New York City has several famed film directors to call its own such as Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Stanley Kubrick, to name a few. But none are as acclaimed as Academy Award-winning director and documentarian Martin Scorsese.
At the Museum of the Moving Image in Scorsese’s home borough of Queens, a new exhibit opened to pay tribute to his celebrated 50-year career in Hollywood. Taking up two floors of the museum, this exhibit is not so much a by-the-numbers history of Scorsese’s filmography, but rather a personal journey into his career and how he was inspired to make his films the way he did.
In planning the exhibition, curators Kristina Jaspers and Nils Warnecke of German film archive Deutsche Kinemathek decided to focus on various elements of Scorsese’s life instead of a simple chronological timeline of his filmography. This is fitting since his career is a story that is still unfolding, especially with the release of his most recent film Silence, starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver.
The exhibition is broken up into several sections, each of which examines both the recurring themes of his films and how personal elements of his life influenced his work. For example, a section titled “Brothers,” looks at how the idea of brotherhood—Scorsese has an older brother who always looked out for him during his childhood—repeatedly surfaces in films ranging from Raging Bull to Goodfellas.
As co-curator Jaspers says, “It’s very typical Scorsese,” noting that the brothers in his movies are not always blood brothers. Sometimes they are men who bonded together through friendship or other circumstances.
As with many Italian-Americans, Scorsese was brought up in a Roman Catholic household and even tackled the subject of Jesus Christ in his 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ. But the idea of a conflicted protagonist who grapples between sin and eventual redemption is brought up in other films like Taxi Driver; the themes all tie into his Catholic upbringing.
By far the largest section of the exhibit is dedicated to Scorsese’s home city of New York. As shown in his 1999 documentary My Voyage to Italy, his childhood in Little Italy served as a major catalyst when it came to inspiration, having seen several Italian Neorealist films on television in the 1950s.
In fact, several pieces of Neorealist memorabilia from that era were lent to the exhibit from Scorsese’s personal collection.Several of his films use the city as its primary setting and a handful of them were filmed on location. A massive map of Manhattan shows which neighborhoods were used in his films.
Compared to other directors, however, Scorsese does not dwell on using fancy shots of the city in his films. Co-curator Warnecke explains, “He always dives deep into the streets, the apartments. He is not so much interested in showing how beautiful and grand the city is. He wants more to show how dirty it is, how hard it is to survive here.”
Other parts of the exhibit focus on Scorsese’s use of cinematography, music and editing. Visitors are shown the step-by-step approach to each aspect and how he collaborates with other artists, specifically his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who won three Best Editing awards for Raging Bull, The Aviator and Scorsese’s long-awaited triumph, The Departed.
Throughout several spots in the exhibit, screens and monitors are set up to show clips from various films, both from Scorsese and the various films that inspired him early in his life. One fascinating screening was a side-by-side scene comparison of Cape Fear, both the 1962 original and his 1991 remake.
One interesting addition was his involvement in the music industry. Beginning with his post production contributions to the Academy Award winning documentary Woodstock, Scorsese was also involved in several music related productions.
His work ranges from directing a music video for the title track of Michael Jackson’s Bad, to directing critically acclaimed documentaries and concert films for artists like The Band, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and The Rolling Stones, among others. Several artifacts here include storyboards for the “Bad” music video, backstage shots at the Beacon Theatre with the Rolling Stones and an RIAA gold certification record for The Last Waltz triple disc live soundtrack album moving half a million copies.
Finally, the museum offers several screenings of many of Scorsese’s biggest films throughout the exhibition’s run, in addition to the films that inspired him early in life. While Scorsese is well-known across Hollywood, this exhibit shows a far more personal side to one of Hollywood’s grittiest directors.
The exhibit runs at the museum until April 23.