Cole Smith’s recent video essay on the links between Martin Scorsese and Elia Kazan brings a few important things to light, with an unusual amount of command and fluidity. One of these is the turbulent story of Kazan himself; Smith includes footage of the 1999 Academy Awards, at which Kazan received a Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Scorsese, and at which only some of the audience members clapped. Why was this? Well, it was because, as many know, Kazan worked with the House Un-American Affairs Committee to name many Hollywood professionals suspected of having Communist leanings; it’s been said that On the Waterfront was an apology of sorts for this misstep. Smith leapfrogs over this moment to look at the Kazan film itself, along with A Streetcar Named Desire, to show how important the assumption of different points of view is for telling a story in these works, as in the contrast between Blanche DuBois’s and Stanley Kowalski’s vantage points in Streetcar or Terry Malloy’s and Johnny Friendly’s vantage points in Waterfront. It’s an easy transition, then, to a discussion of The Departed, one of Scorsese’s most successful films of recent years, and an examination of the way in which playing off Costigan’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) point of view against Sullivan’s (Matt Damon) point of view heightens suspense, stretches it to an almost wire-thin degree. Indeed, Scorsese’s films are at their best when they are taking us inside someone, whether it’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, Henry Hill in Goodfellas, Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island, or, more recently, Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. Without that voyage into a character’s interior, there can be little empathy, and without empathy, the story can’t come to life inside viewers themselves.
Watch: A Video Essay on the Links Between Martin Scorsese and Elia Kazan in THE DEPARTED