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by Richard Schickel

Pub Date: March 10th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26840-2
Publisher: Knopf

In the manner of Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967) and Cameron Crowe’s Conversations with Wilder (1999), movie critic and documentarian Schickel (Clint: A Retrospective, 2010, etc.) gabs collegially with Martin Scorsese.

After introductory chapters about his youth in New York’s Little Italy, his Catholic upbringing and his early years as the exacting Haig Manoogian’s student in NYU’s film program, Schickel, who almost always strikes the right interrogatory note, guides his subject through a film-by-film consideration of his extensive oeuvre. Later chapters take in pre-production, editing, shooting, working with actors, the uses of color and music and film collecting and restoration. Along the way, Scorsese and Schickel, who are both steeped in film history, share views about dozens of old pictures—their opinionated enthusiasm should lengthen many Netflix queues. Offering a deep look into the aesthetic, technical and commercial realities of filmmaking, Scorsese provides intimate details about the making of his acknowledged masterpieces, including Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, for which he finally received Oscar recognition. But he is revelatory about his more troubled and misunderstood productions, notably New York, New York and The Last Temptation of Christ, the latter of which set off a firestorm of criticism in religious circles. That controversy is strikingly ironic in this context, since Scorsese presents himself, in spite of the extreme violence of much of his work, as an artist whose principal subject is spirituality; Kundun, about the Dalai Lama, is one of his favorites among his own films. The director’s church-bred point of view is sometimes met with respectful skepticism by Schickel, an avowed atheist, and Scorsese emerges as a fascinating, obsessive, complex guy. He has always seemed the most companionable of film artists, and, except for his own expansive, autobiographically driven documentaries on American and Italian movies, this is the most probing and enjoyable explication of his accomplished career.

A feast for cineastes.