Martin Scorsese, the director of Raging Bull and The Departed, is so closely associated with dark, violent films, that at the 2012 Academy Awards, host Billy Crystal serenaded him with the following lines, to the tune of That's Amore:
When Scorsese yells "print"
And no one's in a splint
Well that's Hugo.
There's no Pesci no Bob
There's no killing no mob
It's just Hugo.
But it's true I'd prefer
For the sequel
You don't be so arty.
Have the kid crack a head
Shoot Ben Kingsley in bed
'Cause you're Marty!
But there's more to Scorsese than Goodfellas, Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. The aforementioned Hugo, nominated for eleven Academy Awards and the recipient of five, is the story of a Parisian orphan who lives and tends to the clocks in a Paris train station. It's also a story that allows Scorsese, a passionate film preservationist, to introduce viewers to the figure of Georges Méliès, a French film pioneer who fell into obscurity and became a shopkeeper. (In the film he's played by Ben Kingsley.) Although based on a book for kids, this is a movie adults can enjoy, too. And it's especially poignant for longtime Scorsese fans to see the child hero, Hugo, peering down at the world through a clock as the young Scorsese, an asthmatic child, used to peer down at the streets of Little Italy from his parents' apartment.
Much has been made of Hugo's departure from what many see as the typical Scorsese film: one filled with violence and inhabited by wiseguys played by actors like Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. But in truth, Scorsese has long explored the lives of characters with no connection to Little Italy or the mob. Back in 1974 he directed Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, in which Ellen Burstyn played a thirty-five-year-old wife and mother. Newly widowed after an unhappy marriage, she heads for California in search of a singing career, but finds herself waitressing in Arizona, where she falls in love with a rancher played by Kris Kristofferson.
Scorsese, who considered becoming a priest and who attended seminary for a year, has also explored religion and spirituality in his movies. People sometimes forget that Kundun, about the current Dalai Lama, and The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the controversial novel of the same name, were both directed by Scorsese. Of The Last Temptation of Christ, Roger Ebert writes that it is"likely to inspire more serious thought on the nature of Jesus than any other film ever made."
And then there's my favorite Scorsese film, The Age of Innocence, which, like all of Scorsese's films, is visually stunning, its colors rich and vibrant, and so sensual that you'd swear you hear the crunch of a red velvet opera curtain as it touches down on a stage. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton and set in New York in the 1870s, The Age of Innocence stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer. Archer is a wealthy young man engaged to the conventional young woman that New York society expects him to marry. But as the wedding approaches, he finds himself falling in love with her older, more independent cousin, a divorcée who offers a glimpse of a freer, more satisfying life.
Scorsese once referred to it as "the most violent" film he's ever made, though no punches are thrown, no tables overturned. He's speaking, I think, of the ability of Archer's clannish New York crowd to thwart and separate in the interest of preserving the clan whatever the emotional cost. A bit of a stretch? Perhaps. And yet there's a scene in which a lovely young woman approaches Archer, all crinoline and smiles, and it's horrifying, because the door to a wider and more promising life is about to slam shut.
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