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.

Hugo- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 9, 2011

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. It uses all the masterful filming techniques we have come to expect from a legend like Scorsese and also involves several elements we have never seen from this veteran filmmaker who is  completely new to the family genre. The film is a tribute to film itself. Reminding the new generation about the importance of the filmmakers who have come before us while also pushing the medium forward. Hugo represents Scorsese’s first theatrical film shot in 3D. He uses this new element as if he had been using it all along, bringing us into his story like never before. It is hard to compare the 3D aspect of Hugo to a movie like Avatar, but I found the 3D use to be as good if not better then the groundbreaking 3D use we see in Avatar.

Just as the 3D in Avatar transferred us into the vast and open environment of the Pandora forest, Hugo‘s use of 3D takes us deep into the secret tunnels of the Paris train station. The 3D gives the story an extra layer. There is a greater complexity to the framing. I felt as though I could measure distances more clearly. Often I felt like I was right there in the tunnels with Hugo, dust particles and the steam from the pipes drifting all around me. Scorsese uses complex tunnel systems and towering staircases to highlight the 3D effect to an even greater extent. It feels as though we are shown a painting where we are actually allowed to walk inside and explore.

The movie was not intended to be a literal representation of real life. Although the story takes place in Paris, it is an impressionistic representation. One of the common mistakes filmmakers make when creating a enchanted type feel for their story, is getting rid of all the dirt and grit that reminds us of real life. As a result most impressionistic stories feel artificial, the environments look like sets rather then something that has just jumped out of the imagination. Scorsese embraces the murky and grimy aspects of the train station. He is not afraid to explore some of the darker parts of the imagination, taking the boy Hugo into places we are not quite comfortable with. The worlds we see in film do not need to look real, only feel real. The filmmakers make it a point to physically show the strain and hardship the boy Hugo goes through. Because we see the sweat and labor it takes Hugo to survive and because he looks so accustomed to the secret tunnels of the train station where he lives, we buy into the impressionistic world the movie projects.

The subject matter directly calls for the impressionistic storytelling we see in the film. The main characters of the story are Hugo Cabret, played by upcoming child star Asa Butterfield, and Georges Melies played by veteran actor Ben Kingsley. Although the character of Hugo is fictional Georges Melies is based on a real man. At the time the story takes place in Melies is a old forgotten filmmaker who has a small toyshop in the Paris train station where Hugo lives. Hugo is a orphan who keeps the stations clocks working. The movie revolves around an old broken automaton- a mechanical puppet that was made to draw pictures. The automaton is the only thing Hugo has left reminding him of his deceased father. Through out the film Hugo works on fixing this automaton while avoiding the eye of the authorities.

Hugo gets involved with Melies by accident. However, the farther we get into the story the more we find out the automaton is directly related to Melies. Hugo runs into a girl named Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of Melies. Together they go on a adventure exploring the ghosts of Melies’ past while also discovering the magic of Melies’ old art form; filmmaking.

Melies has long abandoned filmmaking. He forbid his goddaughter Isabelle from going to the movies. Hugo is the one to introduce to Isabelle the magic of the movies. Slowly Scorsese takes us deep into the origins of film, before computer effects, color, and even sound. We explore some of the very first visionaries of the medium of film. Through several marvelous montages we discover what interested the great Georges Melies in film, what he contributed to the new art form, how he was so quickly forgotten by the public, and how his contribution was so ignorantly neglected.

The film is Scorsese’s tribute to silent cinema and his plead for us to preserve the great films of the past. It is not a tribute in subject matter only, Scorsese shoots much of the movie like the old silent films. We go long periods of time with hardly any duologue. The film has a classic pace which actually enhances the 3D experience. We are allowed to cherish the whole of the environments with brilliant master shots and Scorsese connects locations through several long tracking shots. We are allowed behind the scenes of silent cinema and see how Melies created some of the first groundbreaking effects in cinema.

In Hugo Scorsese shows us the magic of filmmaking. He shows the filmmaker for who he truly is- a magician. A magician who uses flickering images projected on a screen to entertain and revolutionize the world. In this story Hugo is a magical character. It is hard not to fall in love with him. His purpose is to fix things. He thinks fixing an old despairing man like Melies will help fulfill his life. In the film Scorsese creates his own little world inside the train station. A world where Hugo is king. As mistreated and misunderstood as he is, Hugo is the character who keeps everything moving along. He is the only one who knows of the secret tunnels within the train station. He is the only one who can see all that goes on in the train station.

This film seems to be so different from Scorsese’s usual subject matter, yet so close to what I have found his heart to be. It doesn’t take long listening to someone like Scorsese to understand his deep love for the film medium. As many have already said, this is Scorsese’s love letter to silent cinema. The film represents Scorsese at his greatest. It will inspire filmmakers young and old for decades to come. In Hugo we see where dreams are made and the importance dreamers are to the world we live in.

Show Me The Light!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 22, 2011

In every film there should be a light. A light that attracts us to the material. That allows us to truly see the story being presented on screen. I would describe the light as some sort of warmth. Something that reminds us of humanity and gives us a reason to invest ourselves into the story. The light factor is what separates filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese in my mind. As sophisticated as some of Scorsese’s films are, I find few of them relatable and very seldom do I invest myself into the story he is telling. Maybe I neglect to understand the darkness factor. I have heard many people talk about how they are drawn to Scorsese movies such as Taxi Driver, because they relate to the loneliness and darkness in the main character Travis Bickle. However, if movies were about reflecting and highlighting the darkness in human nature I would not be interested in making them.

It is not like Steven Spielberg does not go into dark subject matter at times. You can’t get much darker then the holocaust. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List just happens to be my favorite movie I have ever seen. I have had many friends tell me the film is too dark and too sad for them to really like. However, even though I think the main subject matter of Schindler’s List, the holocaust, is sad I do not consider the actual story sad. No, instead in the middle of one of the darkest chapters in world history Steven Spielberg shows us a light in Oskar Schindler. In Schindler’s List we are given a story about the redemption of a German citizen and his effort to save hundreds of Jews from almost curtain death in German death camps. This light amongst the darkness is what makes the film so powerful in my mind.

A frustrating thing about most critics in my opinion is that they seem to put more value on filmmakers who make movies that go into dark subject matter and end on tragic notes. People like Walt Disney, Frank Capra, and Steven Spielberg on the other hand are written off by some critics because their material is too full of “fluff” and not realistic enough to true life. In my opinion if you want to see something completely realistic to real life, just go outside. We are not supposed to just copy what we see in real life. Many filmmakers goals are to represent something to strive for and look up too. I am tired of critics downsizing a film because it had a predictable happy ending. The truth is there are only two ways to end a film, either with a happy ending or a tragic one. Each ending could easily become predictable. For example, the majority of Martin Scorsese’ films end in a tragic way. It is just as easy for me to predict the type of ending Scorsese is going to have as it is for me to predict Spielberg’s. What we should be concentrating on is whether we buy into the ending the movie has.

In film the director is showing the audience a new world. They are giving us a piece of art that hopefully entertains and impacts us. Directors like Martin Scorsese and Stanly Kubrick have never been known for being commercial artists. They never claimed to be making their films for the mass audience. They are more interested in exploring deep and usually dark ideas. Scorsese’s movies especially have a lot to do with violence and corruption. After watching a Scorsese or Kubrick film you usually begin to doubt humanity. The stars of their films are rapists, drug dealers, and murders. There is hardly any warmth in their films. Warmth is either something they feel they are beyond or something they just don’t want to incorporate into their film. Instead what we get is beautifully shot and visually stunning pieces of art that usually go unnoticed or uncared for because the audience doesn’t have a reason to invest.

I can’t say Scorsese and Kubrick are bad filmmakers. I personally respect almost all of what I have seen them develop. However I, unlike most critics, think Scorsese and Kubrick’ films are far less impacting then the ones of Steven Spielberg or Walt Disney. It is like inviting someone into a room. You can have a room full of wondrous material all presented in a superb way. Yet, if you do not have some sort of warmth in the room, most people will walk away or not be impacted. If you have no warmth in a film everything looks foreign. We need the characters in our films to be relatable. Even if you are making a movie about a villain, you need to show us something that makes him connect to the audience. There needs to be some sort of light expressed in that villain’s life that allows us to understand his or her perspective. It is not because Scorsese’s movies end tragically that they are not impacting to me. Scorsese usually has interesting characters in his films. But the characters are people who I never run into in real life, and Scorsese hardly does anything to shine a light on why they are so different from me. He keeps his characters in the darkness and thus when they are gone I don’t see much of a difference, I am not impacted.

I don’t consider Steven Spielberg or Walt Disney’s films fluffy. I do not consider it a bad thing that most of their films end happily. What I care about is whether or not I can buy into the story they are telling. Movies are less about the final result and more about the journey. If you want your audience to participate on the journey you are taking them on you need to give them a reason to stay in their seat. Give them some sort of light that allows them to invest in your film. The light allows the audience in and it gives the darkness contrast. Even in the movies of David Fincher, where we go deeply into the worlds of serial killers, rape victims, and corrupt power seekers, we see some sort of light. Whether it is a detective who still believes in humanity, a comic artist who is devoted to justice, or a visionary devoted to revolutionizing the world, Fincher gives us reason to stay and invest into his films.

The tragic events in both Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg films are impacting because we all had something to lose when the events happened. The death of Bambi’s mother and the sacrifice Captain Miller makes to save private Ryan, hits us hard because we experienced the warmth of both those characters lives. The light is the reason why I will stay. The light needs to be the most important thing about your story. It allows us to understand and be impacted by the darkness. By no means am I telling you to make your movies end happily. It’s your choice. I am just saying that it’s the light that gives both happy and sad endings clarity.

humility

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 12, 2011

Humility brings perspective, allows us to learn, and strengthens the story for a filmmaker. Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E, talked about the importance of being humble through out success. Pixar maybe more then any other studio needs to keep themselves at a even key in order to create great stories. Andrew Stanton along with the rest of the directors at Pixar would be the first to tell you there are no Walt Disney’s or Steven Spielberg’s at their studio. What Pixar relies on is the Brain Trust. The Brian Trust consists of many of the top artists, directors, and writers at the studio working together for the sake of the story. For the Brian Trust to work, there needs to be a mutual respect for each other. One guy can’t put himself ahead of another because he has been more successful publicly or has come from a more popular art school.

The humility of a student is what filmmakers need to have all the way through their career. I have studied Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, and the Pixar directors, they all have had a curiosity for the world and somehow they have found a way to stop their success from interfering with their vision. All these filmmakers put the heart of the story above all else. When you relies filmmaking is about a group of people working together for the sake of the story you begin to have the perspective needed to create a great film.

We must all be servants to the stories we are telling. This is where the humility needs to come from. We must always relies through out our success that we still serve something greater then ourselves. I believe the stories we tell as filmmakers are not originated from us but from something greater. I can not claim credit for all the stories I have floating in my head. I believe they come from the people around us and from God. As a Christian I believe I am serving God by telling my stories. I believe my stories are a part of a greater whole. The whole concept of storytelling is amazing to me. We can create completely new worlds, characters, and stories in our heads and we can show them to the world with just a few words or images. The worlds and characters I work on seem to start having a life of their own after a while. This origination of life I can’t claim credit to. I believe more in the idea that the worlds and characters I am working on right now are already out their, it is just my job to find them.

No matter what you believe you must humble yourself for the sake of the story you are telling. No matter how successful you might become, treat each film like it is your first. Be students of film like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and the directors at Pixar are. All those guys would say they are students of film first. They constantly watch and learn from movies. They are constantly trying to figure out how to tell their stories in a better way.

Our medium has the potential to create breakthroughs in peoples lives, yet it also can keep people stagnant. With film we can ignite hate towards others or bring understanding. Our medium influences the direction of nations.  Everything depends on the way we treat the medium. Will we treat the medium of film arrogantly or with humility? Treating the film medium with arrogance will help neither you or others. Humility brings on understanding and breakthrough. If we are humble through out the filmmaking process we will find fulfillment in the people and stories we serve.

Invisible Ink- Be the Drama Queen!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 9, 2011

Did you know rats can’t cook? Did you know fish can’t talk, balloons can’t fly houses, monsters are not in your closet waiting to scare you, toys are not alive, cars don’t have emotions, humans do not have superpowers, robots can’t fall in love, and ants can’t invent things? Many of the most popular films ever to come out of Hollywood are the ones that are most illogical. I mean think about it. There is no such thing as a Jedi who can use some magical force to read your feelings and there is no such world populated by blue aliens and floating islands called Pandora. Why do we go to movies which show these things if they are not really real?

You might be the kind of person who does not like fantasy. You might only go to movies like Schindler’s List or Pursuit of Happyness, movies which are based on true stories. So at least those movies are real, right? Have you ever seen someone in real life who had a personal theme song play whenever he showed great emotion? Have you ever been in one place one second and then dozens of miles away in the next second in real life? The fact is all film is an illusion. Every action and camera move is thought out before hand. The lighting and most of the props have been planned out way before anything is actually shot. The goal for  filmmakers has never been to give you complete reality, you can just go outside if you want that. The goal is to give you an emotion which hopefully is more real to you then most of the emotions you have through real life.

Personally you can not convince me the animals in the Disney animated movie Bambi were just a bunch of drawings. You can not convince me the emotions I saw in the movie Schindler’s List were not real in some way. Characters like Wall-E, Thumper, or Forrest Gump have become just as real to me as any character I run into while going on a walk or shopping. In fact, these fictional characters have impacted me in ways few real people have.

In the book Invisible Ink Brian McDonald quotes famous director Billy Wilder, “Don’t give me logic, give me emotion“. Movies do not need to hit on logical truths all the time, what they need to hit on are emotional truths. Sometimes exaggerating logical truths can help highlight an emotional truth. No one does this better then Pixar in my opinion. Rats can not cook, however the premise of the Pixar movie Ratatouille is a ambitious rat, in Remy, venturing out to become a chef. As illogical as the premise is we as the audience are thrilled when we see Remy begin to succeed in his ambitions. The fact that Remy is a rat gives us even more fuel to root for him because we know he is fighting a huge uphill battle, I mean most restaurants are forced to close if it is discovered rats are in the kitchen. We begin to see Remy as a symbol of a man overcoming the impossible in order to fulfill his dreams. The idea of a rat wanting to cook captures us because emotionally it hits on a truth which is extremely real and relevant. Watching Remy succeed in being a chef allows us to realize we are capable of succeeding in things which we are told by the world are impossible or closed off.

It is the filmmakers job to become the drama queen. Film and stage acting are the places where we are allowed to let it all out and use everything to further our point. The reason why we have music playing in the background or use quick cuts is so we can get across to the audience a very real idea. The reason it takes so long to plan out the camera moves, acting, lighting, and set design is because we want all those things to further the actual emotional theme of our film.

A good man to study in order to see to what effect you can use cinema to further your theme is Martin Scorsese. Some of his earlier movies like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull went against many rules of filmmaking at the time. In Taxi Driver there were times where Scorsese would just wonder off of the main character, use fades to show his character moving across long distances, and shoot medium shot of a character talking to another without having the other character in frame. These very gutsy techniques worked because Scorsese understood how they were contributing to the theme of his film. He didn’t care if he showed more blood then what would be realistic from something like a gunshot wound, if he point was being made. (Check out this LINK to read more about how I feel Scorsese is a perfecter in using the elements of cinema).

Everything needs to be about the theme of the film. You must figure out how to get the most drama out of the performances and camera shots. Sometimes in order to get a curtain point across you need to go completely against logic. You must be careful to not lose your audience through going too abstract and it is important to stay true to some rules. In a movie like Ratatouille we are introduced to a rat who wants to cook and we are able to except this concept. However, we still need to see Remy go through the obstacles of becoming a cook. We still need to buy into him as a character and relate too the struggles he goes through.

I actually think Billy Wilder’s statement, “Don’t give me logic, give me emotion“, is slightly misleading. We do need things to be logical in some ways if we want to generate believable emotions from them. However, they do not need to be logical in the way “rats can’t cook” or “houses can’t fly” are. We need what we see in the movies to make logical sense emotionally to us. They must hit on a core belief we have as human beings. If someone falls in love with another character in a movie but the relationship has not connected with us as the audience, we will call it corny. If a character dies on screen but it doesn’t feel believable, we won’t be effected by the loss.

Make the character, environment, and story resonate with us as the audience through what ever rout you think is best. I do not need to believe characters like Wall-E and Forrest Gump live in the world I call “reality”. However, I need to have the characters and stories you tell become something I can believe in. But first the stories you create need to become real in the realm you call your “imagination”. When they become real there you can start translating them to film.

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 2, 2011

Journey through cinemaI want to recommend the documentary  A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies to any film student who has hopes for working in Hollywood (Click on the link to go to the DVD’s Amazon page). This documentary is a priceless look at the History of Hollywood Film. In the documentary we are narrated through the Golden age of Cinema by Martin Scorsese. He gives us a very personal view on the subject. He concentrates on some filmmakers that few filmmakers of this generation have ever heard of and he skips over some of the most well known filmmakers in Hollywood History. There is hardly mention of great filmmakers like Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock. There is no mention of my personal favorite filmmaker Walt Disney. However, after understanding that this is a very personal view by Scorsese I became more understanding and content with him skipping over some filmmakers I personally felt connected to. I actually think this film is a “must see” because it is so personal. We are given the History of Hollywood filmmaking from Martin Scorsese’s personal perspective. There is no one else who could have made this except for Scorsese and that is what makes it priceless.

Scorsese concentrates on the type of directors that make movies like he does. We constantly see a concentration on the underdog in this documentary. Usually the movies with the tragic ending and the antihero are the movies that are highlighted by Scorsese. Scorsese starts the documentary off talking about The Director’s Dilemma. In this section Scorsese tries to express the constant battle the director has with the studio in getting  his own personal vision up on screen. Scorsese explains how the big studios in the 1930’s and 40’s had their own style and how they expected the director to conform to that style. Scorsese talks about many people who were not able to bend to the studio system and how it crushed many of their creativity and drive. It is obvious that Scorsese likes the rebel in Hollywood and all the way through the documentary we see Scorsese concentrate on the tragic Hollywood director who was good and had a grand amount of potential but eventually got crushed by the Hollywood system because he or she was too rebellious. For the most part Scorsese looks at the Hollywood system as a necessary evil the Director needs to deal with.

We are told about a few filmmakers who flourished in the Hollywood system. Scorsese does not leave out all of the popular directors of the day. His mission is to show many different directors of the time period and how they influenced the Cinema. Scorsese does a marvelous job explaining how the film process developed through out the years. In the second chapter of the documentary titled The Director as Storyteller, Scorsese takes us through three film genres, the Western, the Gangster Film, and the Musical. This is one of the most educational chapters in the whole documentary. We are shown how Hollywood as a whole developed through the development of these genres. One of the greatest examples Scorsese used is John Ford‘s three Westerns Stagecoach (1939), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and The Searchers (1956) all staring John Wayne. Through specific examples of all three of these films we are shown clearly how the Hollywood story style turned from black and white morality in the 1930’s too the complex characters of the 1950’s where we don’t quite know who is right and who is wrong.

I found the Western genre examples to be the most useful. However, Scorsese does a good job explaining curtain truths the Musical and Gangster film genre’s revealed about society. We are shown how the public became more and more open to in depth and insightful stories in film. We saw how the public grew from wanting to escape to a imaginary lands in the 1930’s to wanting to watch movies that revealed truths about the land they actually lived in in the late 1940’s and 50’s.

The most unbiased section of the documentary and the section I found the most useful was when Scorsese talked about The Director as Illusionist. This is all about the vocabulary and tools of filmmaking and how they developed through out the years. We are introduced to D. W. Griffith and are given examples on how he started to build the vocabulary of film in the early 1910’s. Scorsese does a superb job using specific examples from Griffith’s films to further his points. We see how Griffith discovered the power of the high and low angle. We see how Griffith used close ups to build up emotion and how he used cuts to move his stories along. Scorsese talks about how the silent area allowed us to understand the power of film visuals. Everything needed to be communicated through the visuals and Scorsese shows us the masters of the silent era such as Cencil B. Demille and the German filmmaker F. W. Murnau and their contribution to building the visual vocabulary in film.

After showing the power of the visuals and what some of the filmmakers were able to do with them, we are introduced to sound. Scorsese talks briefly about the problems that came with sound. How the camera stopped moving for a short while because of all the technical equipment that needed to come with the new invention and how movies became full of talking heads rather then people visually telling the story. However, quickly Scorsese goes into detail on some of the great values of sound. He talks about filmmakers such as George Hill and Howard Hawks and how they used sound to bring more emotion to their scenes and heighten the suspense of their films. Scorsese talks about the contribution of color and how many filmmakers used color to represent curtain feelings that came with the characters and scenes we were observing.

When Scorsese talks about the Cinema Scope (the widescreen format of film) that came in the mid 1950’s, he goes into detail on how it was used to create a more epic feel in order to heighten the cinema experience. He talks about both the difficulties of Cinema Scope– how it was harder to focus on single characters and made film harder to edit, and the new openings for film it created– in the way it allowed us to experience the actual atmospheres and locations the actors were in. Lastly Scorsese concentrates for a few minutes on the innovations of visual effects. There was a little melancholy in the way Scorsese talked about visual effects taking over actual  location shooting. However, he does express the qualities of visual effects well and there is a point made that visual effects are only tools that require good filmmakers to be pulled off. I can not recommend this section of the documentary enough. This section by itself makes the whole documentary worth buying. Scorsese is a master illusionist when it comes to film and in this section he express in fine detail why.

The next section we go through is the most personal part of Scorsese’s documentary. The section is titled The Director as Smuggler. We are now shown many of the metaphors that went behind many B Film directors such as Jacques Tourneur, Billy Wilder, and Samuel Fuller. This section is entirely about how the directors were able to quietly but clearly express their personal vision on screen through low budget filmmaking. Scorsese makes the point, the less money it cost for a movie to get made the more freedom the director is given. We are shown specific examples on how these movies gave us insight on some very relevant issues in the time periods in which they were made. We are also shown examples from films and filmmakers that I do not think you will find in any other documentary. Most of the directors Scorsese concentrates on in this section are not well known, they just happen to have caught Scorsese’s eye and Scorsese makes sure they will be remembered through talking about their contribution to American film. There several archive interviews that are shown in the section. We hear the actual filmmakers express some of their personal thought process behind their unique filmmaking choices.

The last section of the documentary is titled The Director as Iconoclast. This is also a very personal view from Scorsese. It concentrates on some of the most influential filmmakers in the history of Cinema. The iconoclast are the filmmakers that faced the film studios head on and in many cases were destroyed because of it, but in a few cases were able to bend the studios to their will and create some of the greatest films ever made. In this section we are told about filmmakers like Erich von Straheim, Orsen Wells, and Stanly Kubrick. All these filmmakers created movies that brought up extremely relevant issues such as the corruption of greed and the importance of exploration. They created movies that concentrated on the anti hero and the outcasts. There goals were not to make the audience always feel happy after viewing the film, but rather to think and look at things in a different way then ever before. The directors in this section were all driven by personal vision and created movies that took a tremendous amount of risk and innovation. Scorsese gave us several examples on how the directors used the camera to represent their personal view. In essence these directors became influences on the audience in the way they lit their scenes and cut their sequences. Instead of giving us seamless movies these directors movie styles drew attention to themselves. To these filmmakers “the camera was a instrument of poetry”.

The last section of Martin Scoreses’ documentary is truly inspiring. Even though I do not agree with all the directors points of view they show me the amount of potential the medium of film has. Scorsese closes the documentary off by expressing the true value of film. He explains how the movies are a very spiritual experience to him. They are meant to share a common memory with the audience. They are meant to impact us through revealing universal truths. This documentary reminded me history is one of the greatest teachers a film student can have. We are shown some of the foundations of the American cinema. This documentary shows us the power of film and some of the filmmakers who were able to master that power. We see how far the medium of film has grown from it’s very beginnings. And the documentary challenges us to see how far we personally can take the medium of film.

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)

 

Visiual Education

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on February 2, 2011

I watched a brilliant ten minute interview of Martin Scorsese talking about the importance of visual literacy. In the video Martin expresses the importance of being literate in the techniques and history of film. I personally agree with Martin Scorsese.

Could it be that film is just as important of a subject to learn as math and English? The more I think about it the more I believe that film should be just as important as any other topic in school. We live in a age where film is a huge part of our lives. Whether it is through a TV set, cell phone, computer, or at a movie theater, the visual medium of film impacts us.

Not only are we exposed to film where ever we go, we also have more access to the tools to create film then we ever had before. The majority of youth already do express themselves through visual means. The internet literally has hundreds of millions of videos created by youth not yet out of high school, some even in middle school.  Seeing how huge film has become for our society it is sad to see how ignorant most of us are on the literacy of the medium. I am not saying we should all be forced to be filmmakers, but I think it is crucial that we know the literacy of film like we know the literacy of reading and writing. Very few seem to know how the camera is used to express an idea or point of view. Because we are so illiterate in the language of film, we often let the medium take advantage of us.

The lenses, the angles, the cutting, and the subtitle types of sound in a film, all impact the audience mostly in subconscious ways. At one point, when we went to movies, many of the theaters would put in one or two frames of a food product they were selling. One or two frames does not give us time to consciously see what is being show to us. However, subconsciously we the audience are effected by those images and many would get up to go buy their product. Luckily that tactic is against the law now, but there are many more ways for film to abuse an audiences mind. Just the difference between a high angle and a low angle in film is extreme. When we look up on someone we see them as a higher power. Looking down on someone is way to belittle the person. Film can distort shapes and color, to get a curtain emotion out of an audience. Sound can be used to get inside someones head. A filmmaker literally can use film as a weapon to abuse us and make us feel and even act a curtain way. World War II is a great example of the power of film. The German film Triumph of the Will is considered one of the most powerful films of all time because of the influence it had on the German people in trusting Hitler and his Nazi party.

There are many films that are made by amateur filmmakers that express violence and abuse in extremely unhealthy ways. There have been numerous films posted on the internet that express many misconceptions  about minority races and people with different sexual orientations. There have been cases of individuals killing themselves because of videos going public that represented them in a negative or unpopular light. Visual media is a powerful tool that is often misused by youth because no one has taught them how to use it or what kind of power it really has.

If we started to teach just as much through visual means as we do through verbal linguistic means, we would see more students succeed in school. As a student in middles school and high school, I often was frustrated at the very lopsided concentration my teachers and councilors gave to verbal linguistic learning. There really was no film classes at my school and the art classes felt like a joke. Grades for art class had nothing to do with the artists skill, just whether or not you completed all the requirements. For subjects like math and science we were graded on what we knew and how well we  could express what we knew on a written test. Thus, in math and science where I did not test well and my “skill” level was not very good, my grade suffered. However, with art I concentrated more on developing my skill then getting all the requirements done, and my grades suffered again.

The image is just as powerful as the letter. It is completely unfair to have one side be judged based on how good you are and the other judged on whether you can complete the bare minimum. It is also ridiculous that our resources are so lob sided. There are still many schools that don’t offer film classes. The reason why so many watch movies is because the visual medium speaks to them. Film is a powerful tool that can influence us in many ways. We can literally see how a professional perfects his craft through film, we can experience history through film, and we can be manipulated and abused through film. Everything depends on how we treat the medium and whether or not we give it the recognition it deserves.

Taxi Driver-Extra Features Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 27, 2011

Taxi Driver:

Collectors Edition 2-disc DVD Review:

Martin Scorsese On Taxi Driver: 8.5 out of 10: This is a very good 16 minute interview with Martin Scorsese. He explains his feelings on the project as best as possible. Martin talks about why he wanted to direct Taxi Driver and what he got out of it. He also goes into detail on what influenced him. Martin names several directors, from Francesco Ross all the way to Alfred Hitchcock, as being strong influences for Taxi Driver. This feature is not about how Martin approached each shot or how he got the film accomplished. The feature does have a tremendous amount of information of what Taxi Driver meant to Scorsese. I think it is good that this interview is taped many years after the making of the film. He seems to have had time to think about the reasons to why he did Taxi Driver and why it was a success.

Producing Taxi Driver: 7.5 out of 10: A good 10 minute look at how the Taxi Driver film was started. You hear mostly from producer Michael Phillips on what the movie meant to him. We are told that the movie was very controversial but sadly do not hear of much detail to why. We also see why some of the filmmakers were attracted to the film. There is a nice little look at the new generation of filmmakers that were coming up from the 1960’s and 70’s.

God’s Lonely Man: 9.5 out of 10: This is a great 25 minute documentary on the origins of the Taxi Driver film. We go into the life of the screenwriter Paul Schrader and see how the film was created from his own personal experiences. He talks about the foundations of the main character Travis why he was appealing to him. Paul gives us a lot of insight to what the philosophy is behind the screenplay. He talks in detail about what he thinks the job of a screenwriter is and what it is not. This documentary is a must for anyone studying screenwriting. The documentary helps us understand Taxi Driver in a much deeper way.

Influence and Appreciation: Martin Scorsese Tribute: 8 out of 10: This is a great 18 minute documentary on Martin Scorsese. It talks a little about how he got associated with Taxi Driver. They talk about him as being a student of film who always had a independence and exhilarating energy for filmmaking. We hear a lot about the kind of influence Martin was on the rest of the Taxi Driver crew. It is a documentary about why Martin is such a good director, only concentrating on the making of Taxi Driver and before. I wish they used the Taxi Driver as an example more often. I wish they went into more specific examples of how Martin’s shooting was revolutionary for his time. All in all a very good documentary. It was very well told and I liked hearing about the revolution in the 70’s for Hollywood filmmaking.

Taxi Driver Stories: 7 out of 10: A interesting look at a few New York taxi drivers. They talk about what taxi driving is all about for them. We hear how the business has changed from the 70’s to the present times. They explain what drew them to the job and some of them explain why they chose to leave the profession. It is a 20 minute documentary on some unique peoples lives as taxi drivers. Does not really have anything to do with the making of the actual film Taxi Driver.

Making Taxi Driver: 8 out of 10: This is a well made 1 hour and 10 minute documentary on all the stages of making Taxi Driver. All the way through the documentary we hear about the philosophy behind the film and how it resonated with the cast and crew. Many people talk about their role in the film and specifically how Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, and Robert De Niro pushed the film to be the classic it is today. Jodie Foster has some good things to say about her role as a 12 year old prostitute. She talks about what both Martin and Robert did to take her acting to a whole new level. Paul brings us a lot of insight into the meaning behind the movie. I would have liked to hear from Martin a little bit more. They never really get into much detail about the conflict that came with the film. I did enjoy hearing about Robert De Niro’s contribution to the film and what his attitude was as an actor back then. A good all a round look at the film making process.

Travis: New York: 5 out of 10: This was a okay look at New York in the 1970’s and how it has changed to present times. The documentary was very short however and not nearly enough of an explanation was given on how Now York has changed. We are told by some high up officials that the City has changed from back then to now. But, we don’t hear how it has changed or much of why. We are told that the City is Rich, but never are given a explanation. We also are not told why New York City is the place of opportunity, even though there are some interviews who say it is.

Story-Boards by Martin Scorsese: 8.5 out of 10: This is a fantastic 4 minute explanation by Martin about the beauty of storyboards. I really enjoyed it and think he explains well the general benefit of self made storyboards. We are given good explanation to how the storyboards help both him and his cinematographer understand how to go about shooting the film.

Commentary: By Professor Robert Kolker: 8.5 out of 10: Professor Kolker seems to have done his research on Martin Scorsese and Taxi Driver in this commentary. He makes us understand to a much higher degree why Taxi Driver is considered by many to be a great piece of Cinema. He goes into detail on how Martin uses the camera to push the story and it’s meaning forward. He talks about Travis and explains his view on many of his scenes for us. Sometimes it feels like he is trying to put meaning into things that never had any. But, for the most part we dissect the Taxi Driver movie and see a lot of the fine details that make the film great.

Commentary: By Screenwriter Paul Schrader: 7.5 out of 10: I have some mixed feelings about this commentary. First off, Paul does a good job giving us his unique and valuable perspective on the film. He mostly sticks to his thoughts on the script. One of the frustrating things was the long gaps without him saying a word. It really felt like he was only talking half the time or less. There were several scenes I very badly wanted him to talk about that he just skipped over. He does a good job when he does talk. Paul is very honest. He tells us what he thinks a screenwriters job is and what he thinks is not a screenwriters job. He has experience with both directing and writing, so his comments on what the directors job is and what the screenwriters job is, are very valuable. Overall I did get some valuable information from him, but wish he talked and discussed much more then he did.

From these extra features I think we get a very good view on the making and importance of the Taxi Driver. We hear a fair amount from all the major people who took part in the making of Taxi Driver. For me it was a great introduction to Martin Scorsese. I was able to see some of his passion for film. I was also able to see what got him started in the film business and how his philosophy started to change the rest of Hollywood. Paul Schrader and Robert De Niro were also interesting people to look into. Paul Schrader’s screenplay really was something else. This is just as much Paul’s movie as anyone else’s. I respected the trust that Paul seemed to have with Martin, it is a good look at how a screenwriter and director should work together. These extra features explain very well the reasons to why Taxi Driver is considered one of the greatest films ever made. It also inspires the independent artist to make his own film, no matter how gutsy the story is.

Scorsese: Interviewed by Charlie Rose

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 25, 2011

Charlie Rose is one of my favorite interviewers and I think he does a splendid job interviewing Martin in this hour long video. I am posting this video because Martin does a good job talking about his career up to 1997 when this interview was taken. Especially in the second half of the interview, Martin goes into detail about what got him interested in film in the first place and why he has done some of the projects he has done.