Food for Cinema Thought: Evaluating Scorsese

I have seen seven films directed by Martin Scorsese: Taxi Driver (1976), New York, New York (1977), Raging Bull (1980), Cape Fear (1991), The Aviator (2004), George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011) and Hugo (2011). I know that doesn’t make me an authority of the subject of Scorsese’s career, but I would like to put in my two cents.

The first four Scorsese films I saw were The Aviator, Raging Bull, New York, New York and George Harrison: Living in the Material World. I always felt that Scorsese had an interesting vision that fell short of greatness. So to my surprise, when I saw Hugo last December, I was beyond impressed. It is a film which truly has heart and soul. Scorsese’s love of film history shone through in a way that was never pretentious or pandering to kids. Next in my Scorsese journey came Cape Fear, which I watched back in April. The movie is a hit-and-miss effort but it’s still kind of good.

Finally there’s Taxi Driver, which I saw last night at the Museum of the Moving Image (on Robert De Niro’s birthday, no less). Friends have been telling me to see it since high school. I was amazed by the way everything in the film fit together, from the acting to the camera movement to the fantastic screenplay by Paul Schrader. 1970s New York is captured in all of its sordid, gritty glory thanks to the cinematography by Michael Chapman. Bernard Herrmann’s score, one of the last he composed before his death on Christmas Eve 1975, should not be overlooked either; it gives Taxi Driver the perfect balance of horn-and-drum-filled fright and jazzy, saxophone-soaked beauty. I am moved to see more of Scorsese’s early works, even though as a college film major I would want to check out the rest of his oeuvre anyway.

Conclusion: you can’t judge a director until you’ve seen at least five of his/her films (assuming the person has actually made that many). It wasn’t until my fifth Scorsese film, Hugo, that I really began to appreciate him.

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