The Santa Barbara International Film Festival bestowed its American Riviera Award on Martin Scorsese on Monday at the end of a marathon evening.
Before a packed house at the Arlington Theatre, the show went on half an hour late, and then Scorsese went many rounds with on-stage interviewer Leonard Maltin.
There were plenty of clips, anecdotes, jokes and observations along the way. And enough shop talk and film-school making-of banter to make a PhD thesis.
But after two and a half hours, it all came to an emotional conclusion, with Scorsese scrunching into a fetal position in his chair while fighting back tears as he was presented with the award by Sir Ben Kinglsey. And who could be more appropriate to salute the Hollywood hero known as a crusader for film preservation than the actor who portrays a cinematic pioneer in “Hugo”?
Looking back on his long career, Scorsese said it was seeing John Cassavetes’ “Shadows” that made it clear that you could make a movie for very little money, so there was no excuse not to.
The upshot was his 1973 classic “Mean Streets,” from which he chose a delightful clip of Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel having a touchy discussion, much of it improvised.
Scorsese had charming memories of going to the movies with his father, who rarely had anything to say about them, and talked about what he discovered about his parents when he made the documentary Italian American.
He also shared insights and funny stories about shooting the Muddy Waters sequence in “The Last Waltz” and making “Raging Bull” in black and white, except for a color part that editor Thelma Schoonmaker had to splice in by hand. Checking the print at one theatre opening week, she found the color footage on the floor, because the projectionist assumed it had been added by mistake.
As Maltin noted, some people were taken aback that Scorsese would suddenly make “Hugo” — a kids’ movie — at this late stage of his career.
“It has a connection with my personal life,” said Scorsese. His wife asked him to make a movie their 12-year-old daughter could see and enjoy. She wasn’t allowed to see violent epics like “The Gangs of New York” and “The Departed.”
“Will it be in 3D?” she asked her famous father.
He decided to grant her wish.
“My dear Marty,” said Sir Ben, “we who are here tonight will never all be in the same room again but this night will resonate with happy memories for days, weeks, months and years.”
What sets Scorsese apart, he said, is his ability to see the child within his actors.
“The very greatest of my peers owe some of their most indelible moments on screen to you.”
In his acceptance speech, Scorsese talked about the thrill of going back to the first days of cinema with “Hugo,” and asked the audience never to forget the history of film.
“I see this as an on-going dialogue between past and future.”