A Dreamer Walking

Martin Scorsese – An Observation – Character Studies

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on April 23, 2014

Scorsese #2One of the reasons movies like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and his latest The Wolf of Wall Street rub audiences the wrong way is because of director Martin Scorsese’s determination to not show the big picture. What Scorsese is interested in is the individual perspective. Almost all his films revolve around an individuals point of view and Scorsese is unwilling to leave that point of view for sentimentality or political-correctness. He has faith his audience will bring a broader perspective to the films they are watching, but Scorsese is focused on showing a world seen through the lens of his flawed characters. This is what makes Scorsese’s movies so interesting.

The first Scorsese film I chose to watch when I started studying him was Taxi Driver (1976). After seeing the movie I couldn’t believe how frustrated it made me feel. “Gosh”, I thought, “they said this guy was a good director!” What I saw was a completely unlikable character, in Travis Bickle, with little arc. I first thought I just picked the wrong movie. However, after watching Raging Bull (1980), The Aviator (2004), and Shutter Island (2010) I found the same problems arose: the characters were all hard to warm up to and there was little to no character growth. In fact, one of my first papers on Scorsese revolved around the problem I had with the lack of arc in his films (check out the paper here).

After listening to many of Scorsese’s interviews and commentaries I began to realize he was never interested in movies about characters who ended up overcoming their flaws and winning the day. I don’t believe Scorsese felt capable of telling many of those kinds of stories in an authentic way. Most of Scorsese’s movies don’t revolve around huge life altering events that send his characters on specific adventures. He is actually known for his lack of interest in narrative driven films. And, though I still hold to my point I made years ago about Scorsese not having much of an arc for his characters, I have come to realize that has never really been his intent. What he wants us to see is the effect a changing environment has on his unwavering characters. Again and again in Scorsese films we observe characters who are unable to change and adapt to the shifting world around them.

We see the characters in Scorsese’s films show their inability to adapt to a changing world in many different ways. In Gangs of New York there is Bill The Butcher. From most accounts audiences considered him the most interesting and colorful character in this Scorsese epic. Bill deals with a the world around him by demanding it stay the same. The story takes place in the city of New York during the Civil War. This represents a huge evolution in the United States, yet Bill refuses to acknowledged it. He tries his hardest to keep New York the same way it has always been. He ruthlessly undermines newly elected officials and continues to hold onto his hatred towards immigrants and African Americans. Bill represents the old New York. I believe this character most resonated with Scorsese because he also fell in love with a New York (the place he grew up) which has since gone away.

In the movie Goodfellas change is dealt with in a completely different way. The main character of the movie is gangster, Henry Hill, and unlike Bill The Butcher he is not in a position where he could force his environment to stay the same. The first half of the movie shows us exactly why Henry is the kind of guy he is. We see how enticing life as a gangster can be. Scorsese brilliantly displays the glamor, excitement, and power that comes with gangster life and then he pulls the rug out from under Henry. Soon the struggle for power puts friends against friends. Henry’s luxurious lifestyle and excessive amounts of money get him into drugs and allow him to support mistresses which in turn brings more chaos to his life. He soon finds he can’t support the glamorous life he and his wife have grown accustomed to and things begin to crumble around him. Though you can’t say Henry’s lifestyle ends up benefiting him in the end, there is no attempt to show Henry having regret for the life he lived. He doesn’t seem to feel remorse for cheating on his wife and helping to cover up the murders of several people. At the end of the story we see his situation change dramatically but he is no different.

If you enter a Scorsese movie wanting to see characters come to their senses or pay for their crimes I am afraid you will be disappointed. The latest Scorsese film, The Wolf Of Wall Street, is proof of just how little Scorsese cares about appeasing his audience byshowing any kind of justice or redemption. The protagonist of the film is one of the most despicable men you will ever see, Jordan Belfort. The film revolves around a team of stockbrokers, lead by Belfort, who cheat, lie, and double cross their way to the top of the Wall Street food chain. The film is based on a true story yet not even a second of the film is focused on any of the many thousands of people Belfort ruined because of his scams. Instead we are are exposed to an excessive amount of drug use, prostitution, and partying. Many asked what the point of the movie was. I don’t think Scorsese had a particular message he wanted to send. However, I think he made the movie because he wanted to get into the head of someone who could do such damage without thinking twice about it. Scorsese didn’t show any of the victims of Belfort’s schemes because Belfort didn’t care about his victims. As I said at the top of this post, Scorsese is relying on his audience to bring a bigger picture to his movies.  His job is to show us an unflinching example of what goes into the mindset of a character like Jordan Belfort. Scorsese isn’t interested in having us like Belfort, but rather he wants us to understand him. Like the movie or not Wolf Of Wall Street produced a huge amount of dialogue about the corruption of Wall Street. This dialogue was generated because of Scorsese’s unwillingness to create false sympathy for the character of Belfort and because of Scorsese’s ability to let us see through the eyes of such a corrupt character. The movie forced us inside the head of a man few of us would ever care to know in the real world.

Scorsese is completely focused on transporting his audience inside his characters head. In fact, what almost all Scorsese films have in common is they are deep character studies. Scorsese wants his audiences to be consumed by his characters. And once we are in his characters heads, he refuses to let us out. We end up seeing the world of Scorsese’s protagonists rather then the world we know. In the commentary for Taxi Driver the film professor Robert Kolker talked about how we don’t know what is real or not in the movie because Travis Bickle isn’t seeing the world in a realistic way. The same could be said to an even greater degree for the movie Shutter Island. (SPOILER) At the end of Shutter Island we learn the whole story we just watched isn’t real at all but was simply imagined by the protagonist, Teddy Daniels (END OF SPOILER).

Scorese’s focus on the psyche of his characters is obsessive. Scorsese wants us to question what we thought we knew about people in this world. Repeatedly he refuses to give us characters we can completely root for or against. Instead he shows his audience a much more colorful world, filtered through the eyes of his protagonist. We can see ourselves being entranced by the same demons that send people like Travis Bickle, Howard Hughes, and Jordan Belfort into madness. And, we are never given any easy answers as to how to fix their problems. Instead we are made to come up with the answers for ourselves. In many ways it would be easier for Scorsese to create an out for himself by giving into the audiences desired outcomes for the characters in his films. But it is by forging his own path and taking an unflinching look at the people he concentrates on that Scorsese has become one of the most admired filmmakers in the world.

Martin Scoresese- American Masters

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on February 22, 2011

Here is a hour documentary I just watched on Martin Scorsese. I think it one of the best documentaries on Martin I have seen. We are introduced to Martin as a director in the 1990’s (when the documentary was made) and then take a very good look at Martin’s past. I like how these guys concentrate just as much on the philosophy Martin was building on film as they do on the actual movies he created. We are given some great insight to why Martin is such a good director and what makes his films so unique. I think that Martin’s editor Thelma Schoonmaker and Steven Spielberg have some very insightful things to say about Martin. We also get to hear from Martin’s parents, which is pretty fun. Hope you enjoy!

(You will have to go to Youtube to watch the video)

 

Martin Scorsese – An Observation – Tragedy

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on February 16, 2011

Martin Scorsese seems to addicted to tragedy. In both the films Scorsese highlights as his favorite and in the films he has made himself tragedy plays a key role. We can see it all the way back in Mean Streets, where Robert De Niro plays the self destructive thug Johnny Boy. From the very beginning of the movie Johnny owes several people money. Through out the film Johnny digs a deeper and deeper hole for himself by avoiding to pay anyone off. Johnny digs such a big hole that he and his closest friends pay dearly for it at the end.

The movie Raging Bull has another great example of one of Scorsese’s tragic figures. The boxer Jake La Motta goes from being the champion of the world to a cheap bar performer barely making a living through retelling his story to a bunch of drunks every night. Look at Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, Aviator, and The Departed and you will see a resounding tragic end.

I have been trying to figure out what makes the “tragedy” so interesting to Martin Scorsese. I think it partially has to do with Scorsese believing tragedy is more in tune with reality. Scorsese was one of the first filmmakers to bring Hollywood the “antihero”. We are not supposed to love most of Scorsese’s characters. In fact, most of Scorsese’s characters are full of problems and unlikable qualities. Most of his characters have a quite tragic existence. In Raging Bull we go on a personal journey with a fighter who doesn’t know how to connect with people in a personal way. In Goodfellas we see a con man who has money but nobody to really love and nobody to really be loved by. And, in Aviator we see a great innovator who is trapped by his own demons. All these main characters go against the typical Hollywood tradition.

So why do we keep on going back? If the movies are full of tragedy and the characters aren’t too likable, what is there to keep us stimulated? I think it has to do with an essence of truth in all Scorsese’s tragic characters. We are in a way attracted to the characters he displays because his characters explore freely the things we as society try to keep secret. If we really evaluated ourselves personally we would all find we have some of the same flaws the characters in Scorsese’s movies have. We have demons we fight with, we have a hard time connecting with others, and we have a hard time finding or feeling love.

Movies are not about the happy ending. Movies are about opening our eyes to new things. Tragedy is often something we have a hard time looking at. Scorsese is able to bring us tragedy in a interesting and insightful way. This is one of the reasons Scorsese is a great filmmaker. I personally think Scorsese is trapped by the tragic figure at times. He does not quite know how to express anyone else in a clear light. It might very well be he does not believe there is a such thing as a character who does not eventually end in tragedy. However, no matter whether Scorsese concentrates on tragedy because he feels like he can’t do anything else or he does it because he wants to bring us a new perspective on the tragic figure, we can learn from his movies. Often having a story not end where we expect or even where we want it to end makes us think more then when we as the audience get our way.

Martin Scorsese – An Observation – Where is the Arc?

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on January 20, 2011

martin-scorsese_M_jpg_627x325_crop_upscale_q85After recently watching three of Martin Scorsese’s most critically acclaimed films, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, I have noticed one key factor that seems to be true with each one of these films. The main characters stay the same. This is very different from the normal Hollywood film. Or at least the normal critically acclaimed film. Usually we are taught to create an arc for the main character. We need to see them start one way and through their journey learn something new and change because of it. Not really the case with these three Scorsese films.  (If you continue you will hear spoilers for all three of these films).

I am not saying the characters don’t change at all. But all the change we see seems to be a outward change. The soul of the characters stays the same. A good example is Henry Hill in Goodfellas. At the beginning Henry loves the life of being a Gangster. We see how Henry was introduced to the Gangster life and his voice over gives us all the details to why he likes this way of living. At the end Henry rats the gangsters out. However, it has nothing to do with him not liking the gangster life anymore. He even tells us strait up that he misses it. The problem for him is the circumstances changed. He needs to leave the gangster life to save his own neck.

In Taxi Driver the movie ends the same way it began. In fact this was the filmmakers intention. We are introduced to a paranoid man in Travis Bickle. The paranoia becomes so great Travis goes on a killing rampage. Somehow he is hailed as a hero in the public’s eye and starts the cycle all over again. The reason why we know the cycle is going to start all over again is because on the inside nothing has changed with Travis. In Raging Bull the only change in the main character Jake LeMotta is he goes from a famous boxer to a washed up showman.

To be honest, Martin is being more honest to reality in showing these characters with faults that do not really change. For the most part we are unwilling to look at ourselves and make the changes needed to transform who we are on the inside. Martin also is a skilled storyteller and is able to tell intriguing stories even though the his main characters don’t have an arc.

It is interesting to see how the characters life styles and who they are on the inside effect how they deal with outside situations. Seeing Travis’s self loathing and paranoia effect the way he judges situations was interesting to me. Seeing how Jake LeMotta’s mistrust and his obsessions took a hold of him and caused him to lose everything, was also intriguing. For me however these things by themselves leave me unsatisfied.

No matter how good the filmmaker is a story still needs an arc both in the the plot and the characters. I am not nearly as interested in the outward alterations as I am in the inward change. If you are not going to have any change on the inside you should be able to get done with the story much sooner. I knew Travis was crazy in the Taxi Driver thirty minutes into the film. I knew Jake was a good boxer with relationship issues fifteen minutes into the film. I realized that Henry liked the life of being a gangster within the first five minutes of the film.

We only need to go outside to see people who don’t have any inward change. Sadly, the world is full of those kinds of people. However, for me the movies should be different. They should show us growth, both good and bad. I am fine with films that have good people choose to go bad based on the circumstances. That is a interesting observation that if told right will make me think. I also am fine with films that have bad characters change for the good. I am not saying there needs to be a huge change. Not saying  they should go from completely bad to completely good. Just, I want to see a difference the story made on the character. I want to see the inner transformation that takes a master filmmaker to express.

Martin Scorsese’s Favrite Movies

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 12, 2011

First off, I am sorry that I have not been updating this blog on a more consistent basis. I will try my best to remedy that.

I have been doing some research on Director Martin Scorsese. He is the next director that I have chosen to really dig into. I have bought the blu-ray’s of both Raging Bull and Goodfellas and plan on dissecting (looking into and abstracting as much information as possible) them both. At the moment I am looking into Martin’s movie Taxi Driver. I will try my best to get a review of the Collector’s Edition DVD up soon.

However, I have run across some Youtube video’s that I think are worth posting on this blog. It is a a three part all together about 25 minute interview on the movies that influenced Martin the most when he was a kid and a young filmmaker. He talks a little bit about how he inccorpuated some of the qualities of the movies he liked, such as The Searchers and The Public Enemy, into his own movies. I would suggest you do as I did and write down a few of these movies names. After looking at some of their reviews, they seemed like movies worthy of looking into.

This is really one of the things I like the most about Martin. He has a huge vocabulary of film that he seems to draw from in every piece of work he does. It is undeniable that Martin is one of the most intelligent film directors of his generations. The vast amount of knowledge that Martin seems to have in regards to how to use editing, the camera, the acting, and the music in order to bring about the vision for his film, is magnificent. He in himself is very much worthy of studying.