Michael Henry Wilson Collection/ Columbia Pictures
Scorsese on Scorsese
"I am the films that I make. If it's not personal, I can't get out of bed in the morning."
Martin Scorsese is riding high on the success of Hugo, with his first 3D family film effort leading the Academy Awards pack on a wave of 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. In addition to the abundance of accolades, the commercial success of the project is its own reward for an arguably risky endeavor by the Departed Oscar winner.
Once associated primarily with depicting the seedier side of society and its fundamentally flawed characters (from Mean Streets and Taxi Driver to Raging Bull and Goodfellas), Scorsese has proved to be an incredibly versatile director, trying his hand at the musical genre (New York, New York) and documentaries (The Last Waltz, Shine a Light, No Direction Home), period romance (The Age of Innocence), historical figures (The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun and The Aviator) and now, of course, the children's fable Hugo – a not-so-secret love letter to cinema by a man who leads the charge to preserve the literally dissolving medium.
Journalist Michael Henry Wilson has practically stalked Scorsese throughout the filmmaker's career for almost four decades, and his new tome Scorsese on Scorsese (Cahiers du cinema, $69.95) delves deeply into the psyche of one of cinema's greatest living legends.
The incredible (and incredibly heavy) book is full of behind-the-scenes shots, script pages and notes, stills, lobby cards and even family photos. One of the more remarkable niceties that jumped out at me is the inclusion of illustrated, color storyboards for Scorsese's "imaginary movie" of ancient Rome, The Eternal City -- "A MARSCO Production" in Cinemascope -- drawn when he was just 11. The detail, creativity and vision he demonstrated at that age is just remarkable.
In Scorsese on Scorsese, the infamously talky filmmaker is an open book to Wilson, who grills him on his thought processes, motivations and indecisions about why he does what he does, how he makes his choices and why his projects often court controversy.
Of his dark masterpiece Taxi Driver, Scorsese muses of Robert De Niro's character, "There's a Travis [Bickle] in all of us, I'm convinced of that. Most of us manage, more or less successfully, to control or master our fantasies. He externalizes them, he goes over the edge, he loses it. That's what madness is. In other words, he acts out his desires, but basically he's like the rest of us."
He calls his controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, "A message as direct as if it were preached on the sidewalk of 48th Street."
On the appeal of the Goodfellas story by writer Nick Pileggi, Scorsese observes, "The accent is on the daily grind, not on shoot-outs. This isn't The Godfather. It's about ordinary individuals who happen to be gangsters."
And a movie rock star himself, Scorsese shares candid details about his passion for music and working with the late Michael Jackson on the Bad video: "At the time, I felt intimidated and fascinated. Michael Jackson is more than a star, he's an icon."
There are way too many insights within Scorsese on Scorsese to share in one write-up, but here's hoping that the current success of Hugo and Boardwalk Empire on HBO will inspire novice audiences to seek out older Scorsese classics, not to mention some of the gems that seem to have slipped through the cracks over time: After Hours, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, The Color of Money, Life Lessons in New York Stories and even The King of Comedy.