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Martin Scorsese & The Mean Streets

Martin Scorsese & The Mean Streets

By Rohan Mohmand • February 24th, 2012

I was first introduced to films at the age of seven thanks to my father, who is an aficionado of films as well. He used to take me to a local theater in the city. I remember the smell of it, and the people standing in the hallways staring at the posters of forthcoming American and Bollywood films.

To me, the experience of a movie theater is still magical, and it will remain a playground forever. I made new friends with the film characters, and the stories of those films inspired me. I have to consider myself fortunate; today I have the opportunity to see films in the comfort of my house, and at some of the state-of-the-art movie theaters, allowing me to venerate the works of some of the great filmmakers.

Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese

One of them, whose work has inspired me throughout the years is Martin Scorsese. As a scriptwriter, I try to comprehend the style of writing characters, dialogues, and it is Scorsese’s truculent work of art and style of films that I have been admiring.

Scorsese was born on November 17th, 1942, in the suburb of Corona, Queens. As a quiet child suffering from asthma, he spent much of his time alone in the movie theaters or watching films at home. After completing high school in the Bronx, he spent a year in the seminary before enrolling at the New York University. And, during the 1960s he found himself drawn to New York University’s film school where the emerging Italian and French New Wave and independent filmmakers such as John Cassavetes had a profound influence on him.

What’s interesting, and worth noting, is that Scorsese’s films are not considered blockbusters and crowd-pleasers like Rocky, Jaws, Star Wars, and Close Encounter of the Third Kind. In the mid 1970′s, he realized that blockbusters would make it harder for him to continue his style. In terms of story his films show the audience the true things — Scorsese’s films are hyper-realistic. His body of work addresses themes such as American-Italian identity, Roman Catholic concepts of redemption and guilt, machismo, violence and modern crime.

Martin Scorsese, CasinoCasino, 1995, dir. Martin Scorsese

The first Scorsese film I saw was Casino (1995), a story of money, power, greed, deception and murder between two mobster friends and a trophy wife. Scorsese’s films are figurative and what makes them unique is the sharp dialogue, violence, corruption, deception and sense of paranoia.

Casino, which is one of his delicately balanced masterpieces, focuses on organized crime showing us that no matter how powerful you are, someday and somehow in the end you will have to answer to someone. And, interestingly the film’s storyline provides us levels of friendship, egoism, and egoists.

“It seems to me that any sensible person must see that violence does not change the world and if it does, then only temporarily.” – Martin Scorsese [1]

Scorsese’s films consist of exuberant landscapes. Precisely detailed and exuberant. The Last Temptation of Christ (1998) and Shutter Island (2010) are good examples and are also considered his masterpieces. They stand for his multilateral vision. Shutter Island, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, tells the story of Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) who, in 1954, is investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is presumed to be hiding nearby. It’s one of Scorsese’s well crafted psychological thrillers; as a filmmaker he is also showing us what he has learned from the masters of the past.

Martin Scorsese, Shutter IslandShutter Island, 2010, dir. Martin Scorsese

The influence of the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, is in almost every frame of the film. If carefully observed, it is the flashback sequences of the film, much like a puzzle, that Scorsese has focused on. Shutter Island represents isolation and loneliness from the rest of the world. On the island, we see walls, and behind the walls we see cells. In these cells we see men in shackles. Now putting everything aside, we see these men mentally isolated from the real world. The central character is Andrew Laeddis, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Giving one of the best performances in his career, DiCaprio vividly portrays the inner feelings of Andrew.

The only time in the story the character escapes from his tension-filled mind is when he becomes Teddy — escaping the mind of Andrew. In reality, both characters are alone the same way. Isolated from the real world. Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) explains to Teddy the names “Edward Daniels” and “Rachel Solando” are anagrams of “Andrew Laeddis” and “Dolores Chanal” respectively. Rachel is the name of Laeddis’ drowned daughter who keeps appearing in his dreams.

The film keeps you in its grip from the opening scene where we see Teddy and Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) on the ferry sailing toward the island. The plot itself is a tension-jammed exercise in pure paranoia. Like the character Teddy, we are rats lost in the maze. Scorsese’s films are built on tension and paranoia. At least in his artistic strokes, which also brings to mind his Mean Streets, The Departed, The Aviator, and The Gangs of New York.

Prior to the release of Shutter Island I read the novel, which psychologically challenged me. And as an admirer of the book I was apprehensive when the studio announced the film adaptation. I wondered how Scorsese, who in my opinion was the right auteur for the project, would bring the right amount of paranoia, unhappiness and the tension of the character in a frame.

“Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.” – Martin Scorsese [1]
Martin Scorsese, Taxi DriverTaxi Driver, 1976, dir. Martin Scorsese

After I began to be intrigued with the work of Scorsese, I started looking back and forth for more of his work and came across his 1976 classic, Taxi Driver. The film’s storyline takes us through the interesting life of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an individual whose background we are not aware of, except that he is a respectable former marine. And that he has trouble sleeping. Travis decides to take a job driving a New York City taxi to kill time and thinks that at least driving people around, he will gain some pocket money for himself.

Watching Travis driving around we witness the night life, and what’s interesting in most of his films, Scorsese adds sporadic voice-over parts. In Taxi Driver, we find out what’s on Travis ‘s mind where the world is a horrific place. As he drives around at night he sees violence, drug use, prostitution, and people who tell him their sad stories of their lives and their spouses. We comprehend the negativity of the world through the eyes of Travis and much like him we feel that something must be done. In Travis’ case, we are the people, standing up against unjust acts rather than turning our faces away.

“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. Being a gangster was better than being President of the United States. To me, it meant being somebody in a neighborhood of nobodies. They weren’t like anybody else. They did whatever they wanted… Nobody ever called the cops.” – Henry Hill [2]
Martin Scorsese, GoodfellasGoodfellas, 1990, dir. Martin Scorsese

Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, says these lines in Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), one of his best films — providing a tour de force of breathtaking images, superb acting, down-to-earth violence, and witty scriptwriting. The style of Scorsese in Goodfellas is artistically different than in Casino, Mean Streets, and other films that are based on the world of organized crime. In Casino, he shows the central character, limned by Robert De Niro, taking control of his business in Las Vegas. Perhaps it’s heaven for him to run what he wants to run. The Casino. In Goodfellas, we see the world of organized crime from a different side.

Scorsese’s main character, Henry Hill, dreams of being a gangster and joining the organized crime world. Joining or falling into? Scorsese stills the frame and his character narrates. The dialogue describes how Henry is attracted to this dark way of life. Ethics can be put away for what he considers to be the absolute life. The story explains how the hierarchy of organized crime works.

Scorsese’s films represent a sense of unhappiness. As a viewer I feel unhappy after watching a Scorsese film. Not because I don’t enjoy his films. Like I said, I venerate his work. Unhappiness, after all, is a predominant feature of human experience.

SOURCES:

  • Veronika Adams (2011) Martin Scorsese [1]
  • Mark T. Conrad. (2007) The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese [2]
  • Michael Henry Wilson (2011) Scorsese on Scorsese [3]

Scorsese is a filmmaker who’s been the driving force in Hollywood for nearly half a century. Aficionados of cinema, art, characters, and stories hope to experience more films from this one-of-a-kind visionary. Our desire is to see Scorsese on the director’s chair for a long time to come — enriching what we know about life, films, writing and filmmaking.

“Shooting is never a pleasant experience for me. The only enjoyable aspect is working with people you care for. Sometimes, there is also a magical moment when something unexpected happens, and that’s gratifying, but only for a few seconds. The torture starts again straightaway! The shoot is phase I enjoy least. I much prefer editing. That’s when everything takes shape, even though depression is just around the corner when things don’t work.” ~ Martin Scorsese [3]
Rohan Mohmand

Rohan Mohmand

Rohan is the lead US correspondent for Static Mass. Graduating from High School in Atlanta, Georgia in 2003, Rohan fell in love with the environment of the cinema hall and moving images on the big screen, watching Bollywood, American and Iranian films.

As an aficionado of film noir, mysteries, drama and thrillers, he enjoys the films of Alfred Hitchcock, M.Night Shyamalan, Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. Engrossed by the originality of his favourite filmmakers it opened a door for him to take on writing scripts as well.

The reverence of directors, actors, stories, art and cinema allows him to experience films with an open mind and leads him to believe strongly in the correspondence of films with the occurrences of the real world.

Rohan writes about the work of directors on his site Masters of Cinema, and you can follow him on Twitter @nightwriter22.

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