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Martin Scorsese, Producer: 5 Projects the Director Helped Bring to Life

Martin Scorsese, Producer: 5 Projects the Director Helped Bring to Life

While Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo directed “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” a drama about Asian-American gang life in New York during the eighties and nineties, another name looms above the title: Martin Scorsese, who executed produced the film. This isn’t the first time Hong Kong-based Lau and Scorsese have associated with each other: Scorsese’s Oscar-winning “The Departed” was an adaptation of Lau’s “Infernal Affairs.”

[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with DIRECTV and “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” available now, exclusively on DIRECTV.]

Scorsese’s credits as a producer aren’t nearly as extensive as those as a director, but when he chooses to attach his name to a project, the results tend to speak for themselves. With “Revenge of the Green Dragon” now available on DIRECTV ahead of its theatrical release on October 24, here’s a look at some of Scorsese’s other notable producing credits.

“Boardwalk Empire”
Scorsese directed the pilot and lent his name to Terence Winter’s Prohibition-era HBO crime drama, instantly leading credence to its dark portrait of New York’s underbelly. The blend of period detail and gang violence suggested “Gangs of New York” meets “Goodfellas,” and as a result it benefited from Scorsese’s influence early on.

Currently in its fifth season, the show also reflects Scorsese’s operatic ability to develop heavy melodramatic events in the context of a fully believable world where seemingly every character could bite the bullet in the next season.

Spike Lee’s tense 1992 adaptation of Richard Price’s crime drama features newcomer Mekhi Phifer as Brooklyn drug dealer Strike, who’s forced into a murderous scheme by a menacing drug lord (Delroy Lindo). While the young man’s brother Victor (Isaiah Washington) takes the fall for the crime, homicide detective Rocco (Harvey Keitel) stays on Strike’s case. The movie shifts between Strike’s frantic attempts to evade the law and Victor’s interrogation with the police, which addresses the struggles of lower class Brooklyn families often at the root of Lee’s films. 

But there’s still something of the Scorsese DNA in the movie’s development of urban attitudes and an emphasis on atmosphere over plot details. The filmmaker was originally slated to direct the project himself, but when he decided to make “Casino” instead, he passed the reigns to Lee. The result is a unique melding of sensibilities from two of New York’s finest directors.

“The Grifters”
Stephen Frears’ 1990 noir effort is another adaptation, drawing from Jim Thompson’s 1963 pulp novel. Angelica Huston stars as a con artist forced to confront the dangers of her profession when her son (John Cusack) narrowly avoids death in the midst of an attempted scam. While bonding with her estranged son as he recovers in the hospital, she also copes with the possibility that her thieving tendencies may catch up to her — which they do, in the movie’s tragic climax. Scorsese, who kickstarted the project before bringing Frears in to direct, directed “GoodFellas” around the same time. 

Both movies depict the intermingling of private and professional interests that form the backbone of organized crime, but “The Grifters” is a more distilled take on the bleak ramifications of its characters’ corruption, right down to symbolism for Huston’s own private hell that arrives in the mesmerizing finale. In that sense, it’s very much a tale of Catholic guilt and comeuppance — true evidence of Scorsese’s footprints in play.

“Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows”

Longtime Scorsese friend and collaborator Kent Jones (the current head of the New York Film Festival) directs this informative ode to the under-appreciated visionary behind creepy Hollywood horror movies such as “Cat People” and “I Walked With a Zombie.” Narrated by Scorsese, “The Man in the Shadows” also provides insight into Scorsese’s mindset when he was in the early pre-production stages for “Shutter Island,” a psychological thriller very much indebted to Lewton’s technique. 

A B-movie producer forced to work on low budget studio efforts, Lewton was often given titles by his employers and forced to come up with stories to match them. As a result, he merged his literary sensibilities — “I Walked With a Zombie” is technically an adaptation of “Jane Eyre” — with a nuanced approach to evoking terror creeping in the shadows. The abrupt sound of a bus jolting into frame in “Cat People” is essentially the world’s first jump scare. Lewton’s combination of visceral dread and sophisticated characters can be found throughout Scorsese’s oeuvre.  

“You Can Count On Me”

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s tender debut features a pair of upstate New York siblings Sammy and Terry (Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo) reconnecting after years of distance. When Ruffalo’s character finds himself grieving his girlfriend’s suicide, he seeks refuge at his sister’s home, bonding with her son Rudy (Rory Culkin). Naturally, things go awry: Terry drags Rudy into adult circumstances beyond his comprehension, including an awkward reunion with his missing father, while Sammy struggles to find solace in a new relationship. 

The scenario itself isn’t as strong as Lonergan’s control of tone, setting the stage for his more ambitiously cinematic drama, “Margaret.” Scorsese executive produced “You Can Count On Me” and later collaborated on the editing process for “Margaret,” though Lonergan’s films lack the emphasis on physical violence found throughout Scorsese’s work. They have a much softer edge, suggesting that while Scorsese himself may not extend beyond his rougher tendencies as a filmmaker, he has found an outlet for expanding his range by helping other directors find their way.

Indiewire has partnered with DIRECTV to present the television premiere of “Revenge of the Green Dragons”  – available now, exclusively on DIRECTV. From executive producer Martin Scorsese, the movie is based on Frederick Dannen’s New Yorker chronicle of the 80s and 90s Asian-American gang world in New York City.  Find our more and how to watch HERE.

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