From Mean Streets to Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese has shaped modern cinemaby Clive James / October 16, 2014 / Leave a comment
The large format of this glossy new monograph about Martin Scorsese is a reminder that Thames & Hudson once did books about such people as Michelangelo. But times have changed, and a film director like Scorsese now has the reputation that you once got for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The book deals with all of Scorsese’s movies in chronological order, each chapter crowded with photographs. We see frames from the productions, candid shots of the productions being produced, and any number of portraits of Scorsese himself, looking either frantically active or deeply thoughtful, and sometimes both.
Often to be seen in the same photograph as the man with his name in the title, even such charismatic actors as Robert De Niro are hard put to generate as much charisma as their director. Scorsese was born in Flushing, Queens after the Second World War and grew up in Little Italy. Stricken with asthma, he did not grow up very far, and physically he is a small man. But throughout the book he stares out at you with a show-stopping intensity. The best way of describing his stature, as it were, is to say that his career of movie-making—try to imagine modern cinematic history without Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas—really does deserve this kind of hagiography. A hundred portraits of, say, M Night Shyamalan making profound faces suitable to the director of The Sixth Sense, would merely look as manufactured as his souped-up name. With Scorsese, the hoo-hah fits.
The volume is a glory to leaf through, but you could possibly do that in a bookshop: serially on different days, if not all in one go. What makes the book worth taking home, however, is the excellent text, fragments of which are sometimes visible among the illustrations. These words are by Tom Shone, a film critic worth reading whatever aspect of the industry he talks about. (His book Blockbuster is a must.) Talking about Scorsese, he speaks the language of admiration. Most critics are at their best when speaking the language of derision, but Shone has the precious gift of being carried away in a sensible manner, and of being…