Marty Made That? — The eclectic career of Martin Scorsese

Wired/Courtesy

Martin Scorsese’s influential presence in the last 40 years of cinema is an undeniable thing of beauty.  For a director that has spent more than half his life in the film industry, Scorsese has produced a relatively small filmography with only 34 movies made in nearly half-a-century.  But such longevity begs the questions, what really goes into making a Martin Scorsese film?

From a technical perspective, long takes lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes, highly saturated contrasted images (in some cases actually using the old two-strip or three-strip Technicolor film process) and just as many quick montage-style cuts have a place his movies.  Thematically, Scorsese’s films always convey his own personal love of cinema as he pays his respects to the masters that came before him.  Story wise, he seems bent on rewriting the rules of the classic narrative with changing perspectives through the use of narration.  But it seems as if Scorsese’s use of violence in films dominated by men, the mob, and Catholic iconography tend to represent him as a filmmaker for the casual fan.

However, with his latest release, “Hugo,” Scorsese ventures into the genre of family friendly 3D adventure films, marking a major departure from his usual macho R-rated fare.  But this isn’t the first time Marty has surprised audiences in regards to the projects he has chosen.  So, in honor of “Hugo” and a surprisingly eclectic career, here’s a list of movies made by Scorsese that don’t exactly scream his name:

1. “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974)

A film starring Ellen Burstyn as a woman dealing with the loss of her unwanted husband as she travels from to California with her adolescent son?  Yeah, that definitely doesn’t fit the mold of gangsters and tough guys.  “Alice” marked a period in Scorsese’s career when he was still trying to gain access to the Hollywood film industry, as he looked for any opportunity to direct a studio picture.  Ellen Burstyn came knocking on Scorsese’s door after he was recommended to her by “Godfather” director, Francis Ford Coppola.  The choice seemed to pay off, as it landed Burstyn a Best Actress win at the Oscars.

2. “New York, New York” (1977)

Hoping to win big at the box office by paying tribute to a genre that inspired him throughout his childhood, Scorsese created a three-hour long musical epic starring Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro as a pair of musicians and lovers.  The movie failed to find an audience, partly due to Scorsese’s own admitted habit of working against genre in general, eventually leading to his nervous breakdown and hospitalization. The film did produce a hit single though, with its title song that would later be covered by Frank Sinatra.

3.  “The Age of Innocence” (1993)

Based on Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel of the same name, Scorsese’s period drama may be one of his masterpieces waiting for reevaluation from critics and audiences alike. By employing many of the same techniques as his gangster films of the same period (“Goodfellas,” “Casino”), Scorsese created a parallel between the psychological violence inflicted upon characters in upper class New York high society and the brutal physical violence seen in the New York of “Goodfellas.” Scorsese’s own reverence for such films as Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and Luchino Visconti’s “The Leopard” also play a role in informing “Age of Innocence.”

4. “Kundun” (1997)

“Last Temptation of Christ” I can understand, but a movie about the Dalai Lama and his exile from Tibet is a little hard to believe as a Martin Scorsese film.  Filled with beautiful images thanks to the work of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (“True Grit,” “No Country for Old Men,” “A Beautiful Mind”), “Kundun” faced the challenge of being released only a few months after “Seven Years in Tibet,” which had the advantage of starring a young Brad Pitt. Unfortunately for Scorsese, the film once again failed make a dent at the box office.