Martin Scorsese is a towering figure in cinema, a director, producer and screenwriter with a career spanning 50 years and as many films, many of which are considered some of the greatest ever made.
Martin Scorsese grew up in New York’s Little Italy and made his first films in the late 1960s. He redefined the ideas of what was possible in movies with such classics as Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990).
Scorsese directed Robert De Niro in a legendary Oscar®-winning performance in Raging Bull, which received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, and is now hailed as a masterpiece of modern cinema. He went on to direct The Color of Money (1986), Goodfellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), and Casino (1995) among other films. The following decades include films such as Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006) – which won Scorsese his first Best Director Oscar® – and the recent Silence (2016).
Scorsese’s unique combination of artistry, charisma and generosity continues to inspire filmmakers and audiences all over the world.
How do you achieve perpetual excellence in filmmaking?
Sometimes I’ll see a film that seems to change every five or six years. It’s the same film, yet there’s something deeper, something more lasting in it, and if you’re open to it and you experience life more, if you don’t close down, if you keep your curiosity about everything, works of art, whether novels, films, paintings, music, will still speak to you but not only speak to you, inspire you. For me, that is the essential idea of what perpetual means.
You could take it away from the culture it was made in, take it out of the political issues it was concerned with, take it away from the culture it was made, yet there’s something that still speaks to you as a human being. That might be what great art is about, whether it comes from Florence and the Renaissance or 58th street, for me it’s something where the film doesn’t change but you change or you experience more.
If you’re burning to tell this story... You have to make your movie.
How do you consciously push your boundaries as a filmmaker?
Part of the impetus for making films is to be original, thinking we’re going to break new ground. For me, it’s about breaking the boundaries of what I normally would do. Having said that, I wind up often making pictures that deal with a certain milieu that I’ve dealt with before. It’s almost like making the same film over and over again.
And one has to have a great sense of humour about it: try again, maybe you’ll get it this time.
What would you want young filmmakers to take away from your work?
Now technology is such that anyone can make a film. In the ‘50s, late ‘40s when I was growing up, we didn’t have that technology… But now anyone can make a film on any piece of equipment, including phones… There are so many choices, so many ways to do it, but it all comes down to one thing – are you burning to tell that story? That spark has to be in you, and that’s something that nobody can put there.
Do you think you have a responsibility as a filmmaker, and if so, what do you think that responsibility is?
I think the only way, the only responsibility you do have is to be true to yourself. I tried making films for other people and I always got fired. If you feel it isn’t right, don’t do it. There are so many pitfalls but the only thing you can hold on to is that spark in you, the need to tell something to somebody.
In 2008, Scorsese became a mentor for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. He chose to work with the young Argentinean filmmaker Celina Murga, who was by his side for the filming of Shutter Island (2010).