There are filmmakers whose work deeply affects audiences, many whom will be inspired to take up the craft of filmmaking themselves. Many filmmakers have drunk from the poisoned chalice of David Fincher’s Fight Club; others bask in the glow of the film school cool that is Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Yet, perhaps no one else in our time has consistently influenced generation after generation of filmmakers more than Martin Scorsese. A living legend, a master of the medium, even superlatives fails to fully comprehend the brilliance of his body of work. Martin Scorsese films aren’t viewed, they are witnessed.
In conjunction with the Sydney Film Festival, esteemed film critic David Stratton will be curating a retrospective showcase entitled Essential Scorsese: Selected by David Stratton at the Art Gallery of NSW. An icon of Australian television, David Stratton is the director of the Sydney Film Festival from 1966 to 1983 and he is also well known for co-hosting the SBS program The Movie Show with Margaret Pomeranz from 1981 to 2004 before they moved onto the ABC program At The Movies, which they continued hosting from 2004 to the show’s finale in 2014. Essential Scorsese: Selected by David Stratton features 10 of Martin Scorsese’s most iconic and influential films in 35mm film, and is necessary viewing for every fanatical film buff or serious filmmaker.
David Stratton’s retrospective allows the opportunity for viewers to chart the monumental career of one of modern cinema’s most important visionaries. From early work such as Mean Streets (1973) and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), we are allowed to witness the prodigious raw talent that made Scorsese stand out from his contemporaries of the New Hollywood era.
The 70s continue with Taxi Driver and New York, New York, the former is a defining film of the 1970s, and is arguably Scorsese’s most famous work, while the latter is Scorsese’s ambitious attempt at an unfamiliar genre, the musical.
If Taxi Driver is Scorsese’s most well-known work, then Raging Bull is his greatest. Infusing Old Hollywood expressionistic lighting with New Hollywood cinematography and gritty narratives, Raging Bull is Scorsese working at the top of his game. Along with Raging Bull, the 1980s also produced Scorsese’s first attempt at dark comedy, with The King of Comedy, generally misunderstood at its time of release, the film’s reputation has grown steadily in the years after, confirming Scorsese’s reputation as a filmmaker ahead of his time.
The 1990s is Scorsese’s most productive decade, directing six films, three of which are part of the retrospective. Goodfellas in 1990 and Casino in 1995 essentially reinforces what we already know but is worth repeating, that Scorsese is the undisputed master of the crime genre, while Age of Innocence (1993) sandwiched between both releases, is a Gilded Age epic of love and loss.
Thematically, Scorsese is as paradoxical as directors come, unafraid to delve into religious iconography and ideas, be it tackling Jesus’ own struggles with the concept of sin in The Last Temptation of Christ to chronicling the life of the 14th Dalai Lama in Kundun. Religion and the act of it is a constant in his oeuvre, even money becomes religious to Scorsese’s characters, they constantly find themselves worshipping the material and defending it at all costs, most of the time, in violent fashion. He has made as many films about priests as he made films about killers, often toeing the line between who we can be and what we are, the struggles of being a saint or sinner or both. His material is telling of his upbringing of course, Scorsese grew up in Little Italy watching gangster films and at one point considered being a priest.
Fortunately for the world, he didn’t hang onto his dreams of priesthood too tightly before cinema came a-calling, for the man is a prize fighter among filmmakers; his visual style is robust and muscular, a boxer taken celluloid form. Through the dynamism of his cinematographic arsenal, with the use of vicious quick pans, forceful zoom ins and hypnotic tracking shots, Scorsese is more pugilist than artist behind the camera, hellbent on delivering one cinematic haymaker after another. You know a Scorsese film when you see one, and with Essential Scorsese, we are allowed a journey through time, watching Scorsese’s craft evolve with the times.
While Essential Scorsese: Selected by David Stratton is a cornerstone of this year’s Sydney Film Festival program, playing from 11th to the 19th of June, the showcase is also stopping by Melbourne from the 27th of May to 12th of June at the Australian Centre of Moving Image (ACMI) and at Canberra’s National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) from the 1st to 23rd of July. Thus allowing films fans the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the trailblazing career of Martin Scorsese.
Perry Lam is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review. He is the director of the documentary short film BLACK RAT has been selected for numerous film festivals both in Sydney and overseas. https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/02/02/welcome-perry-lam-rochford-street-review-associate-editor/
The Sydney Film Festival runs from 8 to 19 June at The State Theatre, Dendy Opera Quays, the Art Gallery of NSW, Event Cinemas George Street, the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace Cremorne, Dendy Newtown, Casula Powerhouse, the Festival Hub at Sydney Town Hall, the SFF Outdoor Screen, and the Skyline Drive In Blacktown. To book tickets visit the Sydney Film Festival website: http://www.sff.org.au/