Archive for the ‘Martin Scorsese’ Tag

Coincidences No.s 390, 391, 392: Someone up there

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No. 390

I’m sitting in – what turned out to be the very appropriately named – Spiritland in King’s Cross chewing the fat with fellow WordPress blogger Thom Hickey of The Immortal Jukebox when a voice comes from my right saying my name in a slightly uncertain way. That’s because we haven’t seen each other in over 20 years. K is the former girlfriend of my old friend S. It would have been S’s birthday on Monday just gone. The day before I went for a kind of memorial walk in honour of S with the third friend in the photo above. We talked about K. I hadn’t talked or even thought about K in a long time. So Sunday I unusually find myself talking about her. On Friday I bump into her. (Someone up there is pulling strings.)

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No. 391

I’m brushing my teeth this morning and (happily) hear my nephew from Dublin, Sean, downstairs playing ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis on the (blue) guitar. I’m on the tube back from dropping Sean at King’s Cross and meeting Thom [see No. 390 above] when I find myself in a carriage with a really good busker with a (red) guitar. He engages much of the carriage and gets people not only talking but singing along. He rounds off an enjoyable communal entertainment with Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’. The Welsh woman in the headband has a brilliant voice and does all the response/echo lines (I know she’s Welsh because he’s got us all talking – he tells me I’m the only happy Londoner he’s met). So Oasis in the morning, Oasis in the afternoon – for a man who owns no Oasis records and never plays their music. To round it off, I came home to work on a documentary series entitled ‘What’s the Story?’ which involves Oasis.

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No. 392

I was reading an interview of Martin Scorsese by Paul Schrader (scriptwriter of ‘Taxi Driver’) yesterday morning at the front of the Faber book of the ‘Taxi Driver’ script which I picked up in the wake of the screening the other night. On the page I stopped at Schrader mentioned Kim Novak in ‘Vertigo’ when he’s listing his most memorable moments in cinema. I haven’t seen the film for years or thought about it for a good while.

I was reading ‘Mandy’ by Mandy Rice-Davies on the DLR on the way home from work yesterday afternoon. She mentioned meeting Kim Novak.

Not as Twilight Zone as No. 390 but still not a bad coincidence.

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4 reasons to go watch ‘Taxi Driver’

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Just back from watching ‘Taxi Driver’ for the first time in years, on the big screen at the National Film Theatre, London. The latest sortie in an on-going campaign to expose the Enfants Terribles to the best of 70s cinema – from ‘The Godfather’ via ‘Serpico’ to ‘Chinatown’. And this the day after bumping into Martin Scorsese on the mean streets of London.

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1. The Beginning

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As the shark-monster wing of the yellow New York cab emerges from the cloud of steam to the epic music of Bernard Herrmann (to whom Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece is dedicated) we know this vehicle is more than a jaundiced automobile – it will take us from here (a neon-lit metropolis littered with sin and evil goings-on) to there (a patient study in alienation and trying to do right but failing in an oh so human way) for a few dollars but we’ll leave the slick pavement on the journey and transcend to higher places (including a climactic moment in which we float over the ultimately murderous outcome across the ceiling of the blood-spattered room in a bold overhead shot). This film is blood red like the Technicolor crimson lipstick in ‘Black Narcissus’ which Scorsese so admires, like Powell & Pressburger’s ‘Red Shoes’, like the blood of Christ and the neon in the city night.

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2. The Acting

DeNiro, the year after his triumph in ‘The Godfather II’, brilliantly conveys the building total exhaustion of a man who can’t sleep despite 12 hour overnight shifts in the cab. His eyes gradually darken as does his outlook. Returned from Vietnam, wounded in body and mind – all shown and not told (scars on his back, his named combat uniform, Nam references in a political speech) – Travis Bickle tries desperately to get back in touch with the world but his 26-year old head just isn’t there. He reaches out to presidential campaigner Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) but can’t remember why taking her out to a porn movie on a date might not be right. He tries to engage the kiosk girl in a porno cinema to no avail, foreshadowing the failed date as well as spotlighting a painful innocence. DeNiro’s performance is a patient portrait of isolation and aloneness. When we first see him in the brilliant revelation of his radical Mohican haircut in a tilt up from his hands opening a bottle of pills, up his combat fatigues, past his We Are The People badge, to reveal his final descent to animalistic warrior basics, he is standing alone at the edge of a crowd.

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That strange smirk

3. The Writing

Paul Schrader’s script is full of classic lines, as epic and resonant as Herrmann’s score. The biblical passage near the front about washing all the filth off the city streets – Manhattan as Nineveh (which has an added dimension in that Nineveh is now Mosul and Mosul is now being cleansed of IS animalistic psycho-warriors) – is masterful.

May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.

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I can’t quite look at this shit

4. The Ending

The romantic shot towards the end of Betsy, framed in the taxi rearview mirror, surrounded by soft-focus glittering city lights, is literally a rear view, a coma fantasy drawn from a more promising time. The sounds of the hospital life-support machines subtly playing in the background (at least that’s how I read it). The sound design is fabulous throughout, many grim scenes of guns and prostitution underlaid with the shouts and play of children in the city streets. The Betsy in rearview mirror shot was referenced by John Mackenzie in the ending of ‘The Long Good Friday’ four years after this movie – in that case a young Pierce Brosnan fixing a resigned Harold/Bob Hoskins in the reflection. There Harold Shand is being driven off to his death. In the last moments of ‘Taxi Driver’ it is a comatose Travis Bickle who pulls away in his taxi from his dream of love and connection (in the fantasised form of Betsy) and drives off on his own to his own death and fade to black, leaving us with a powerful sense of wasted human potential, the urge to do right, to help, to save, to connect, to reach out, which somehow goes wrong…

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I got some good ideas in my head after the inspiration of watching such a flawless film. It has just been re-released in the UK to mark its 40th anniversary.

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Teetering on the edge

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Jodie Foster, just 14 at the time, yet such a mature performance

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Sport: “You’re a funny guy.” – tees up another classic Scorsese scene 14 years later: “It’s a good story, it’s funny, you’re a funny guy.” (Goodfellas)

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Object of desire

 

Why I love London…

…because you can bump into Martin Scorsese (and Tom Ford) totally by accident on your way home from work…

 

Movie awards season round-off

So it’s getting to that time in the year when various movie awards stuff needs tidying up. The BAFTA Film Awards take place tomorrow night, the Silver Surfer to the Oscars’ Galactus.

Let’s start with this race issue: my take on it is that it should have rung an alarm last year when our own academy (BAFTA) failed to recognise the excellent Selma and in particular our very own Brit David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, not to mention the director Ava DuVernay. I was on their case within minutes of the nominations announcement on Radio 5, both on my own SurrealThing Twitter account and in conversation with other friends&associates:

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The total absence of Selma stuck out like a dark deed in …something very pure and white. A bag of cotton wool. A bowl of vanilla ice-cream. A cloud. The North Pole. Dulux Pure Brilliant White. “Their” (case) – I mean “our” – for the first time I felt embarrassment with regard to BAFTA. Actually the second time …but that’s another post. Today the Chief Executive of BAFTA was reported saying: “It would be inappropriate for me to say that we’ve done a better job than the Oscars. I admire their stance. They’ve said that they’re going to make changes. They know it isn’t good enough. I don’t want to gloat and say we’ve done better, because it could have gone the other way.” Memories can be short. Selma got 0 nominations at last year’s BAFTAs whilst it was a Best Motion Picture of the Year nominee at the Oscars a month later. The reason offered was: ““The film wasn’t delivered until the end of November and there were only three screenings before the voting started.” Well I remember not only going to one of the screenings but also getting a DVD Screener through the door in good time for Christmas, the intense viewing period for BAFTA voter members, and for the first round of voting.

I wrote about Selma here in Simple Pleasures a couple of weeks before the embarrassing nominations announcement.

Now, thanks to the complacency and inertia of the academies, we’re in the worst of all worlds – we don’t know whether sympathy votes are being cast or corrective behaviour taking place, so when, say, Idris Elba picked up the Best Actor award at last week’s Evening Standard Film Awards  or at the Screen Actors Guild awards the week before we have no idea what that means. Exaggerated by the fact that his nomination at both the BAFTAs and SAG were in the Supporting Actor category.

Moving on, in retrospect I’m glad I was also pretty swift off the mark this year with The Big Short. An absolute masterpiece of writing, acting, directing and editing. Head and shoulders the stand-out film of the season. I went to an awards screening at the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho which both actor Steve Carell and director Adam McKay attended.

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Steve Carell

In the Q&A that followed, I asked Adam McKay about the editing style and whether it had been envisioned from the off – it’s very striking and energising, as well as funny. I had a chat with Steve Carell in the bar after the event – a very warm and humble man. We talked a bit about the progression from The Wolf of Wall Street to The Big Short and about the source book for the movie. I also had a brief conversation with Adam McKay, likewise about the relationship to Scorsese’s terrific financial crash satire. Carell’s performance is outstanding – too subtle for the awards season but wonderful, with shades of Joe Pesci (Goodfellas).

This intimate gathering was a stark contrast to the BAFTA screening of The Force Awakens.

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Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, JJ Abrams

Not even the presence of a doddery Harrison Ford, fresh-faced Daisy Ridley, enthusiastic John Boyega and the wunderkind JJ Abrams could elevate Star Wars: The Force Awakens from being a just about entertaining enough 2 hours in the cinema to being much more than a pale shadow of its 1977 daddy (which I saw on release at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road and was as wowed by Dolby sound technology as anything else). The power of nostalgia is such that Pete Bradshaw (the other half of the Twitter convo above) gave it a 5* review in The Guardian! Daisy Ridley’s mum used to work at Channel 4 when my Other Half did and was shanghaied into one of the films I directed at the time. In the absence of Daisy with her C4 connections from any of the nominations lists, I really hope the film wins nothing other than technical prizes. Just to the right of JJ Abrams in the above photo – victims of the square format – is the British head of visual effects (whose name shamefully escapes me – another feather in the cap of the London Visual FX industry in the proud heritage of Framestore’s wonderful Gravity) and a hero of mine, Lawrence Kasdan, writer of the classic The Big Chill. This movie was not his finest hour.

But on a similar scale (the screening) and with another brilliant scriptwriter, a night at the Odeon Leicester Square watching The Hateful Eight in 70mm was a highlight of the season.

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Quentin Tarantino, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell & Walton Goggins reduced to a digital mosaic by my dodgy phone

Quentin Tarantino, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins attended, QT his usual ebullient self, delighting in the 70mm projection in a premium auditorium, as well as the presence of Ennio Morricone in the audience. Him and the Maestro were sitting just along the row from me and shared a spectacular snowy screen experience, fabulously written, uniquely directed – wall to wall pleasure. With the added bonus of confronting race issues head on and including a decent complement of non-white faces!

Another visceral white (environment) big screen Experience with a capital E was the BAFTA screening of The Revenant. Now Birdman is high up my list of Most Hated Movies, right up there with Shirley Valentine – in this case for being cold (not in the sub-zero sense) and over-calculating.

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Leonardo DiCaprio & Tom Hardy reduced to a vague blur by that dodgy phone

 

It was evident from the Q&A that Tom Hardy also found Alejandro G. Iñárritu irritating. This over-hyped director seemed to have spent more time fussing over camera set-ups and cheating angles than worrying whether his actors had a balding notion what was actually going on in the scene, who they were talking to (since they were placed at unnatural angles) or what was in shot. Despite the logistical and physical triumph of shooting where it was shot, the ambitious movie in my eyes was let down by misjudgment of pace and story especially towards the end. Nonetheless it was a visceral cinematic experience and for that deserves recognition (of the non-awards type, apart from…) I hope it brings DiCaprio his elusive Oscar – though it’s not my favourite of his performances, it’s still as brilliant as ever.

My favourite Leonardo DiCaprio performances:

  1. Arnie – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993 – aged 19)
  2. Jordan – The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
  3. Romeo – Romeo & Juliet (1996)
  4. Candie – Django Unchained (2012)
  5. Toby – This Boy’s Life (1993)
  6. Jack – Titanic (1997)

Dontcha just love the movies…

The Simple Pleasures Best Film of the Year 2015-2009

2015

The Big Short

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2014

20,000 Days on Earth

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2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

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2012

Silver Linings Playbook

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2011

Midnight in Paris

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2010

Inception

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2009

Inglourious Basterds

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Compared to the Best Picture Oscar:

2014 Birdman – one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, hated it

2013 12 Years a Slave – a worthy winner from Film4

2012 Argo – well done with a great turn from Alan Arkin

2011 The Artist – gimmicky but fun

2010 The King’s Speech – solid

2009 The Hurt Locker – admirably visceral

Compared to the Best Film BAFTA:

2014 Boyhood – a worthy winner for its innovation

2013 12 Years a Slave – proud that Brits & Film4 told this story to America

2012 Argo – with hindsight, Zero Dark Thirty may be the more enduring nominee

2011 The Artist – at least an imaginative choice for winner

2010 The King’s Speech – solid in a very British way

2009 The Hurt Locker – just not my cup of entertainment tea

The Future of Cinema as envisioned by Martin Scorsese

This open letter to his daughter was published in the Italian press at the turn of the year by Martin Scorsese. Coming from someone so steeped in the cinematic tradition it is particularly striking, not least in the way it perceives hope in digital technology. To drive home this Janus-like ability to appreciate past and future with equanimity, yesterday Scorsese unveiled a blue plaque for Powell & Pressburger on Dorset House in London with Michael Powell’s widow and his own editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. I had a memorable encounter with Michael Powell in 1985 when I set up the Cambridge University Film Society – he had been brought back into prominence then by Scorsese and other champions like Ian Christie.

English Heritage blue plaque for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Dearest Francesca,

I’m writing this letter to you about the future. I’m looking at it through the lens of my world. Through the lens of cinema, which has been at the center of that world.

For the last few years, I’ve realized that the idea of cinema that I grew up with, that’s there in the movies I’ve been showing you since you were a child, and that was thriving when I started making pictures, is coming to a close. I’m not referring to the films that have already been made. I’m referring to the ones that are to come.

I don’t mean to be despairing. I’m not writing these words in a spirit of defeat. On the contrary, I think the future is bright.

We always knew that the movies were a business, and that the art of cinema was made possible because it aligned with business conditions. None of us who started in the 60s and 70s had any illusions on that front. We knew that we would have to work hard to protect what we loved. We also knew that we might have to go through some rough periods. And I suppose we realized, on some level, that we might face a time when every inconvenient or unpredictable element in the moviemaking process would be minimized, maybe even eliminated. The most unpredictable element of all? Cinema. And the people who make it.

I don’t want to repeat what has been said and written by so many others before me, about all the changes in the business, and I’m heartened by the exceptions to the overall trend in moviemaking – Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Alexander Payne, the Coen Brothers, James Gray and Paul Thomas Anderson are all managing to get pictures made, and Paul not only got The Master made in 70mm, he even got it shown that way in a few cities. Anyone who cares about cinema should be thankful.

And I’m also moved by the artists who are continuing to get their pictures made all over the world, in France, in South Korea, in England, in Japan, in Africa. It’s getting harder all the time, but they’re getting the films done.

But I don’t think I’m being pessimistic when I say that the art of cinema and the movie business are now at a crossroads. Audio-visual entertainment and what we know as cinema – moving pictures conceived by individuals – appear to be headed in different directions. In the future, you’ll probably see less and less of what we recognize as cinema on multiplex screens and more and more of it in smaller theaters, online, and, I suppose, in spaces and circumstances that I can’t predict.

So why is the future so bright? Because for the very first time in the history of the art form, movies really can be made for very little money. This was unheard of when I was growing up, and extremely low budget movies have always been the exception rather than the rule. Now, it’s the reverse. You can get beautiful images with affordable cameras. You can record sound. You can edit and mix and color-correct at home. This has all come to pass.

But with all the attention paid to the machinery of making movies and to the advances in technology that have led to this revolution in moviemaking, there is one important thing to remember: the tools don’t make the movie, you make the movie. It’s freeing to pick up a camera and start shooting and then put it together with Final Cut Pro. Making a movie – the one you need to make – is something else. There are no shortcuts.

If John Cassavetes, my friend and mentor, were alive today, he would certainly be using all the equipment that’s available. But he would be saying the same things he always said – you have to be absolutely dedicated to the work, you have to give everything of yourself, and you have to protect the spark of connection that drove you to make the picture in the first place. You have to protect it with your life. In the past, because making movies was so expensive, we had to protect against exhaustion and compromise. In the future, you’ll have to steel yourself against something else: the temptation to go with the flow, and allow the movie to drift and float away.

This isn’t just a matter of cinema. There are no shortcuts to anything. I’m not saying that everything has to be difficult. I’m saying that the voice that sparks you is your voice – that’s the inner light, as the Quakers put it.

That’s you. That’s the truth.

All my love,

Dad

For Adam - Michael Powell Nov.17.1985

For Adam – Michael Powell Nov.17.1985

{Scorsese’s letter reproduced courtesy of L’Espresso}

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