Movie master: the life and success of Scorsese

Originally posted on Mojonews (June 7, 2016)

There is a reason why Martin Scorsese is considered one of the most notable and influential directors of our time.

For an impressive six decades, he has redefined modern American cinema. This was especially true during the 1980s and ’90s, with his consistently brilliant style depicting a grim, urban cityscape of New York, filled with unflinching violence and signature-tracking shots.

In order to pay tribute to the cinematic legacy of this influential and passionate auteur, ACMI Melbourne is presenting SCORSESE, a major career-spanning exhibition of recollections and personal memorabilia to give audiences an insight into his passion and talent for cinema.

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The exhibition features a variety of clips and posters from across Scorsese’s works

The exhibition gives audiences a unique understanding of both Scorsese and his cinematic career through the brilliant display of objects shown under key thematic categories such as “New York”, “Editing” and “Cinephile”.

Born in New York and raised by American-Italian parents, Scorsese lived in the Little Italy district of Manhattan where he spent most of his time indoors facing the television or in movie theatres, since he suffered from severe asthma.

It was these activities that allowed him to fall in love with film, in particular, those that highlighted the Italian experience.

Another notable influence was the film The Tales of Hoffman (1951) directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – a famous British filmmaking duo who made a series of influential films in the ’40s and ’50s.

Many Scorsese fans know he intended to become a priest before turning to film. Raised in a Catholic household, there was a time where he dedicated his life to the gospel, spending a year in seminary. In the end, he chose cinema over the priesthood.

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The grim, urban landscape of New York is often a character in itself featured in Scorsese’s films

Although he turned away from a career in religion, Scorsese’s Catholicism is still prevalent in his work. Catholic iconography and characteristic ideals are a huge component, such as the religious tattoos in Cape Fear (1991) or the unique character study of lonely Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle, who is troubled by New York’s corrupt streets in Taxi Driver (1976).

Scorsese’s cinematic success really began with the release of Mean Streets (1973), which showcased unusual camera techniques, dark themes, Mafia influences, indifferent lead characters, religion and a contemporary score, all of which have since become trademarks of his filmmaking style.

Mean Streets also started what would soon be one of the most dynamic filmmaking partnerships in Hollywood history between Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Together, they made a total of nine films.

The 1990s featured two of Scorsese’s most important and recognisable Mafia films to date, Goodfellas (1990) based on the crime memoirs of real-life Henry Hill as he works his way up the mob hierarchy, and Casino (1995) exploring greed, deception and power in the gambling underground during the 1970s.

This exhibition brings all the influences and highlights of his astonishing career together.

The gallery begins with a replica of the Scorsese household, surrounded by framed photographs of family and friends, allowing visitors to witness the starting point of Scorsese’s passion for cinema as well as his experience growing up.

Highlights include discovering the craftsmanship of his top films by looking over his notes, annotated scripts and detailed storyboards. Stylistic aspects like framing, lighting and cuts are detailed, opening your eyes to see things that you might have never noticed before. All these elements frame how Scorsese’s editing and filmmaking methods have developed into this distinctive style.

On display are many handwritten letters to and from other directors, whether they’re relating to the lobbying of Kodak to manufacture colourfast film, or expressing admiration, from directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and Frank Capra.

There are seven incredible costume displays, ranging from the two ball gowns from The Aviator (2004) that were worn by Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow and Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn, to a few costumes from Scorsese’s only children’s film, Hugo (2011).

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Gowns worn by Cate Blanchett and Gwen Stefani in the film, The Aviator

In a pre-recorded message from the legendary director himself on opening night, Scorsese described the exhibition as a “great honour”.

“A lot of these things are very, very personal; things from my mother and father’s apartment. I’m really happy to know that a number of the movie posters that are rarely seen and usually in my poster cabinet are going to be on display because that’s what they’re really there for: to be seen. I hope that these objects and memorabilia give you some sense of this lifelong passion I’ve had for the cinema and what it means to me.”

This exhibition is a dream come true for Scorsese fans and an unforgettable learning experience for anyone interested in the art of filmmaking. If you make the trip down to ACMI for SCORSESE you will not be disappointed.

The SCORSESE exhibition runs until Sunday September 18

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