feel very vivid and deeply personal as he never tried to polish them up to absolute perfection. Happy birthday, Martin!
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