Gimme Shelter: Perry Lam previews ‘Essential Scorsese’ Selected by David Stratton at the Sydney Film Festival

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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/

Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: American Hustle

Chris Palazzolo works an angle on  American Hustle, Directed by David O. Russell, 2013.

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‘The Seventies’ is not the same thing as the 1970s. The 1970s is a decade in modern history when certain stuff happened. That stuff is the events (recorded and inferred) that historians assess and categorise, tracing developments from preceding decades and consequences in subsequent ones. These events perhaps can be telescopically reduced to a handful of big things; the end of the Vietnam War, the period of stagflation and oil shocks, the awakening of China, etc. In other words, what happened during that decade. ‘The Seventies’ on the other hand is a completely different sign. It is not a product of the decade of the 1970s but is in fact a product of culture industries from decades after the 1970s. For a long time ‘The Seventies’ was the sign of anti-fashion; the name given to a superseded style (flares, afros, prog rock) that fashionistas in the 1980s renounced. In the 90s, and particularly in the euphoria that immediately followed the opening of the Berlin Wall, the musical and fashion tropes of ‘The Seventies’ returned in the European House music scene. Now, in 2015, ‘The Seventies’ lives on in movies and music as an era of political corruption, hard drugs and sleaze, but also as a pre-AIDS idyll innocent of homicidal religious fanaticism and climate change.

This is ‘The Seventies’ of David O’Russell’s American Hustle. New York, ‘The Seventies,’ Christian Bale and Amy Adams play dodgy insurance brokers busted by a hot-shot FBI agent played by Bradley Cooper. Bale and Adams are offered indemnity if they agree to help ‘sting’ corrupt politicians, in particular the popular mayor of New Jersey (Jeremy Renner) who is trying to redevelop the casino district of his municipality by using highly questionable Govt/Business Inc type deals. The plot of American Hustle, squarely in the tradition of the American Noir which can be traced back to The Maltese Falcon, means that everyone is working an angle, but all is revealed at the end.

What is most interesting here is the persistence of the tropes of ‘The Seventies.’ They are all here, in the mise-en-scene (the fashions, the furniture, the big cars), the sound (groovy hits; never the crappy forgotten songs that would’ve filled up the airwaves in the 1970s), and the dialogue (a kind of baroque overlapping New York rap peppered liberally with ‘fuck’). Stylistically the movie is a compendium of classic New York street movies from the 1970s, Saturday Night Fever, Mean Streets, The French Connection, as well as subsequent ‘Seventies’ recreations such as Goodfellas and Boogie Nights. But it contains little of the historical and moral dilemmas of those movies. What is foremost in this ‘Seventies’ is fun; this world is fun, even when the characters are most anxious and verbally ripping each other to shreds, even when they’re doing business with a ruthless gangster who would kill without compunction (Robert De Niro no less) it’s still just fun; fun because they dress like they’re going to a disco every night, fun because they can say ‘fuck’ all the time, fun because they only hustle Moral Majority businessmen and try-hard hipsters. If there is any weight in the film it belongs to the mayor (because this is where the filmmaker’s politics lies); a politician prepared to get down and dirty with shady syndicates in order to bring jobs and investment to his constituents.

‘The Seventies’ in American Hustle is the reassertion of the urban space as a site of adult fun. If ‘The Sixties’ (an equally artificial sign that bears only a contiguous relation to the decade of the 1960s) was an image conflicted with the countercultural schism between established urban norms and the hippie arcadian dream of the rural, ‘The Seventies’ returns us to the city, but expunged of the shackles of children and family life, and the conservative short-back-and-sides existence that follows from that. It’s as if the counter culture did a double shuffle, shrugging off the responsibilities of children and family in the hippie pilgrimage to the country, and then shrugging off the hippie utopianism by returning to the city to party.
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 – Chris Palazzolo

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Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

You can find out more about Teasing Threads here:  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/07/10/introducing-chris-palazzolos-teasing-threads-sundry-film-and-literary-criticism/
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