Saturday, October 07, 2006

Marty's Talkin' To Me Again...But I'm Not Listening

Da man.

My love affair with Martin Scorcese goes back to my late teens when I snuck into the Loop Film Series at the University of Regina and saw a 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull' double bill. Wow. Were my eyes opened. I had a new hero...though it was difficult to determine whether the hero was DeNiro or Scorcese - the two seemed almost intertwined into one entity - but I was starting to think about being a filmmaker, so Scorcese became one of 'da men'.

"All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take 'em to Harlem. I don't care. Don't make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won't even take spooks. Don't make no difference to me." - Travis Bickle

Swoon. It was a time when us filmmaking types were split into two camps...the adorers of Lucas/Speilberg and the 'Stars Wars' and 'Raiders' films, and the devotees to the alienated solitary man films of Coppola/Scorcese/Cimino and even DePalma. I belonged to the latter camp.

Then Scorcese moved to the top of my list with his early 80's efforts 'King of Comedy' and 'Afterhours'. I absolutely loved those movies. I wanted to be Marty Scorcese, and set about to do so.

I wrote a short film called 'For Whom The Bell Rings'...a dark tale of a substitute teacher and his worst nightmare - a classroom full of teenage students. How much of his anguish was real or in his head remained ambiguous. And it was to be all Scorcese...solitary, tormented hero, flashy camera moves, quick cuts, time manipulation, etc. - and style style style! I remember that being part of my proposal for funding - I actually said I wanted it to be style over substance.

The film got made - and was invited to a few festivals, but was generally a disappointment. It just didn't quite 'pop'. The intent or effort was there, but in the end it was exactly what it imitation, and a pale imitation at that.

"Scorsese, arguably the most cinematically eloquent American director of modern times, is best characterized as an expressionist and cinephile...His exhilaratingly long, complex camera movements, his often staccato editing, and his carefully controlled use of colour, props, decor and music are all designed not only to take us inside the minds of his often paranoid, volatile or disturbed protagonists, but to pay tribute, in passing, to movies he loves." - Geoff Andrew (The Director's Vision, 1999)

Scorcese is an artist and a filmmaker through and through - a master of vision and technique...a visual genius. I tried, and didn't even come close. But at least I learned something.

What I learned was that I am no Scorcese.

One of the most important things you can discover about your filmmaking or writing is what you cannot do. So many go through their creative life thinking they can write anything or make any kind of film...and end up doing nothing well. I loved 'The Departed' this weekend, but I will not set about trying to write/make a film like it.

That isn't to say you shouldn't have inspirational heroes in your chosen craft. You will and should, but don't necessarily try to 'be' them.

Same goes for television - specs, etc. I love shows like 'House' or 'Bones' or 'Studio 60', but I don't fool myself anymore into thinking I can write them well. Sorkin, Hanson, Shore...heroes of mine, but I can't be them. I tried writing an 'Ally McBeal' spec once - it turned out okay, but it was a reasonable facsimile at best. However I also wrote an 'X Files' spec and co-wrote an 'Angel' spec which turned out really well, helping land an LA agent. I knew the shows and could write them naturally. And it showed. And though I acknowledge that part of the gig of TV writing is to show your range and that can write for different types of series...sometimes you can cast the net too wide.

Know your strengths...accept your weaknesses and limitations.

Thats why I have a love/hate relationship with the CSI franchise and especially 'CSI Miami'...however it might frustrate me with its pedestrian plots and cardboard characters, I know I could write it - write it pretty well actually. Accepting that fact was difficult, but necessary.

"And though I'm no Olivier / If he fought Sugar Ray / He would say / That the thing ain't the ring, it's the play. / So give me a... stage / Where this bull here can rage / And though I could fight / I'd much rather recite /... that's entertainment." - Jake La Motta

There are shows you love to watch, and shows you love to write. They will not necessarily be the same show. I love to watch Scorcese movies. I cannot make Scorcese movies.

And that's okay.

SONG & ARTIST? - "We'll be happy together, unhappy together
Now won't that be just fine
The days may be cloudy or sunny
We're in or out of the money
But I'm with you always
I'm with you rain or shine"


English Dave said...

Fantastic post Will. There are many times when a writer can bleat about a director screwing up their work and have some justification.

There are directors whom you'd consider killing your offspring for.

Genius is hard to come by.

Anonymous said...

That's one thing I thought during Departed... "I could never write this."

But when you are young and untested you have to try. At least then your failures will be glorious ones.

Good Dog said...

But let's not forget the contribution Thelma Schoonmaker makes. A great film needs a great editor to go with the great script and great director.

As for writers, I know I probably won't ever reach the same dizzying heights, but I love the work of Sorkin, Milch and Tom Fontana. Writers who have their own unique voices.

Whatever the subject matter, I see their names attached and watch, knowing that I'm gonna love it, like nobody's loved it, come rain or come shine.

wcdixon said...

Good Dog is all over this one - Ray Charles would be happy.

I'm not trying to negate the fantastic talents backing him up (Ballhaus; Schoonmaker...yes) but its still a testament to Scorcese and his ability to be able to assemble such a crew, and such a cast for that matter.

And yes ...Milch, Fontana, even Kelley for a while - names that make us pay attention

Good Dog said...


Ah, I didn't mean to negate Scorcese's talent either. They are films that leave such an impact. And whoever he has working with him, Scorcese is still the driving force.

While there are a few of the later films that I've missed, I can probably remember exactly where I was when I saw each of his films. After Hours, for instance, was at a late night preview screening in central London, which was just the right time to see it. For Goodfellas, I can even remember what part of the cinema I was sitting in - still sitting there after the end credits had rolled and the curtains closed, catching my breath and stunned.

Looking forward to catching The Departed, especially to see Ray Winstone hold his own against the American heavyweights.

Portnoy said...

I tried to show you something
beautiful. Something about all of
US –

This sets Lipnik off:

You arrogant sonofabitch! You think you're the only writer who can give
me that Barton Fink feeling?! I got
twenty writers under contract that I
can ask for a Finktype thing from.
You swell-headed hypocrite! You
just don't get it, do you? You think
the whole world revolves inside
whatever rattles inside that little
kike head of yours. Get him outta my sight, Lou. Make sure he stays in
town, though; he's still under
contract. I want you in town, Fink,
and outta my sight. Now get lost.
There's a war on.

the formatting doesn't work so well but the dialogue was worth a revisit....

Anonymous said...

They wrote BARTON FINK to get through a writer's block they were having on MILLER'S CROSSING. God damned geniuses.

Portnoy said...

good dog

there's a sequence in Goodfellas just before Henry gets married. this is when she takes the gun from him (after Henry beat the crap out of the corvette neighbor) and she says she finds it exciting. the transition to the wedding is one of the coolest edits ever.

wcdixon said...

Yes...genius is not a word to throw around lightly, but it could apply to the Coen's...hmmm a 'what makes a genius' post - see Reel Hollywood.

Good Dog said...


Rather than wait until later, I stuck the Goodfellas DVD in the G4 and had it up on the second monitor to check out the transition from the bloodied revolver deposited in the milk box to the glass being covered by the napkin and smashed.


Except, did I immediately eject the disc? Did I heck. So, that's where the afternoon went.

Another couple of things to big Scorsese up for:

Giving Saul Bass a fitting final hurrah in a long and distinguished career as a title designer.

Introducing the great Michael Powell to a younger generation.

The Film Diva said...

Very nice post, Will. How's the gig going? I haven't seen The Departed yet, but eagerly look forward to it as soon as I can peel myself out of this seat.