What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?

The writer as an image in a boat, he marries, now he’s all at sea, in the water.

An irrepressibly brilliant work of genius, which looks exactly as if Scorsese had taken notice of Welles’ The Fountain of Youth on television.


The Big Shave

The poles are Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko (for the shaving gag) and Hitchcock’s Psycho (for the décor). There are said to be indications in the apparatus of Melville and Vietnam, also.


Boxcar Bertha

The Reader Railroad, Ark.

It’s sore beset during the Depression. Reds, whores, and niggers ride the rails, spoiling the profit margin, robbing the payrolls.


Mean Streets

A great American classic, originally by Mark Twain. In his home town, nobody did anything except ask each other for a chaw, in vain. Everybody in Little Italy owes money to somebody else, the joke is prepared with careful embedding in the San Gennaro Festival.

Out of this comes a wry dénouement (prepared by some Wild West shenanigans earlier). The cool delivery is accustomed to a certain reserve, which is happily broken in occasional exteriors and the well-known poesy of the scene in which Harvey Keitel is dollied around in the last stages of intoxication.


Taxi Driver

The structure is a mirror theme, Betsy the campaign worker (Cybill Shepherd) and Iris the child prostitute (Jodie Foster) fill the same role, “that which is above reflects that which is below.”

A much more complete analysis is required of the seemingly incommensurate camera technique. This either possibly reflects an emotional gesticulation or representation, as when the camera glides in swiftly toward Travis (Robert De Niro) and Betsy at a table on their date, or possibly extends an awareness of Ford’s technique, which often dispenses with its own perfections in order to let the material speak for itself.

Just as Ford demonstrated in The Rising of the Moon an absolute command of style, so there is absolute correctness in one candid shot of the street from the cab’s side window, and in the café scene between Travis and Iris, and especially revealed by the action in the final shootout. The overhead tracking shot (what Scorsese describes as the “guilt” angle in Hitchcock, for example) at the close of this modulates to a Weegee view of the carnage.

Paul Schrader’s script was essentially remade by him as Hardcore. The critical reception of its monumental construction, and of Scorsese’s easy, clear handling, has not been an understanding one, having failed to see in Senator Palantine’s presidential campaign slogan “We Are The People” a mock at Job’s accusers, nor recognizing in the senator the smooth-talking pimp (Harvey Keitel) and his associates. Thus, in Kauffman (The New Republic) and Halliwell, the ending “makes no sense”, as the latter would have it.


Raging Bull

Raging Bull is not about boxing, what does Scorsese know about boxing? For that, you go to The Joe Louis Story, a great little film with footage from the maestro’s bouts, and greatly informative.

Scorsese is an artist, which is why he begins and ends the film in Jake La Motta’s dressing room at the Barbizon Hotel in 1964, as the champion prepares to go onstage with a literary recitation. This scene, in the midst of which the rest of the film occurs as a flashback, is a well-calculated masterpiece in itself, as some have observed. La Motta runs through his lines for memory, in the second part he has been seen to be an entertaining personality, no judgement is offered on the performance. Though the authors of the film are said to have called its inclusion fortuitous, the “I coulda been a contender” speech from On the Waterfront just grazes a significant theme in this film, the mob acquaintances of La Motta’s brother.

The sweeping style and the painstaking fight scenes, which do give a picture of La Motta as an aggressive boxer also able to withstand blows in the Ali style, are not the main interest. The drama consists in Scorsese’s progressive revelation of the mind of a champion, something Pinter described in a few words, “Hutton opened quietly, within himself, setting his day in order.” The drama, because the plot has its contretemps.

Slow-motion footage sometimes has a cinematic effect, sometimes (as in Goodfellas) shows what the naked eye cannot see.


After Hours

1985 was the year they rolled up all the sidewalks, and we all became “one acquainted with the night.But contrary to a familiar work on Kafka called The Terror of Art, it’s a comic species best appreciated by fans of Jack Benny.

The finale, with a gag from Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, especially points up the serviceable language of surrealism that’s called slapstick after the stage prop used to point it up.    

One of those things, like Kafka’s comedies or Nabokov’s “The Visit to the Museum,” that take you back, back to more superstitious times, and enable the artist to create a comprehensive satire in the abstract.



A very funny joke, How Drugs Destroyed The Family. Epic shots like the Steadicam progress through the bowels of the Copacabana are typically subjected to a simplification almost devoid of interest, to get a veneer as thin as Cicero’s garlic slices, “that melt in a pan with a little oil.”


Cape Fear

The complex, eye-popping Hitchcockisms serve a useful purpose, advance the language, and establish the fact that Cape Fear is meant to be taken on the same basis as The Man Who Knew Too Much. One of these, from To Catch a Thief, has Jessica Lange at her vanity table, outside are fireworks, a man is not watching them but the house, outside in a tight close-up she wipes off her lipstick. Another somehow finds her at the dining-room table evoking Under Capricorn. A rarer one echoes the pistol POV in Spellbound rather vaguely, in a sort of Rauschenberg Impressionism like the quotation of hands at the end from Deliverance, just before which, Bowden and his rock are derived from Frost’s “Mending Wall”.

The freeze-frame on the daughter’s face turned negative and red and fading like a sunset, is an explicit understanding of the fear being ultimately expressed.

Thompson’s beautiful rationality of line is the object of study. The occasionally delirious camera of Scorsese follows it, and the collision is recorded in several obsessive shot/reverse-shot conversations, after the lengthiest of which (the auditorium seduction) the private detective is seen to pour Jim Beam and then Pepto-Bismol into his mug. The great discovery, apart from the unequivocal analysis of the earlier film, is perhaps the focused power of incidental images like the holiday parade of Iwo Jima and Founding Fathers brought surrealistically (and consciously) into the scene.



The feint is sustained magisterially until the running time has all but elapsed, and then those two magic words appear, “junk bonds”, to state the moral.


The Age of Innocence

The joke is that it’s Prizzi’s Honor, which is The Maltese Falcon, part of the joke. Scorsese has it from Wharton’s New York families, and Huston from himself.



The rebirth of the Buddha is on this wise, snowy mountains, sand paintings, a vertical closed eye, the face of the boy with eyes closed, then open.

He takes up the Seal authoritatively. “Oh, very auspicious, 14th Dalai Lama,” says the chamberlain.

The Dalai Lama’s departure from Lhasa is a fast sequence of shots from Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Would Be King, and Henry V (which is screened for him later). Chinese directives present themselves in the light of King Lear.

The sequence of pictures is lambent and daring, in that a “strobe” effect is successfully organized as a visionary element, for instance.


Feel Like Going Home
The Blues

Between himself and the blues, Scorsese finds æsthetes and the Peeb. He carries all before him like Mr. Bean dislodging a turf to carry the ball to a better lie.


Bob Dylan
No Direction Home

Typically, an American Masters production goes like this, he was born, or she was, in such a time and such a place, rose to eminence, etc.

There’s an abundance of footage, from which artistic choices are made, illuminating each other, and out of it all you get Bob Dylan and the amazing drama of his electric guitar, which the fans hated enough to call him Judas, rather than Ernest Hemingway for a very salutary example without American Masters knowing why he should be the focus of anybody’s attention (cp. his chainsaw-sculptor in Hopper’s Backtrack).


The Departed

Godard and Herzog have “pushed” digital video into useful images for cinema, Bergman and Altman have transferred digital video onto film with a subsequent diminution of picture quality, Eastwood has used a digital intermediate with a similar effect. Scorsese has forced a cinematographic result from this last technique, his pictures are beautifully analyzed.

Costello explains this in the film, quoting John Lennon. “I’m an artist, give me a fucking tuba, I’ll get you something out of it.” Duchamp painted a picture with a bar of chocolate, Dali at the Royal Academy of Madrid won a bet by producing an Impressionist work without touching the canvas.

The picture quality suffers, but the image is rigorously maintained, as in the bar scene with Costigan and Costello against a galaxy of unfocused bottles, or the up-angles at state police headquarters with ceiling lights, or the breaking-up of the image with slats and partitions.

Costello again, “maybe because it’s always been so easy for me to get cunt, I never understood jerking off in a theater.”

The action of the drama is very good and great, particularly artistic are the simulacra provided by DiCaprio and Damon as a mob trooper and trooper mobster whose masks fall just at the end. Nicholson pays homage to his co-star in Penn’s The Missouri Breaks.

Nowadays there is a price to pay in remakes and digital “restorations”, among other things, even by an artist. Perhaps, taking our cue from Resnais’ Pas sur la bouche, we might say there is a time to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and a time to add draperies.