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: Sophia Coppola’s ‘The Bling Ring’

Chris Palazzolo revisits The Bling Ring. Written, directed and produced by Sofia Coppola, 2013.

The_Bling_RingA deluxe architecturally designed house with angular white balconies and porticos, shimmering blue swimming pool and immaculate interiors visible through glass frontages and sliding doors, sits nestled in a grove of trees at the top of Summit Drv in Beverly Hills, while the vast constellation of Los Angeles’ empires twinkle in the distance. The house emits an unearthly blue light into the clear still night like a mosquito coil, and around its balconies and through its many entrances, the tiny figures of six people can be seen moving quickly in and out and around like moths and midges. The only sounds are the creaks of night insects and the remote chop chop of a surveillance helicopter.

This is the signature shot of Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring. It takes place around two thirds of the way into the film, after all the principle elements have been set up; the ring of young kleptogroovers at the peak of its nocturnal activities, and, crucially, those activities now known by the media, so they are themselves celebrities (albeit ones without faces or identities), while another power, unglamorous, grey and imminent, enforcing the steel girdering of property ownership over which hovers the entrancing glitter of fame and wealth that draws the sticky fingers of the ring members in the first place, hovers sleeplessly in the near distance.

What The Bling Ring is about; the peculiar combination of covetous contempt and narcissistic veneration which is celebrity worship, is the least interesting thing about it. The group of teenagers who effortlessly break into the houses of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan et al are essentially the same as the objects of their criminal obsessions; healthy and vacuous, taking for granted without any question at all, that the necessities of life are taken care of – except for one crucial distinction; the celebrities are Somethings and the members of the Bling Ring are Nothings, stuck in remedial school and destined for ordinary jobs. Unless of course they prove themselves to be as venal and shallow as the world they’re breaking into. Then they can become Somethings too. The whole thing is a kind of narcissistic feedback loop very much like Martin Scorsese’s satire from 1980, The King of Comedy, except minus Jerry Lewis and Robert Di Niro.

What is most interesting is the way it happens. Up until the shot of the house on Summit Drive, the film plays a game of chicken with the viewer. There is almost no tension at all during the break-ins, because the keys to the houses and the Maserati’s are all found under the mat, and the cine-verité style generates little dramatic or psychological interest in the motivations of these teenagers. But when we see that house, with the little figures flitting in and out like moths around a light we realise perhaps that we’re watching a kind of science fiction. The house functions like the matter transport booths in The Fly, where a man and a housefly were genetically fused to form a hybrid creature. Its glass entrances, angular passageways, and entrancing light is a celebrity incubator where the process of metamorphosis takes place (surveillance footage), transforming the faceless celebrity-pupae of the Bling Ring into full-blown celebrities. They have to do their short stint in jail of course, to brand the recognition of private property into them, but once that’s done, they now have faces and profiles as recognisable and exotic as the wings of butterflies. The world of blogs, twitter, and reality tv is now theirs.

– 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/

The Bling Ring’s website: http://theblingring.com/

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