The Gritty and the Gentle: Uses of Motion in Films by Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson

One thing I have noticed in the work of Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson is the great use of horizontal and vertical motion by both the camera and characters. In both Taxi Driver and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the main characters go on journeys not just physically but mentally and emotionally, guided along by the camera that moves with them. (Lest you think this blog has become a Scorsese-and-Anderson lovefest, I’ll make sure to talk about other directors in my next post.) In Taxi Driver, Scorsese shows his talent for using the camera not only to zoom in and out but also to show motion from side to side and also up and down. (The specific up-and-down motions I’m thinking of are the two times that the camera pans up the building where Harvey Keitel has Jodie Foster working. Unfortunately, I can’t find GIFs of those shots.)

Here is Travis (Robert De Niro) calling Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a scene involving a famous tracking shot a few seconds after the one-minute mark:

The YouTube member who uploaded the clip describes it this way: “This tracking shot is underrated. Every time I see it I crack up. In the scene, Travis is trying to apologize for taking Betsy to a porno movie on their first and only date. She’s not having it, but Travis doesn’t get the hint. Well, the camera does! It decides to move the story along without him. Love it.”

Another of my favorite moments in the film is when Travis is in the diner he often hangs out in and stares into a glass of water. I love the way the camera focuses in on De Niro’s expressive face and then switches to focusing in on the water.

The rest of the film contains just as many great uses of motion, many of them involving guns. Travis’s simultaneous deteriorating mindset and growing violent tendencies feel as disturbing today as they must have been in 1976.

Taxi Driver wouldn’t be Taxi Driver without its uniquely Scorsese-esque style of camera work. I would like, however, to move on to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the fourth feature film by Wes Anderson. Slant Magazine sees Anderson’s work as having been influenced by Scorsese; I see it particularly in the attention to detail regarding the camera and cinematography, if not in the storytelling styles. (Anderson’s films hew closer to magical realism than “real” realism.) In a scene early in The Life Aquatic, Steve (Bill Murray) shows off his ship, allowing Anderson to demonstrate his penchant for lateral camera movement:

When pirates attack Steve’s ship, all hell breaks loose. This scene builds to having exactly the sort of kinetic motion that people have written about regarding Wes Anderson’s films:

And finally there are the ending credits, demonstrating slow-motion and the continuing walking motion (seen from different angles) of both Steve and his crew:

Don’t you love the use of the Bowie song? Like Scorsese, Anderson has a terrific ear for popular music. Although the films are markedly dissimilar in terms of content and tone, one can’t help but appreciate each director’s unique vision and their weirdly endearing filmmaking habits.

P.S. To the one Taxi Driver reviewer who wondered whether it was a film that women could “enjoy” – which is hardly the right verb to use – I ask this: what would happen if a female director made a movie about a female version of Travis Bickle? (I don’t have an answer for that, but I’d love to know what actually would happen. Homicidal… chick flick?) And then of course there’s this blog, which claims that Wes Anderson movies are like catnip for white people. I’m pretty sure the site is intended to be comedic, but I feel like a lot of people – I suppose a lot of white people – have reacted to Anderson’s movies in the ways that are listed in that blog post. I would like to set the record straight for myself: I have never actually laughed out loud at anything in a Wes Anderson movie. I love his filmmaking, but I don’t feel like his movies were designed to elicit guffaws. At most, they might cause big smiles and one or two chuckles.

2 thoughts on “The Gritty and the Gentle: Uses of Motion in Films by Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson

  1. enjoying your writing every time I receive.
    keep it up good work, I’m supporting you
    all the time.
    Mamoru Sawataishi

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