Author and filmmaker Steven Benedict has clearly spent a lot of time studying the work of the incomparable Martin Scorsese. And with good reason. Benedict prefaces “The Journeys of Martin Scorsese” with the following thesis, “Not only does [Scorsese’s] cinema explore the human experience; his films expand cinema’s ability to express that experience.” By that, he rightly means that Scorsese is one of those exceptional artists and filmmakers who not only manages to tap genuinely into the complexities, intricacies, and wildly varied emotions in life, but who does so while also adding depth to his chosen art form. Benedict’s ‘Journeys’ is a circumspect and studious look at the director’s body of work and influences.
Now, considering “The Journeys of Martin Scorsese” is about, obviously, Scorsese, you might find yourself surprised to quickly recognize shots from a number of non-Scorsese films early into the video. Benedict includes shots from movies by such legendary directors as Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, and John Ford. But, he does so with purpose. Benedict rightly argues that, “equipped with encyclopedic knowledge of the medium, [Scorsese] draws from its past to inform his work.” With a voice uniquely his own, Scorsese mines and absorbs film’s rich and lengthy history, paying homage to and drawing inspiration from the work of those who came before him.
Benedict explains, “With great dexterity, Scorsese experiments with color, works in black and white, elasticates time with slow motion and freeze frame, tests narration styles, uses various aspect ratios, and with “Hugo,” ventures into 3-D. And that’s not to mention his use of music,” which Benedict points out is just as varied as the genres he has worked in over his illustrious career. “From ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Raging Bull,’ to ‘the Aviator’ and ‘Shutter Island,’” he continues, Scorsese “puts the audience in the minds of his characters.”
The director also uses long-takes to help showcase how his characters feel. Benedict perfectly uses a scene from “Goodfellas” as his example. When Henry (Ray Liotta) and Karen (Lorraine Bracco) first begin dating, Henry takes her to the Copacabana. It’s her first time at the club, and presumably the same held/holds true for the audience. To build the excitement of attending — especially for Karen as a VIP guest of Henry’s who doesn’t need to wait in line to gain entry — Scorsese employs a long, behind the back shot that follows the couple from outside the club (after they exit Henry’s car), across the street, through the club’s bowels, and ultimately to a table right in front of the stage. It’s a long, single take that allows us to share in Karen’s giddiness at the specialized treatment and the anticipation of the date to come. Like Karen, “so, too, are we seduced by the life of a gangster.” Benedict compares this take to others in “Casino” and “Hugo” that, while similar in concept, serve to accomplish entirely different goals.
For other comparisons, as well as some of the films and filmmakers that have very clearly influenced Scorsese’s work, in addition to Benedict’s analysis of the other movies in Scorsese’s filmography, set aside 19-minutes and watch the full video essay below. [via Live for Films]