Watch: Martin Scorsese’s Career Highlights, Shown Through Close-Ups

Watch: Martin Scorsese’s Career Highlights, Shown Through Close-Ups

Though one would not typically associate Martin Scorsese with the close-up shot, given that he is more recognizable as a director who paints with an extremely broad brush about large personalities, large crimes, and large deficits, brought to the screen with majestic, aggressive, quintessentially American camera work, this startling compilation of close-up shots by Jorge Luengo brings another side of the director’s work to light, one which accentuates imperfection, difficulty, the ugliness of conflict, the difficulty of simply existing. To look at this video, you’d think you were ruminating on a different director, and not the man who simultaneously brought us ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Hugo,’ ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘The Aviator,’ ‘Cape Fear’ and "Goodfellas.’ Take a peek at it, and see if your thoughts on Scorsese aren’t changed.

VIDEO: HUGO and the First Movie Magicians

VIDEO: HUGO and the First Movie Magicians

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The 84th Annual Academy Awards will be announced this Sunday, with Martin Scorsese’s Hugo leading the pack with 11 Oscar nominations. Along with the 10 nominations for fellow front-runner The Artist, silent cinema will occupy center stage at the ceremony in a way it hasn’t since the dawn of the sound era. To commemorate the occasion, this video links Hugo to several films by the early pioneers of cinema.

Originally published on Fandor. Visit Fandor to read the transcript and watch some of these great silent films.

‘SHOULD WIN’ VIDEO ESSAY SERIES: Best Director Martin Scorsese, HUGO

‘SHOULD WIN’ VIDEO ESSAY SERIES: Best Director Martin Scorsese, HUGO

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Press Play presents "Should Win," a series of video essays advocating winners in seven Academy Awards categories: supporting actor and actress, best actor and actress, best director and best picture. These are consensus choices hashed out by a pool of Press Play contributors. Follow along HERE as Press Play decides the major categories including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting ActressBest Supporting Actor and Best Documentary.  Important notice: Press Play is aware that our videos can not be played on Apple mobile devices. We are, therefore, making this and every video in this series available on Vimeo for these Press Play readers. If you own an Apple mobile device, click here.]

Narration:

This year's Oscar race for Best Director features an especially strong roster. The five nominees are Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist, Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life, Alexander Payne for The Descendants and Martin Scorsese for Hugo. Four of them did magnificent work this year, one of them less so, but in the end there will only be one winner.

nullWoody Allen's Midnight in Paris is not a love letter to nostalgia or a trite piece of idol worship. Instead, it's a mature artist realizing his own folly. It's a melancholy film, yet Allen's direction is full of hope, with the final choice of the hero underlining the pointlessness of living in the past and the necessity of having to trudge on. Michel Hazanavicius' supreme achievement in The Artist is making people talk about the silent era again and argue about whether the film accurately represents it. Terrence Malick's canvas is as wide as they come in The Tree of Life, where he explores life, death, the universe and everything in a spasmodic stream-of-consciousness narrative. He finds the personal in the expansive. The theme of loss permeates the film. Malick arranges the beautiful movements with grandeur. The Descendants is perhaps Alexander Payne's most conventional movie to date. Loss, once again, is prominent in this family drama deftly directed by Payne with a loving eye for the minute details in the grand scheme of life.

But this year's Academy Award for Best Director should go to the master, Martin Scorsese. In Hugo, Scorsese shares with the audience his eternal love of movies through a magnificent palate of colors and exuberant motion made all the more fantastic by an exemplary use of 3D. But despite the added dimension, Hugo is the rare 3D film that works without it; the opening title sequence alone is a marvel of direction. Scorsese also displays a knack for physical comedy that one wouldn't have expected. Generally, though, Scorsese's direction manages to put a sense of wonder front and center. His love of films and filmmaking may be the hidden true subject of every film he has ever made. In a strange way, Hugo might be Scorsese's most personal film to date.

Kevin B. Lee is editor in chief of Press Play. Ali Arikan is the chief film critic of Dipnot TV, a Turkish news portal and iPad magazine, and one of Roger Ebert’s Far-Flung Correspondents. Ali is also a regular contributor to The House Next Door, Slant Magazine’s official blog.

OSCARS DEATH RACE: HUGO

OSCARS DEATH RACE: HUGO

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fearless Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is making it her mission to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in a fairy tale, in both senses of that word. He's not troubled with real-life adolescent bagatelles like homework, and he lives unsupervised in the clock tower of a Parisian train station, where he's in charge of keeping the clocks running.

nullBut Hugo is unsupervised because his parents have both died. (…I believe? I'm not entirely clear on what has become of his mother; his father, played by Jude Law, is consumed by a fiery backdraft in flashback, and this is not explained either.) Hugo's druncle Claude (Ray Winstone) takes custody of the boy, sticks around long enough for Hugo to learn the station-clock trade, then goes on walkabout, and Hugo is left to fend for himself. Fortunately, he's gifted at fixing things, so he keeps the clocks running in the hopes that nobody will notice Claude has gone missing, and dodges the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), an orphan-phobe with a mechanical leg and an equally hostile Doberman. Hugo nicks pastries from bakeries, and spare parts from Georges, the sour proprietor of a toy stall (Ben Kingsley), because on top of keeping the time and staying out of the boys' home, Hugo has a third job: trying to fix an old automaton repatriated by his father from a museum, in the hope that the machine will send him one last message from beyond the grave. And it does, in more ways than one.

Hugo is beautiful entirely aside from the thoughtful 3D effects. Snow looks real, and cold; clock gears look real, and old; the characters frequently compare movies to dreams, and the visual style has a heightened, almost Burton-y dreaminess, in the small touches almost more than the big showy bits (the bishop's sarcophagus; the weave of Hugo's sweater). The characters, and the way they're shot, contribute to the fable feeling; Hugo shortly finds an ally in Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), Georges's goddaughter, a girl who loves libraries and big words and longs for one of the adventures she's enjoyed within them, and her ally is the peerless Christopher Lee as bookseller Monsieur Labisse. Labisse is usually shot from an angle that emphasizes his towering size, which both intimidates and protects.

nullThe mythological story — the labors to earn back the notebook, the redemption of the warrior of the past who now toils in heartbroken obscurity — might not seem like an intuitive choice for Martin Scorsese. But the story is a love letter to film, and to the "indoorsy kids" through the ages who, confined to quarters, learned the world through the stories of others. That sort of elegy could pall quickly, and the speeches about the magic of cinema are…just that, but they're also relatively short, utterly sincere, and backed by Scorsese's voluminous knowledge. I liked The Artist well enough, but Hugo makes it look even gimmickier by comparison.

The superstitions of children that aren't just children's; Law, examining the automaton and recalling the company he kept in AI; Isabelle's horrified "DON'T YOU LIKE BOOKS?!" and Georges's defeated "Please, just — go away" — there is a bittersweet current running through Hugo that makes it much more than its technical achievements, and a wonderful note to hit for Scorsese. I love the man's work, but he can present at times as alienated from the concept that movies are by and about human beings. Here, he's operating from that idea's lap, and that shift shows up all over the movie; just when you feel like you've had enough of the glowering station agent and the gags with his leg locking on him, Cohen delivers this line from the depths of a sinking chest: "Yes, I was injured in the war and it will never heal, good day mademoiselle." And there's the character in three dimensions, no special glasses required.  

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in a fairy tale, in both senses of that word. He's not troubled with real-life adolescent bagatelles like homework, and he lives unsupervised in the clock tower of a Parisian train station, where he's in charge of keeping the clocks running.
 
But Hugo is unsupervised because his parents have both died. (…I believe? I'm not entirely clear on what has become of his mother; his father, played by Jude Law, is consumed by a fiery backdraft in flashback, and this is not explained either.) Hugo's druncle Claude (Ray Winstone) takes custody of the boy, sticks around long enough for Hugo to learn the station-clock trade, then goes on walkabout, and Hugo is left to fend for himself. Fortunately, he's gifted at fixing things, so he keeps the clocks running in the hopes that nobody will notice Claude has gone missing, and dodges the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), an orphan-phobe with a mechanical leg and an equally hostile Doberman. Hugo nicks pastries from bakeries, and spare parts from Georges, the sour proprietor of a toy stall (Ben Kingsley), because on top of keeping the time and staying out of the boys' home, Hugo has a third job: trying to fix an old automaton repatriated by his father from a museum, in the hope that the machine will send him one last message from beyond the grave. And it does, in more ways than one.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.comFor more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.

GREY MATTERS: Martin Scorsese’s interesting year

GREY MATTERS: Martin Scorsese’s interesting year

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Aside from being a lousy whitewash out to prove God-knows-what, Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World doesn’t even live up to some simple realities, things like the fact that when you’re Martin Scorsese, you most certainly do have a huge responsibility when taking on such an undertaking. Nobody will ever again have your resources, access or your name, and the sobriety of purpose and sheer cred that goes with it.

And now, to super-complicate matters really interestingly, we have Hugo, easily one of Scorsese’s top five films, a masterpiece, coming mere months on the heels of the Harrison debacle. The two films, in eternal orbit and connected by “George” as a name and notion – of the guitar player and his revolution in sound, and of the disgraced special effects trailblazer, Georges Méliès, who, in our world, delighted a small, asthmatic Italian-American boy in Little Italy almost 60 years ago with his lowest-fi wonders.

My sense is that Scorsese – a Catholic boomer from the age of Aquarius, director of Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ – simply could not have made Hugo without the mysteries of Harrison’s persona and life-long mysticism nagging him on. It’s just a damned pity that a huge chunk of facts, music history and Harrison’s vast, real legacy had to be the sacrificial lamb for Scorsese’s beautiful triumph.

So am I arguing that artists have responsibilities? Nope, no way. Do journalists? Yes. Absolutely.

nullBut in Material World Scorsese straddles art and reportage and screws the pooch on both. And yet Hugo, a film that makes no bones about being a total spin on some history using the toolbox of fiction, absolutely gets the heart of so many truths: truths about cinema, anger and healing, growing up and magic. And yeah, ironically, of the creation of history.

The irony is that the methods and mindset that serve Hugo so well are poison to Material World. Before we move on, though, a quick view of both films.

Material World offers a superfan’s mind-blow of previously unearthed Beatles and Harrison footage to drag us through a brilliantly edited but still relentlessly middlebrow, Ken Burns-like take on The Beatles and Harrison.

You know the drill. Grew up in grim, post-war Liverpool. Played crap clubs with John, Paul and Ringo until gaining world domination. Became entranced with Indian culture, the sitar and transcendental meditation under the guidance of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Made the magisterial All Things Must Pass solo record with the insane Phil Spector, now imprisoned for murder. Formed The Travelling Wilburys with Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. Did too much coke at some point. Got cancer, beat it. Suffered a knife attack by an insane person. Got cancer again, died peacefully. Every so often something new and interesting pops up – Harrison was a race car driver? – only to be summarily deleted.

nullAs you’ve probably heard, the film’s talking heads – among them Ringo and McCartney – are sometimes identified and sometimes not. About fifteen years of Harrison’s life are simply omitted, one assumes, because, like that racing bit, they just don’t fit Marty’s thesis: quiet guy becomes mystic. (You could say this lacks dimension.) The tales we’ve heard of George as a compulsive, somewhat cruel womanizer are whimsically hinted at by his wife Olivia, and then dropped. The epic coke binges occupy a fascinating single string of video that suggests the great film this could have been – I’ll return to that topic.

In general, Scorsese behaves as if his love of music will cover for the fact he truly doesn’t understand the thing, how it works or why the damned it so bewitches and obsesses him.

On the other hand, Hugo finds Scorsese not only at home in multiple cinematic languages and dialects, but talking about talking those languages. And so 3D not only works as immersion technique, but as an element with its own sacred history in a film that assumes longing for the cinematic experience and love of illusions as basic currencies.

The incredible richness of Scorsese’s visual languages allows him to express Harrisonian spiritual values delivered with an Amélie-like breathlessness and a neo-Gaultier splendor. (If costume designer Sandy Powell doesn’t win an Oscar for her designs, heads will roll – to speak only of heads.) As much as The Tree of Life is intrinsically Christian, Hugo is deeply Eastern in tradition, a film of real and metaphorical deaths and rebirths, of spirit animating the material world.

The film’s about Hugo (Asa Butterfield), a smudge-face Dickensian literally marking time by minding a Paris train station’s clocks and trying to repair the broken, beautiful automaton gifted to him by his deceased dad (Jude Law).

Hugo’s enemy is Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen), once a foster child, now a spiritually broken policeman crippled by war. (Scorsese/Cohen/writer John Logan only play Gustav for laughs until they understand the true depths of his brokenness).

nullHugo’s redemption comes in the form of Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), a young girl who’s never seen a film, and who’s the foster granddaughter of Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), a cranky man with a toy shop in the station, and who is on the run from the slow reveal of being the Georges Méliès – more than just special effects’ godfather, a man who rejects bleak reality for the hygienics of extreme fantasy.

By the way, we already we know far more about Hugo’s fictional characters than we ever learn about anyone in Material World. Just saying.

Scorsese’s film, the stuff of John Logan’s script (itself based on Brian Selznick’s book), unfolds a series of beautiful, almost Hindu cycles of death – Hugo’s dad and uncle’s passing – of birth – Isabelle’s discovery of cinema, the “awakening” of the automaton – and rebirth – the automaton coming to “life,” Georges’ films rediscovered, his reputation, his essence, Inspector Gustav healed of the burns of a bad childhood.

Along with its spiritual transcendences and heroic humanism, Hugo addresses, delights in and celebrates film history through mostly-fictional characters, fantastic devices and interlocking, exquisitely alive tableaus.

The reason this works with Méliès and not Harrison would seem obvious: most of Méliès’ films were destroyed after World War I, most Americans have no idea who he was, most historians have no idea what the “real” man was like. And so there’s no such thing as “doing” Méliès inaccurately. Harrison’s life, on the other hand, as we see in Scorsese’s own film, is ridiculously open to scrutiny, which means the director has to work that much harder to float his revision.

In Hugo, fiction about fact frees Scorsese. In Material World, what we get is an attempt to mold fact to fit intent. After a while, it’s like a root canal; the only painless part is when it’s over.

nullI get the temptation to rewrite George as spiritually ahead-of-the-curve, as an enigma tucked inside a mystery. Problem is, in order to do this properly, you have to commit all kinds of misdemeanors against the artist, the arts and history. Scorsese ends up so busy whitewashing alone, he has to, for example, mostly play down the matter of George’s, well, guitar playing.

Off and on, people – mostly unidentified – declare George’s playing to be “soulful.” This means nothing. Paul and Ringo – both acquitting themselves with warmth and grace – speak of their fallen mate with respect, with Paul saying he was the best musician by far when they started, which is something as George was, like, 17 years old at The Beatles’ beginning. Whatever – I eat this stuff up with a spoon, Paul and Ringo’s humbled late-life understanding of their band’s magnificence.

But aside from the static, overlong middle section of the film involving George’s interest in the sitar and Ravi Shankar, there’s not much in the way of musical insight. Scorsese seems so bent on fuck-knows-what, he misses the ready-made metaphor for Harrison’s spiritual quest sitting right there on his AVID screens.

It’s Harrison’s mysterious morph from the edgy, all-elbows player on early hits like “Don’t Bother Me” to the soaring transcendent slide guitarist you hear on Badfinger’s “Day After Day” (not in the film) and pretty much everywhere after the White Album.

What happened? How did he change? This is exciting stuff – the sound of a man’s soul in transition!

nullScorsese, literally, could not care less. Instead of this tale of self and spiritual discovery through music, Scorsese fritters away precious time with Eric Clapton, who shares tales of his cockmanship, of his creation of Scorsese’s favorite GoodFellas track, “Layla.” Scorsese is so enraptured with Clapton, who comes off as the epitome of noxious, boomer rock royalty, chortling about stealing George’s wife and choosing to not join the Beatles due to his extreme awesomeness, that Scorsese doesn’t seem aware Clapton is most recalled as a soft rock favorite and that, more importantly, aside from the solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and some shared women (nice), Clapton has fuck-all to do with our story here.

The Clapton infatuation is, however, a side effect of what’s really wrong: Scorsese refusing to leave his boomer bubble for context or insights, and in so doing, missing Harrison’s vast contributions beyond his own first edition vinyl collection.

Based on what’s here, Harrison is a minor figure – no big deal, used to be in The Beatles, saw God, Ommmmmmm…. You’d never know that Harrison’s early Beatles compositions (think “If I Needed Someone”), with their signature bell-toned arpeggios, tightly harmonized, octave-sweeping melodies and oddly chorded middle-eights, provided the vocabulary for New Wave, power pop and indie pop, inspiring/defining everyone/everything from Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello and Glenn Tilbrook to David Bowie’s wholesale theft of the song in “Blue Jean” to Elliot Smith’s post-Brit Invasion confessional aesthetic.

You’d never know that, as much as John Lennon, Harrison brought the ways and modes of the avant-garde into pop, whether it was the teeth-rattling extreme dissonances in “I Want to Tell You,” the tape-loop floaty-ness of “Blue Jay Way” or the triumphant wall of feedback in “It’s All Too Much.”

nullIt’s an amazing legacy that Scorsese omits, and it doesn’t end there. There’s George creating “world music” decades before the likes of Peter Gabriel, Sting or Björk via the 1968 Beatles track “The Inner Light” and its pulsing dress of sitar, harmonium, flute, table and santoor. (That Scorsese used world-music-style music by Gabriel for the soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ makes this omission a real head-scratcher – or is Scorsese simply unable to connect the dots?)

Meanwhile, wouldn’t it be clean fun to chart Harrison’s perversely “WTF?” appearances on records by Belinda Carlisle (The Go-Go’s), Fleetwood Mac and Electric Light Orchestra?

Who was that George? In particular, the George who, again like the Georges Méliès of Hugo, lived to enjoy a late-life resurgence with 1987 Top Ten hits like “Got My Mind Set on You,” “When We Was Fab” and the album Cloud Nine? You’re not going to hear much about that George. In order to buy the mystic-dude-in-the-material-world shtick, you have to – simply have to – accept that an entire fifteen or so years of Harrison’s life didn’t much matter.

Actually, Harrison seems to leave Scorsese’s radar as soon as the counter-culture dissipated. Which means that Harrison only has meaning for the director if he’s attached to a larger context, like the perky midlife crisis that was The Traveling Wilburys.

What does compel more than anything in the film comes from the artist’s cocaine days (told you I’d get back to this.). Not because it limns him bottoming out way, but because Harrison with his throat trashed by blow doing godawful Philly-soul-inflected versions of his hits so utterly deconstructs the narrative Scorsese has so painstakingly constructed. Because it turns Scorsese into Jake LaMotta beating his own film, which, for a few moments, is incredibly liberating. Here and only here is the Scorsese we all love and admire, the actual artist willing to go way out on a ledge.

Who is this George Harrison sarcastically mixing a throat concoction recommended by Barbara Streisand? We’ve been hearing, in draughts here and there, about an anger living beneath George’s placidity, a cooled, arched-eyebrow lividity amping up even early solos.

And here, in his cocaine days, finally, that anger twitches near the surface and Harrison cackles. You get the sense that if a mantra showed up, this George Harrison would spit at it and laugh.

I wish Scorsese had started here, or referenced this more. Not because it’s “dark,” or what I want to see, but because it’s true, because it goes beyond the firewall of the Harrison legend and because, if you want the mystery of George Harrison, it’s hidden in plain sight.

I want to believe that Material World will be forgotten – an aberration in a great career. I know Hugo will be remembered as long as cinema exists in any form.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. His column "Grey Matters" runs every week at Press Play. To read another piece about Drive, with analysis of common themes and images in all of Refn's films, click here.