A Dreamer Walking

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 – Perfecter Of The Elements

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on January 24, 2011

Martin on rightI have just begun to appreciate Martin Scorsese’s ability to use both visuals and sound to enhance our understanding of what his characters are feeling. We are not just told what emotions the character is going through, we see it. The most vivid example of this is in Raging Bull during the fight scenes.

In many ways Scorsese is at his best in Raging Bull. We are literally transported inside the main character Jake LeMotta. During the fights when Jake is doing well we are right in on the action with him, as if seeing most of the fight from Jake’s point of view. The camera is steady and the image is clear. The lights glamorously applaud Jake as if he is the king of the world, or in boxing terms “The Champ”.

This clip from Raging Bull is a perfect example of how the camera, sound, music, and lighting, are all glamorizing Jake’s climb to fame.

This section of the film represents Jake’s professional career at it’s best. Martin tries to stay in the moment as long as possible by doing a continuous shot from the locker room to the ring. The farther down the hall we get the more we are able to hear the glorious applause for Jake. On top of that we have music playing romanticizing the moment. Everything is smooth and there is no extreme close ups. Jake is in total control and thus the visuals and sounds are supporting that control. It almost ends as quickly as it starts. The opponent gives up and Jake is now Champion with all the elements of cinema supporting his victory.

Now take a look at this scene, where Jake finally falls and gives up his title.

Immediately we can tell the audience is not quite on Jake’s side anymore. The punches to Jake seem louder and the lighting is much more dim. We even see steam coming from the fighters and the ring, as if we left the real world and are in some kind of hell. Finally we see Jake has given up. He drops his hands and beckons his appointment to come and finish him off while leaning against the ring. Then it happens. We leave reality completely. We get a shot of Jake in the middle of the frame, a abnormal, wide angled, and uncomfortable perspective. Everything  goes quiet (Martin understands sometimes the greatest sound is silence). Then the camera does a tilt down covering the opponent in shadow. The opponent sounds more like an animal then an actual human now, breathing in and out slowly. Behind Jake the steam is more visible then ever before. Jake looks almost distorted in the frame.

The beating begins. Everything seems to go extremely fast now. For the audience the fast abrupt cuts are just as painful as the punches. The camera lights go off like they are attacking Jake along side his opponent. The sounds of the journalist’s camera lights going off are like machine guns emptying out clips. We get extreme close ups of Jake’s face and the blood spurting out in all directions. It no longer matters whether the scene is realistic or not, what Martin cares about is the feelings and emotions he is expressing. We finally end seeing Jake completely destroyed yet still standing.

These are just a few examples of how well Scorsese uses his cinematic skills and experience to further the journey of the viewer. In his movies we will not always see deep attention to plot. All of Scorsese’s cuts will not match up flawlessly. Sometimes we might be frustrated with the characters he is trying to express or the story he is telling. But one thing is for curtain, Scorsese knows how to use the camera. He knows how to literally express emotions through the medium of film. Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and Aviator are just a few other movies of Scorsese’s where we really are able to explore the inner being of one of his characters.

I think Scorsese does not care if we do or do not like his films. What he wants is for the audience to experience something unique and different. He wants to express himself through his films. He knows the best cinema comes from within.

(He is the LINK to my first Martin Scorsese “Observation” post)

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.