A brilliant post from twentyfourframesasecond
There are few directors I admire as much as Martin Scorsese, but Sidney Lumet is definitely one of them. So it was a case of cinephile nirvana when I came across a priceless gem of an artifact last weekend at the limited-engagement Scorsese Exhibition at The Deutsche Kinemathek: a letter from Lumet to Scorsese.
Dated April 23rd, 1980, it is a response to the manifesto Scorsese had authored on the abysmal state of archival film elements held by various studios and the dire need for urgent action on the film preservation front. The very legacy of cinema is at stake here, he had argued a few weeks prior in a call-to-arms letter to hundreds of his colleagues, a veritable list of filmmaking legends, including Losey, Spielberg, Fassbinder, Coppola, Kurosawa, Wenders, and Powell among many others. The original letter was presented at the exhibition, along with a slew of supportive responses he had received, all signing a petition and offering their help. “Every year the blue of the sea fades in colour, while the blood spewing out of Robert Shaw’s mouth gets more red”, read Spielberg’s response in reference to the state of the negative for Jaws.
I was stunned when I got to Lumet’s letter. To put things in context, at this point in his career, Sidney Lumet is already a bonafide legend. It has been 23 years since 12 Angry Men, he has 26 feature films under his belt, including indisputable masterpieces like The Hill, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and Network, alongside other groundbreaking films like The Pawnbroker, Fail Safe, and The Offence. Yet he is the one filmmaker who takes this call to action to heart most, with the energy and enthusiasm of an idealistic kid (which, in many ways he remained until his dying day). Instead of patting Marty on the back and passively offering support, he expands on his manifesto, bringing into focus the poor manufacturing standards of the raw negative film of the era produced by Kodak (complacency that comes with industrial monopoly is the likely cause, Lumet hypothesizes), and suggests a concerted effort at a boycott of Kodak stock until the issue is taken seriously.
But what he does next is truly astonishing: proposing an industry-wide conference to seriously discuss using video technology for both image acquisition and projection. “Something I know is possible”, Lumet says. This is 1980. Video capture technology is still in its infancy, with the Hollywood establishment, of which Lumet should be a part (at this point he was already a three-time Academy Award nominee), only regarding it with a mixture of disdain and apathy. This is even before a seemingly indestructible, post-Apocalypse Now Francis Ford Coppola was laughed at and scorned for daring to dream of “electronic cinema” as he dubbed it in 1982.
It would take another twenty years before Hollywood started catching up with Lumet. “I could cut below the line costs minimally 50% on video tapes”. He was, throughout his unparalleled career, a consummate professional who loved and thought sacred the field he always considered himself lucky to be in. He just wanted to make movies, and we are so immeasurably blessed that he did.
Go on and celebrate the great man’s life and legacy. Put on Serpico, turn off the lights, and lose yourself. And when the film is finished, click here (http://www.movingimagesource.us/dialogues/mp3/567), listen to a wonderful Q&A on the making of a classic, and let Lumet charm you with his warmth and infinite passion. What are you waiting for?
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Siskel & Ebert — Taxi Driver. Split vote. Roger thought it was a great character study, Gene thought it was too lurid and violent.
Roger Ebert wrote the first film review that Martin Scorsese ever received—for 1967’s I Call First, later renamed Who’s That Knocking at My Door.
I had been a film critic for seven months when I saw his first film, in 1967. It was titled I Call First, later changed to Who’s That Knocking at My Door. I saw it in “the submarine”—the long, low, narrow, dark screening room knocked together out of pasteboard by the Chicago International Film Festival. I was twenty-five. The festival’s founder, Michael Kutza, was under thirty. Everything was still at the beginning. This film had a quality that sent tingles up my arms. It felt made out of my dreams and guilts. I consider him the most gifted director of his generation, and have joked that I will never stop writing film reviews until he stops making films. —Roger Ebert, an excerpt from Scorsese by Ebert
Martin Scorsese on the passing of Roger Ebert:
“The death of Roger Ebert is an incalculable loss for movie culture and for film criticism. And it’s a loss for me personally. Roger was always supportive, he was always right there for me when I needed it most, when it really counted – at the very beginning, when every word of encouragement was precious; and then again, when I was at the lowest ebb of my career, there he was, just as encouraging, just as warmly supportive. There was a professional distance between us, but then I could talk to him much more freely than I could to other critics. Really, Roger was my friend. It’s that simple. Few people I’ve known in my life loved or cared as much about movies. I know that’s what kept him going in those last years – his life-or-death passion for movies, and his wonderful wife, Chaz. We all knew that this moment was coming, but that doesn’t make the loss any less wrenching. I’ll miss him — my dear friend, Roger Ebert.” —Martin Scorsese, April 4, 2013
R.I.P. Roger Ebert (1942-2013)
A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995). A 14 part film studies course that you can take from anywhere in the world and learned from again and again. (With thanks to TheDozingLion)
Despite its nearly four-hour running time, this is a uniquely personal look at movies from one of the late 20th century’s great directors and film historians. The film consists of head & shoulder shots of Scorsese speaking into the camera for a minute or two, followed by 10-15 minutes of film clips with Scorsese voice-over. Scorsese approaches the films in terms of how they affected him as a director foremost and as a storyteller/film fan second. Segments include “The Director as Smuggler,” “The Director as Iconoclast”, and so on. The Journey begins with silent masters like D.W. Griffith and ends in 1969 - when Scorsese began to make films; as he says in closing, “I wouldn’t feel right commenting on myself or my contemporaries.”
We love Martin Scorsese to death — and we could listen to the man talk about cinema for hours on end. Scorsese’s passion for the artform is palpable when he speaks, yet unlike so many beginning Film Studies professors, Scorsese makes even the historical evolution of the medium fascinating. As proof, we offer you this presentation from the Raging Bull filmmaker from the 2013 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, presented by Scorsese himself back on April 1 at the Kennedy for the Performing Arts. Scorsese’s discussion, entitled “Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema”, is an hour-long breakdown of the history and magic of movies as only the filmmaker can present it. The speech contains not only historical facts about the evolution of cinema as an artform (including the observation that it really doesn’t matter who started cinema — because “all beginnings are unfathomable”), but also some very personal observations from Scorsese’s own life revealing how his love for the movies blossomed from early childhood.
The multimedia presentation is as interesting as one would expect, with Scorsese working in still images and scenes from films to help make his points. The opening features a sequence from 1950’s The Magic Box that seems perfectly fitted to the topic at hand. It’s not all history, though – Scorsese gets technical too, showing how image restoration works to make less than pristine prints of movies look new again while explaining things like auteur theory. It’s like a master class in cinema – and it’ll only take up an hour of your time! Check out the video here. If you’re a fan of Scorsese or just interested in the evolution of one of the world’s greatest artforms, this is essential viewing. Oh, and if you want to skip the preamble, Scorsese’s actual presentation starts at around the 23-minute mark. —Mike Bracken
The essential documentaries on Martin Scorsese, including The Scorsese Machine (1990), A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), American Masters: Martin Scorsese Directs (1990), A Decade Under the Influence (2003), Italianamerican (1974), American Boy: A Profile of: Steven Prince (Martin Scorsese, 1978), Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (2007), and The Real Goodfella (2006).
A truly magnificent scripts series, please read and study: Taxi Driver original screenplay by Paul Schrader [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
Originally recorded for the Criterion Collection LaserDisc release of Taxi Driver, this track features director Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader. Scorsese discusses his filmmaking style, shooting in New York, set design, casting, and plenty of other insightful tidbits. Meanwhile, Schrader discusses the rapidity with which he wrote the script, the themes of the story, the genesis of metaphor through theme, refinements to the script along the way, and plenty more. The commentators were recorded separately and later edited together. A moderator of sorts identifies the speakers and provides various background tidbits of her own.
Paul Schrader clarified the screenwriting development process in an interview with Richard Thompson from 1976 when Taxi Driver had just opened, Film Comment magazine, March-April 1976. [PDF]
Paul Schrader was 26 and destitute when he wrote Taxi Driver. In an interview published in ‘Martin Scorsese — A Journey’ he reflects on the origins of the script, its transition to the screen and subsequent reaction to the film.
In 1973, I had been through a particularly rough time. My marriage broke up and I had to quit the American Film Institute. I was out of work; I was out of the AFI; I was in debt. I fell into a period of real isolation, living more or less in my car. One day, I went to the emergency room in serious pain, and it turned out I had an ulcer. While I was in the hospital talking to the nurse, I realised I hadn’t spoken to anyone in two or three weeks. It really hit me, an image that I was like a taxi driver, floating around in this metal coffin in the city, seemingly in the middle of people but absolutely, totally alone. At the time I wrote it, I was very enamoured of guns, I was very suicidal, I was drinking heavily, I was obsessed with pornography in the way a lonely person is, and all those elements are up front in the script… Right after writing it, I left town for about six months. I came back to LA when I was feeling a little stronger emotionally and decided to go at it again.
Taxi Driver was as much a product of luck and timing as everything else – three sensibilities together at the right time, doing the right thing. It was still a low-budget, long-shot movie, but that’s how it got made. At one point we could have got the film financed with Jeff Bridges in the lead, but we elected to hold out and wait until we could finance it with De Niro. Bob was so determined to get the character of Travis down, he drove a cab for a couple of weeks. He got a licence, had his fingerprints taken by the police and hit the streets. The dialogue in Taxi Driver is somewhat improvised. The most memorable piece of dialogue in the film is an improvisation: the “Are you talking to me?” part. In the script it just says Travis speaks to himself in the mirror. Bobby asked me what he would say, and I said, “Well, he’s a little kid playing with guns and acting tough.” So De Niro used this rap that an underground New York comedian had been using at the same time as the basis for his lines.
I remember the night before Taxi Driver opened, we all got together and had dinner and said, “No matter what happens tomorrow we have made a terrific movie and we’re damn proud of it even if it goes down the toilet.” The next day, I went over to the cinema for the noon show. There was a long line that went all the way around the block. And then I realised, this line was for the two o’clock show, not the noon show! I ran in and watched the film and everyone was standing at the back and there was a sense of exhilaration about what we had done. Jean-Luc Godard once said that all the great movies are successful for the wrong reasons. There were a lot of wrong reasons why Taxi Driver was successful. The sheer violence of it brought out the Times Square crowd. I’m not opposed to censorship in principle but I think that if you censor a film like Taxi Driver all you do is censor a film, not confront a problem. These characters are running around and can be triggered off by anything.
When I talk to younger filmmakers they tell me that it was really the film that informed them, that it was their seminal film, and listening to them talk, I really can see it as a kind of social watermark. But it was meant as a personal film, not a political commentary. —Paul Schrader in ‘Martin Scorsese — A Journey’
Every wondered where Tarantino got the overdose/adrenaline shot story in Pulp Fiction?
Read the comments on Reddit.
American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince is a 1978 documentary directed by Martin Scorsese. Its subject is Scorsese’s friend Steven Prince, best known for his small role as Easy Andy, the gun salesman in Taxi Driver. Prince is a raconteur telling stories about his life as an ex-drug addict and a road manager for Neil Diamond. Scorsese intersperses home movies of Prince as a child as he talks about his family. When talking of his years as a heroin addict, Prince tells a story about injecting adrenaline into the heart of a woman who overdosed, with the help of a medical dictionary and a Magic Marker. This story was re-enacted by Quentin Tarantino in his screenplay for Pulp Fiction. Prince also tells a story about his days working at a gas station, and having to shoot a man he caught stealing tires, after the man pulled out a knife and tried to attack him. This story was retold in the Richard Linklater film Waking Life.
Here is the script for Pulp Fiction, written by Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
We just took all the best scenes we had ever written, and we packed them up, and we went to Amsterdam. Quentin rented this apartment, and we laid them out on the floor and basically just started moving them around… Our one requirement was that every scene should be able to stand on its own and be able to be performed in an acting class. A couple of actors should be able to do it together and it should be contained that way. No establishing shots… No wasted space, no traveling here and there, just no fat. It had to be the best material we had written to that point. We laid it out and we started changing names and piecing it together… It underwent a number of passes and pretty soon it was what you see. When we finished that script it was taken to… TriStar and a producer named Mike Medavoy. We turned it in and they said ‘this is the worst screenplay that this film company has ever been handed. This is awful. It’s not funny. It makes no sense. This guy’s dead, he’s alive. What’s going on?’ They put it into immediate turnaround…
You have to remember, Reservoir Dogs, in the United States, made less money than Leprechaun. I didn’t have huge expectations for this. I wasn’t thinking we were going to change film history with this movie. I just thought we put our hearts and souls into this thing, and it is what it is… Thank god for Harvey and Bob Weinstein who immediately picked it up out of turnaround and gave Quentin the power to make the script as it was. Not a single thing was really changed. Some things were removed, there were a couple of scenes that were taken out in editing, but truth be told, Quentin was given complete and total command to make that movie exactly as he sees it in his head. That’s a gift to be given that. I’m really grateful to Harvey and Bob for that.
Since then, I’ve bumped into those executives who were in that room (at TriStar) and each one tells me ‘I was the one fighting for you. I was the one guy in the room fighting for you, fighting for that brilliant script.’ The only guy who was really honest about it was Mike Medavoy who was running TriStar at the time. I met with him later on and he actually said, ‘I made a mistake. I got to tell you, it was a weird time in my life, I didn’t really understand it. It just read very violent… And I was wrong.’ And that’s rare. I so deeply respect Mike Medavoy… It’s a real testament to him that someone in Hollywood would say ‘I was wrong’ because that never happens. —Roger Avary, Tarantino’s co-writer on Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction
More: Pulp Fiction
American Boy: A Profile of: Steven Prince (Martin Scorsese, 1978)
Martin Scorsese talks about his use of classic Hollywood studio techniques – mostly in “New York, New York,” but his love of movie artifice extends through “Shutter Island.”
In Voices from the Set, Tony Macklin shares with his readers the interviews he conducted during the 1970s with many of Hollywood’s greatest stars. Because it was an era where the Old Hollywood was still extant, and the new cinema was burgeoning, he was able to meet the old with the new-actors, directors, producers, writers-and make some of his own memories along the way. Interviews with old masters Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks are juxtaposed with the new breed Martin Scorsese and Alan Rudolph and the mavericks Robert Altman and Sam Peckinpah. Icons such as John Wayne and Edith Head are included, as well as relative newcomers Stockard Channing and Richard Baskin. Voices from the Set is a unique vignette of Hollywood history, a snapshot in time, ideal for the film buff, film historian, for anyone with an interest in the intriguing personalities that made it what it is today. This book is an opportunity not to be missed.
Listen to the audio interviews with:
- David Seidler: (MP3 format, approximately 12 minutes)
- Robert Altman (part 1: MP3 format, approximately 50 minutes)
- Sam Peckinpah (MP3 format, approximately 48 minutes)
- Sidney Poitier (MP3 format, approximately 58 minutes)
- Vilmos Zsigmond (MP3 format, approximately 105 minutes)
- Leigh Brackett (MP3 format, approximately 70 minutes)
- Lee Marvin (MP3 format, approximately 9 minutes)
- Martin Scorsese (MP3 format, approximately 90 minutes)
- Howard Hawks (MP3 format, approximately 107 minutes)
- Richard Sylbert (MP3 format, approximately 67 minutes)
- Charlton Heston (MP3 format, approximately 89 minutes)
- Robert Altman (MP3 format, approximately 8.5 minutes)
- Edith Head (MP3 format, approximately 38 minutes)
- Warren Beatty (MP3 format, approximately 25 minutes)
- Stockard Channing (MP3 format, approximately 38 minutes)
- John Wayne (MP3 format, approximately 80 minutes)
- Alfred Hitchcock (MP3 format, approximately 43 minutes)
- The Best Jewish Cowboy: An Interview with James Caan
- “Plant Your Feet and Tell the Truth”: An Interview with Clint Eastwood
- The Ballad of Stella Stevens: An Interview
Check out Voices from the Set at Amazon.
Picture above: Clint Eastwood checks the camera angle for a scene in The Bridges of Madison County.
Catherine Scorsese on the set of Taxi Driver with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.
Previously on Cinephilia & Beyond:
Martin Scorsese interviews his mother and father about their life in New York and the family history back in Sicily. These are two people who have lived together for a long time and know each other very well. They have retained individual identities and differing opinions, yet have found a way to live with each other. Both Catherine and Charles Scorsese are fascinating storytellers. There idiosyncrasies are endearing. As they talk, mom makes meatballs and we get the recipe as part of the end credits.
The essential documentaries on Martin Scorsese, including The Scorsese Machine (1990), My Voyage to Italy (1999), American Masters: Martin Scorsese Directs (1990), A Decade Under the Influence (2003), Italianamerican (1974), American Boy: A Profile of: Steven Prince (Martin Scorsese, 1978), Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (2007), and The Real Goodfella (2006).
Previously on Cinephilia & Beyond:
- Original 1986 Audio Commentary: Originally recorded for the Criterion Collection LaserDisc release of Taxi Driver, this track features Director Martin Scorsese and Writer Paul Schrader. Scorsese discusses his filmmaking style, shooting in New York, set design, casting, and plenty of other insightful tidbits. Meanwhile, Schrader discusses the rapidity with which he wrote the script, the themes of the story, the genesis of metaphor through theme, refinements to the script along the way, and plenty more. The commentators were recorded separately and later edited together. A moderator of sorts identifies the speakers and provides various background tidbits of her own
- Paul Schrader clarified the screenwriting development process in an interview with Richard Thompson from 1976 when ‘Taxi Driver’ had just opened, Film Comment magazine, March-April 1976.
- Paul Schrader was 26 and destitute when he wrote Taxi Driver. In an interview published in ‘Martin Scorsese - A Journey’ he reflects on the origins of the script, its transition to the screen and subsequent reaction to the film
Martin Scorsese directs The Last Temptation Of Christ
Previously on Cinephilia & Beyond:
Watch: The essential documentaries about/with Martin Scorsese, including The Scorsese Machine (1990), My Voyage to Italy (1999), American Masters: Martin Scorsese Directs (1990), A Decade Under the Influence (2003), Italianamerican (1974), American Boy: A Profile of: Steven Prince (Martin Scorsese, 1978), Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (2007), and The Real Goodfella (2006).
From the Classroom to the Streets: The Making of Who’s That Knocking at My Door, Martin Scorsese’s debut feature.
If you were a film fan and had the Independent Film Channel in the early aughts, there was no doubt you were watching “Dinner For Five.” Jon Favreau led the unscripted show that found him sitting down each week for a meal with four actors, directors, writers etc. to talk about film. The format was simple, and rarely deviated from its conversational tone, except when it came to the legendary Martin Scorsese.
Wisely, Favreau took a more 1:1 approach and result was a half-hour talk with the director about everything from his filmmaking style, his approach to music, editing and so much more. There is no one more interesting to hear talk about process, inspiration and more than Scorsese, so needless to say, if you haven’t seen this, you’ll want to make some time to take it all in. [The Playlist]
A fascinating chronicle of the birth and rise of the radically different independent studio founded by director Francis Ford Coppola.
A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope, narrated by Richard Dreyfuss. This 63-minute documentary covers the rise and fall of the struggling young studio during the late 1960s and early 1970s, touching on everything from the influence of Easy Rider to the bitter clash between Warner Bros. and American Zoetrope over the film itself. In all fairness, though, it’s great to see Warner Bros. swallow their pride by allowing this documentary to be presented objectively (one might be reminded of the clash between Universal and Terry Gilliam over Brazil, and the wonderful documentary produced for The Criterion Collection). Among other highlights, A Legacy of Filmmakers features short interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola. Overall, it’s a great piece for anyone interested in film history, and as relevant to THX 1138 as any other bonus feature in recent memory. —Randy Miller III
“I’m not the oldest of the young guys.
I’m the youngest of the old guys”
— Francis Ford Coppola
Quentin Tarantino recounts a Hollywood rumor that Scorsese once contemplated murdering a studio executive who wanted to edit his film, and talks about how Martin Scorsese’s classic influenced him.