Directors Interesting

The Future of Movies (1990)

The Future of Movies in 1990

Back in 1990 the late Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel hosted a TV special which featured directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese discussing the future of movies.

Spielberg and Lucas made headlines earlier this summer by predicting the implosion of Hollywood’s current economic model, but what did they feel 23 years ago?

The answer lies in this programme – recently discovered by Cinephilia and Beyond – where they not only discuss the future of movies but also their careers and a good deal else beside, including:

  • The possibility of a sequel to E.T. (1982)
  • Spielberg’s interest in a Howard Hughes project
  • Lucas on the Star Wars prequels
  • Scorsese on Goodfellas (1990) and commercial success
  • The sex scene in Don’t Look Now (1973)
  • HD television
  • Film preservation

You can watch the full programme here (along with the fast-forwarded ads):

> Find out about 1990 on film at Wikipedia

Directors Documentaries

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies

The BFI have put Martin Scorsese’s 1995 documentary about American cinema online.

Titled A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies it was produced by the British Film Institute and originally aired in three parts on Channel 4 back in 1995.

Co-directed with Michael Henry Wilson, it explores Scorsese’s favourite American films grouped according to three different types of directors:

With contributions from the likes of Billy Wilder and Clint Eastwood it is essential viewing.

You can watch it in full here:

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese (1995) by BFIfilms

His documentaries about cinema are like the best film school you never went to, featuring invaluable insights from a master director and a passionate movie fan.

The best compliment I can pay them is that you should just see them as soon as you possibly can.

Scorsese also made a documentary about Italian films called My Voyage to Italy (1999) and is currently preparing one about British cinema.

> Martin Scorsese at Wikipedia
> DVD review of My Voyage to Italy

Cinema Reviews Thoughts


The latest filmmaking technology provides Martin Scorsese with the tools to create a passionate love letter to the early days of cinema.

Adapted from Brian Selznick’s illustrated book, the story explores what happens when a young orphan (Asa Butterfield) living in a 1930s Paris train station comes across an older man selling toys at a stall.

That man (Ben Kingsley) may literally have the key to the mysterious robotic automaton Hugo’s late father (Jude Law) left behind before perishing in a fire.

With the constant threat of being taken away to an orphanage by the local police inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) Hugo finds out more about ‘Papa Georges’ by befriending his granddaughter (Chloe Grace Moretz).

Although best known for his masterful explorations of the American male (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed) he has long shown an interest in stories involving martyrs and redemption.

His most controversial film (The Last Temptation of Christ) and perhaps his most overlooked (Kundun) were both about spiritual figures of major religions.

Now the director turns to the religion of film and one of its key pioneers, Georges Melies, who for many years was largely forgotten after World War I.

Despite Hugo being something of a departure for the director in that it is suitable for family audiences, it is also one of his most personal works.

It isn’t a stretch to read the central character as the young asthmatic New Yorker who fell deeply in love with cinema or even Melies as the director who represents his fears (rejection) and dreams (longevity).

In order to achieve this vision he has recruited a glittering array of world class technical talent.

Dante Ferretti’s detailed production design offers us a fantastical recreation of 1930s Paris, which is skilfully augmented by Sandy Powell’s costumes and Rob Legato’s visual effects work.

The blending of all these design elements is dazzling, filled with detail and depth, which provides a solid basis for Robert Richardson’s stunning 3D photography.

Using the new Arri Alexa camera with a Cameron-Pace 3D rig it provides Scorsese with a new tool for executing his vision with longer takes and immersive shots.

The wonderful irony is that these cutting edge digital tools – which involved pioneering lenses and an on-set data system – are used to pay tribute to one of the founding fathers of ‘celluloid cinema’.

Visually, this is done with recurring motifs: wheels turning, trains, clocks and objects coming towards the camera, which are brought to life by a use of 3D which enhances, rather than distracts from them.

Although Scorsese has talked about the adjustment he and Richardson had to make coming from the world of 35mm film, the end result is a master class in digital cinematography, filled with stunning compositions and rich layers of detail.

The performances don’t quite match the visuals, but Butterfield and Moretz do enough to convince in their roles, whilst Kingsley paints a convincing picture of a man haunted by regret.

In supporting roles Sacha Baron Cohen’s mannered comic performance is somewhat overshadowed by his dog, but Helen McCrory and Christopher Lee are both touching in key minor roles.

John Logan’s screenplay manages to blend the traditional storytelling elements of the book, whilst also providing a neat framework for Scorsese to explore his own inner passion for movies and film preservation.

Without going into spoiler territory, there are numerous references to the Lumiere brothers, the silent era and 1930s French cinema.

The beauty of these hat tips is that – like the 3D – they do actually serve the story rather than function as a commercial indulgence.

Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing also skilfully blends key flashback scenes, numerous chase sequences in the station and archive footage of classic cinema works which brilliantly concentrated down to their essence.

It is also refreshing to see a family film is respectful to audiences of all ages and not a pat morality or coming-of-age tale filled with lazy in-jokes.

Unlike many contemporary films, it actually rewards patience and curiosity, before climaxing with a moving ode to both the art and experience of cinema itself.

Beneath the fantastical surface there are serious emotions and one can sense the ghost of Michael Powell – a neglected director Scorsese helped revive interest in.

Perhaps the most surreal aspect of Hugo is that a $150 million advert for film preservation is going to be screened digitally in multiplexes around the globe.

Like the early work of Melies, it seems like a form of magic that this film even exists.

> Official site
> Reviews of Hugo at Metacritic and MUBi
> Find out more about George Melies at Wikipedia and Senses of Cinema
> Martin Scorsese discussing 3D

Interesting Technology

Martin Scorsese and Grover Crisp on Blu-ray

How far has Blu-ray come as a format since the Martin Scorsese keynote address at the Blu-Con 2.0 conference in 2009?

Two years ago Scorsese joined the event live via satellite from New York City and his 20-minute address was moderated by Grover Crisp, the man in charge of film restoration and digital mastering for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

In the run up to Christmas sales of the home video format will be under renewed scrutiny, but it is worth looking at what was said via video of the event which someone has posted online in three parts:

Part 1: The history of home video, proper aspect ratios, why the Blu-ray format is superior, Bernard Herrman’s score for Taxi Driver (for which Crisp oversaw the recent Blu-ray restoration).

Part 2: They discuss the uncompressed sound of the format, how the rise of DVD drove the restoration of prints and the 4k restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Part 3: More on the Dr. Strangelove restoration and the dilemmas involved in doing it, Scorsese’s favourite film on Blu-ray, whether he considers the Blu-ray release before shooting a film and the benefits to future generations of filmmakers.

All this is interesting, not just because Scorsese is such a passionate authority on film, but because there is still is some confusion over the Blu-ray format.

The main problems have been: the needless format war which delayed the adoption of the format; mainstream confusion over how it differs from DVD; the costs of upgrading to a player and the recession.

I remember being sceptical about both high-definition disc formats (HD-DVD and Blu-ray) when they were given their first major marketing push in the run up to Christmas of 2007.

Was its introduction too soon after DVD?

I was invited to a screening of The Bourne Ultimatum on HD-DVD (still available on Amazon for some reason), projected in a cinema and the three guys there (publicity people mainly, but also a someone from Microsoft, who were involved in the format) were very bullish about why it would succeed and Blu-ray wouldn’t.

Two months later in February 2008 the HD-DVD format was dead, as Toshiba (the main electrical company behind the format) couldn’t sustain the costs after studios and retailers sided with Blu-ray.

During 2008 the cost of Blu-ray discs and systems was still relatively high, even though television was shifting to the HD era and it became hard to actually buy old-style analogue television sets.

The Dark Knight in late 2008 was perhaps the first truly blockbuster disc in the format, even though – compared to DVD – overall sales were still sluggish and anecdotally even people in the media I spoke to were confused, sceptical or didn’t care.

The main misunderstanding I encountered was the worry that DVDs couldn’t play on a Blu-ray player (they can) and just scepticism about upgrading their equipment.

Even in 2010 The Guardian were publishing articles by writers who didn’t seem to know what they were talking about, which prompted me to write this response.

At the moment, the adoption of the format is still being hobbled by the resilience of the DVD format (a lot of great titles are still really cheap) and a lingering sense of confusion about Blu-ray outside the home video/cinephile realm.

There is a three-way split between DVD, Blu-ray and digital downloads (if you include Netflix, iTunes etc) but optical discs might be more resilient than people think.

Although there are analogies with where the music industry was ten years ago, the recent problems at Netflix suggest that the adoption of digital downloads and streaming might be slower than you think.

Which brings us back to Scorsese.

His point that Blu-ray offers the best quality and drives the restoration of classic films (a subject very close to his heart) are good ones and in a year of sequels and remakes at the cinema, releases like Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, Ben Hur and The Three Colours Trilogy have been most welcome.

Seeing classic films that have been restored with care and attention is a real joy that reminds you of the craft that originally made them so great.

> More on the Blu-ray format at Wikipedia
> Recent DVD & Blu-ray posts
> Taxi Driver on Blu-ray
> Recent Martin Scorsese posts


Martin Scorsese at BAFTA

Martin Scorsese turns 69 today.

Last December he gave at talk at BAFTA with Francine Stock where he discussed his life and career.

You can watch the whole thing here:

Amongst the things they talked about were:

It has been a pretty busy year for Scorsese: there was the re-release of Taxi Driver followed by the outstanding Blu-raythe DVD release of his 1999 documentary about Italian cinema My Voyage to Italy, a lengthy discussion at the LMCA about film preservation, his outstanding documentary about George Harrison and his upcoming 3D film Hugo.

Hugo opens in the UK on Friday 2nd December

> More on Martin Scorsese at Wikipedia, MUBi and TSFDT
> BAFTA Guru
> Scorsese on 3D
> World Cinema Foundation


Martin Scorsese on 3D

Martin Scorsese spoke about 3D earlier today after a screening of his latest film in Los Angeles.

Hugo is based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, and is the story of a young orphan (Asa Butterfield) living inside a Paris train station in the late 1920s.

After a sneak preview at the New York Film Festival (where an unfinished version screened) it played today in front of various press and (presumably) Academy voters.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere shot some video of the post-screening Q&A, which was moderated by none other than Paul Thomas Anderson and also featured DP Robert Richardson, production designer Dante Ferretti, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, visual effects supervisor Robert Legato and composer Howard Shore.

In the first video Scorsese talks about why he chose the material:

Aside from being Scorsese’s first film in 3D, it was a pioneering production that employed the latest in digital camera technology.

It was shot on a new 3D camera rig developed by Vince Pace, which combines two digital Arri Alexa cameras.

Here Scorsese talks about 3D in the context of cinema history, comparing it to the advent of colour:

The film was pioneering in other ways as it was the first major production to shoot with Cooke 5/i Prime Lenses and to employ Pace’s new data system, which allows the filmmakers on set to extract and manipulate digital camera information on set (rather than in post-production).

Gregor Tavenner, the first Camera Assistant on the film, talked about this in an interview last year with Film and Digital Times:

The Pace system has the ability to record all the metadata for every frame of every shot. Which it does. It links I/O data convergence, readouts, what’s where, and stores it.

The Alexas don’t have LDS or /i data contacts built into their PL mount yet. Maybe in the next model, later this year. But right now it’s a big plus to be able to plug the /i connector into the 5/i lens and extract all the data, and display it. The Transvideo monitors plug right into /i connectors—so I get a full readout of all the lens data on screen. It’s beautiful.

Post. It’s a new world. There is no post house. We’re doing it. Pace is doing it. It’s incredible. We built our own screening room, our own file room, we have coloring, our own grader on staff, so Bob can go in every day and grade his footage. And Marty can do stereo corrections right there. He can see finished product. And I tell you, it’s really beautiful. It makes a lot of sense.

Some other video was shot at the screening where Thelma Schoonmaker talked about editing and mixing in 3D:

And here is Richardson and Scorsese talking about shooting the film on the Alexa and how they played with colours on set:

Hugo is out in the US on November 23rd and in the UK on Friday 2nd December

> Official site
> IMDb link


George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison is an absorbing and surprisingly spiritual examination of the late musician.

After screening at the Telluride film festival last month, this 208 minute film recently aired on HBO in the US and has just come out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK before a screening on BBC Two later this year.

Part of the realities of modern movie distribution mean that this long-form work only got a brief screening at cinemas around the UK last week, before its arrival in shops on Monday.

But it marks another landmark musical documentary for Scorsese after No Direction Home (2005), his outstanding film about Bob Dylan, as it charts the cultural impact of the Beatles from the perspective of its most reflective member.

This not only gives the familiar subject a fresh feel, but it also goes into deep and moving areas as it charts how he dealt with the onslaught of fame and attention that came with being in the biggest band in the world.

Made with the full co-operation of Harrison’s family – his widow Olivia and son Dhani – it features interviews with them, bandmates Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, plus numerous friends and acquaintances including Yoko Ono, George Martin, Eric Clapton, Astrid Kirchherr, Klaus Voormann, Eric Idle, Phil Spector (before his 2009 murder conviction) and Tom Petty.

Split into two parts the first deals with his childhood in Liverpool, the early days of The Beatles in Hamburg and their eventual rise to the dizzying heights of global fame, whilst the second explores how he dealt with that fame, becoming a solo artist, staging charity concerts, financing Monty Python films and his growing interest in Indian music and philosophy.

Scorsese has long had an interest in rock music but here he seems to have found a kindred spirit in Harrison, whose desire to transcend the surface trappings of fame provides the real fuel for this film.

Brilliantly assembled from a wealth of archive footage, including some vintage photography of the Fab Four and lots of material from the Harrison home movie collection, it creates a fascinating portrait of a musician who unwittingly became part of something huge.

For Beatles fans, it doesn’t attempt the scale of the 11-hour Anthology project from 1995 – still the definitive filmed history of the band – but gives us a different perspective outside of the Lennon-McCartney axis and provides us with unexpected pleasures as it charts his spiritual growth.

There is the persistent theme running throughout that Harrison was the dark horse of the group, a songwriter who gradually became the equal of his more illustrious band mates and on Abbey Road actually surpassed them by writing Something (described by Frank Sinatra as one of the greatest love songs of the 20th century) and Here Comes the Sun.

Scorsese also captures the dizzying cultural ascendency of The Beatles as they conquer the music world and become icons.

It touches on the dynamics within the band: George’s early friendship with Paul, which later led to tensions caught on film during the Let it Be sessions, the bewildering rush of fame and money and how this affected their lives.

One revealing bit of footage early on sees the band members sign the official contracts that dissolved the group in 1970 – Harrison is uttering an Indian mantra as he signs, which hints at his trepidation at the end of an era but also his growing interest in Eastern spirituality.

Throughout his time in the Beatles he had written songs where this was noticeable – Love to You, Within Without You and The Inner Light – but, after forging a close friendship with Ravi Shankar, he seemed to be the only one who fully embraced both the musical and spiritual dimensions of something the rest of the band just flirted with.

This may explain why he made a great solo album – All Things Must Pass – very soon after The Beatles broke up and could navigate the subsequent years with a degree of serenity and humour.

These times included: the Concert for Bangladesh (a benefit gig that foreshadowed Live Aid); a bizarre divorce from first wife Patti Boyd (his friend Eric Clapton essentially stole her with his ‘blessing’); the purchase of a large Victorian estate (Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames); film production (he created Handmade Films after financing Monty Python’s The Life of Brian) and his love of F1.

For film aficionados his patronage of The Life of Brian (1979) – which was hugely controversial amongst some observers – and films such as Time Bandits (1981), The Long Good Friday 1980), Mona Lisa (1986) and Withnail & I (1987) was really quite remarkable.

His reason for stumping up the $4m to fund Life of Brian – “because I wanted to see the film” – was both the most brilliant and eloquent reason ever given by a film financier and as Eric Idle points out was “the most expensive cinema ticket in history”.

Going in, I was expecting the film to tail off towards the end, as it deals with the last phase of his life, but it is to the films great credit that it manages to hold the attention right until the closing credits.

His second wife Olivia and son Dhani speak movingly about his home life and his struggles with cancer that were made worse by a home invasion and assault in 1999.

That nasty attack, which Dhani believes shortened his life, had chilling echoes of Lennon’s death at the hands of Mark Chapman in 1980 – an event which was extra painful for George, as he was deeply concerned with the manner in which the human spirit leaves the body.

A lot of family archive material was made available and editor David Tedeschi, who also worked on Scorsese’s Dylan documentary, has managed to arrange it with considerable skill and judicious use of music.

It also sounds great, thanks to the new 5.1 surround mix that was done by a team including George Martin’s son, Giles, who worked on the recent Love remixes.

There is always the danger of hagiography when it comes to films about famous figures, but this manages to paint a broad and interesting look at Harrison’s life without slipping into sentimentality.

Scorsese has long been interested in spirituality, whether it be the Catholicism of The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) or the Buddhism of Kundun (1997), and here he digs deep into Harrison’s spiritual awareness and how it kept him sane after the global goldfish bowl that was life during and after The Beatles.

Like Harrison himself, the film contains surprising depths and offers a refreshing glimpse into the world’s most famous band from the perspective of its most thoughtful member.

> Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD at Amazon UK
> IMDb entry
> More on George Harrison at Wikipedia

Documentaries News TV

Trailer: George Harrison – Living in the Material World

The new trailer for the new Martin Scorsese documentary about George Harrison is now online.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World features rare footage from Harrison’s childhood, his time in The Beatles, his solo career and his unlikely career as a movie producer through Handmade Films.

The interviewees include Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono and Olivia and Dhani Harrison.

Like Scorsese’s previous documentary about Bob Dylan – No Direction Home – this is split into two parts: the first section (94 mins) covers Harrison’s early life in Liverpool and career as a Beatle up until their break up in 1970.

The second part (114 mins) charts his solo career during the 1970s and 80s, up until the end of his life in November 2001.

It is being screened at cinemas across the UK and Dublin on October 4th.

In the US it will air on HBO in two parts on October 5th and 6th and in the UK on the BBC at some point (although details are unclear, it may be on BBC2 in November for the 10th anniversary of his death).

The DVD and Blu-ray come out soon after on October 10th.

> For more info and to book tickets visit the Facebook page
> More on the film at the IMDb
> Pre-order the DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon UK


DVD: My Voyage to Italy

Martin Scorsese’s classic 1999 documentary on Italian cinema gets a welcome release on DVD this month.

In addition to being one of the great directors of his generation, Scorsese has long been a passionate advocate for cinema itself by making documentaries and helping create the World Cinema Foundation.

In 1995 he made the four hour A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, which examined key films up to 1969, focusing on directors such as D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray and Stanley Kubrick.

Four years later he took a similar journey into the heart of Italian cinema and explored the films which had such an effect on him and his relatives growing up in New York.

Scorsese was born to parents who both worked in the Garment district and his father’s parents had emigrated from the province of Palermo in Sicily.

As a boy his parents and older brother would take him to the movies but he would also catch Italian films of the post-war era on the emerging medium of television.

In those days television was still in its infancy and the fledgling stations needed programming which they often filled with Italian movies.

As sets were quite rare, relatives and friends would gather round to watch films in his family apartment in 253 Elizabeth Street.

It was whilst watching movies dealing with the pain of post-war Italy that Scorsese saw his grandparents (who hardly spoke English) powerfully affected by what was on screen.

In that was born a desire to see more Italian cinema and this four hour documentary charts the landmark films and directors of that era, including Vittorio de Sica, Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rosselini and Michelangelo Antonioni.

Scorsese introduces various segments and through judicious use of clips and an informed, eloquent voiceover takes us on a journey of the following films:

Given his wealth of knowledge and infectious passion, just watching this DVD is like attending a the best film class you never had and it’s worth remembering that after attending NYU, Scorsese remained there as a teaching assistant and eventually a professor of Film.

Incidentally, amongst his students at this time was a young Oliver Stone, who may have been an influence on the central character of Taxi Driver (1976).

He knows what he’s talking about and gives precise, eloquent descriptions of each movie, using his years of experience in front of a screen as well as behind the camera.

Part of what makes My Voyage to Italy so special is that Scorsese brings the same passion and intelligence to describing these films as to those he has made.

Unlike some directors, he’s always retained his enthusiasm as a viewer which triggered his desire to make films.

There are numerous astute observations laced throughout, including:

  • How Rome, Open City (1945) essentially led to the birth of Italian neo-realism
  • The impact of L’Amore (1948) on US cinema after it led to a key Supreme Court decision which stated film was a form of artistic expression protected by the First Amendment
  • The influence of Chaplin on Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952)
  • How a complex shot of a controversial battle in Luscio Visconti’s Senso (1954) led to the studio burning the negative elements of those scenes
  • How the term ‘paparazzi‘ became a popular term after the name of a character in La Dolce Vita (1960)
  • The slow burn appeal of Journey to Italy (1954) and how it was championed by French New Wave directors such as Godard and Truffaut.
  • The elliptical appeal of L’avventura (1960) and Antonioni’s precise use of the frame
  • The dream-like appeal of Fellini’s (1963) which is like a ‘visual stream of consciousness that keeps the audience in a constant state of surprise’ and how it is the ‘purest expression of love for the cinema’ that Scorsese knows of.

These films might seem to some like ancient cinematic history, but their treatment of social issues have a new relevance in the current recession as people struggle with harsh economic conditions.

Modern versions of the young boy in Germany, Year Zero, the father and son in Bicycle Thieves and the lonely old man in Umberto D can probably be found in any modern city just some of the characters struggling to survive in a cruel world.

But most of all this is 246 minutes of one of the great US directors imparting his passion about some of the most important films of the 20th century.

If you care about the medium, then it is an essential purchase.

My Voyage to Italy is released on DVD by Mr Bongo Films on September 26th

> Buy My Voyage to Italy on DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about Italian neo-realism at Green Cine
> Martin Scorsese at Wikipedia
> Scorsese talking about the documentary on Charlie Rose in 1999


Martin Scorsese at the LACMA

Martin Scorsese has been a tireless advocate for film preservation and last year gave a fascinating hour long talk at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Speaking to Michael Govan, the director of the LACMA, Scorsese discusses a variety of topics and you can watch the full interview here, which begins at 6:06:

Amongst the things they cover include:

  • Moving to LA in the 1970s and watching prints of old films
  • The change from the 3-strip camera process to Eastman color
  • Realising the quality of film prints were declining after watching a double bill of Niagra (1953) and The Seven Year Itch (1955)
  • The reason a proper print for Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1960) didn’t exist for a long time
  • How his quest for preserving film prints led to the creation of The Film Foundation in the late 1980s
  • The fire in the mid-1970s that destroyed the original negative of Citizen Kane (1941)
  • The films that have benefited from the foundation’s work, such as restored prints of Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Paths of Glory (1957) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1969).
  • How the Film Foundation had restored The Red Shoes (1948) from an original camera negative that was ‘mouldy’
  • The importance of preservation for inspiring the next generation of directors
  • How the entertainment aspect of cinema created a stigma around it being considered an art form
  • The meaning of a cut
  • A parallel tracking shot in Blow Up (1966)
  • How he came to appreciate the films of Frank Borzage after the age of 50
  • How plot is the ‘hardest thing to shoot’
  • The influence of the shower scene in Psycho (1960) on a fight scene in Raging Bull (1980)
  • Why Hitchcock is such a fascinating director
  • What makes cinema unique as an art
  • How he would shoot a 3D film (he has since made Hugo)
  • Shooting the HBO mini-series Boardwalk Empire
  • The debate on grain and whether digital restorations should remove it or not

Not only is it like listening to the best film professor in history, but it is a genuinely illuminating discussion that touches upon the art and technique of the medium that has meant so much to him.

> Martin Scorsese at Wikipedia
> The Film Foundation
> LAMCA and their Vimeo Channel

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Taxi Driver

The restored version of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic is one of the best Blu-rays of the year.

Taxi Driver won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, received several Oscar nominations, became a box office hit and became an established classic of 1970s cinema.

A drama about an isolated New York cab driver (Robert De Niro), it explores his relationships with fellow drivers (Peter Boyle), a political campaign volunteer (Cybil Shepherd) and a young prostitute (Jodie Foster), as he starts to see violence as a solution to his loneliness.

This Blu-ray is taken directly from the new 4k restoration supervised by Sony’s Grover Crisp, and approved by Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman.

Great effort has been made to keep the look of the original film intact and this is easily the best looking version of the film I’ve ever seen.

The detail and contrast of the visuals mark a major step up from the last DVD release in 2007 and the audio is equally good with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack sounding tremendous.

Hearing Bernard Herrman’s classic score set to some of the indelible images from the film at this quality is great for admirers of this mid-70s classic.


The extras are also another major bonus of this release, featuring a raft of interesting supplementary material.

Original 1986 Commentary with Director Martin Scorsese and Writer: Perhaps the highlight is the inclusion of the 1986 audio commentary Scorsese and Schrader recorded for the Criterion LaserDisc. Although 15 years old, it is brilliantly informative and a fantastic resource for fans and students of the film. Scorsese talks about stylistic influences, shooting in New York and various production details whilst Schrader discusses the inspiration for the story, the themes and his take on the film. They are recorded separately but edited together with a moderator who provides even more background information.

Interactive Script to Screen: This feature shows the script on-screen as the film plays and you sync the script with the film or look at it independently from the film. Perhaps of most interest to film students, it also provides an interesting bridge between how a script looks on page and how it translates visually to the screen.

Audio Commentary by Robert Kolker: The film professor from the University of Virginia provides a highly informative commentary that delves into many facets of the film. From detailed discussions of the visuals to the overall history and impact of the film, it is well worth listening to.

Audio Commentary by Paul Schrader: The screenwriter does another full commentary, this time on his own, and discusses the inspiration for his script, the differences between page and screen, the acting and his feelings about the finished film. Given his personal connection with the material, it makes for an illuminating perspective on the film.

Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver (16:52): An interview with the director where he discusses the background to the film, his career up to that point, how he got hired, Paul Schrader’s script, shooting in New York during 1975, how he related to the central character, the European influences on the film and where it sits in his career.

Producing Taxi Driver (9:53): Producer Michael Phillips speaks about his role in getting the film made, his earlier Oscar-winning success with The Sting (1973), how the dark script was initially a problem with the studio, working with Scorsese and De Niro and the legacy of the film.

God’s Lonely Man (21:42): A piece on the character of Travis Bickle, which sees Paul Schrader discuss how his own personal problems influenced the character and how he became a figure people identified with.

Influence and Appreciation: A Martin Scorsese Tribute (18:30): A piece featuring interview with Oliver Stone (a student of Scorsese’s at NYU in the 1970s), Paul Schrader, Roger Corman, Robert De Niro, Robert Kolker and others as they speak about the director and his films through the lens of Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver Stories (22:23): Interviews with various cab drivers as they discuss what it was actually like to work in New York during the 1970s.

Making Taxi Driver (1:10:55): A comprehensive documentary from the early 1990s that covers the production and legacy of the film. Featuring interviews with key cast and crew it is a fascinating look at how it was made. There is some overlap from the other material on the disc, but for fans of the film this is a great overall look at the film.

Travis’ New York (6:16): Cinematographer Michael Chapman and former New York Mayor Ed Koch discuss what New York was actually like during the era in which Taxi Driver was shot on location there.

Travis’ New York Locations (4:49): A split-screen comparison of nine clips from the film along side the very same New York locations as they were in 2006.

Intro to Storyboards by Martin Scorsese (4:32): The director talks about the importance of storyboarding and how he used it whilst making the film.

Storyboard to Film Comparison (8:21): Various scenes are juxtaposed with the storyboards, which makes for a fascinating comparison of the two as some sketches are remarkably faithful to the finished shots.

Galleries (9:28): The image galleries feature photos of Bernard Herrmann’s sheet music for his iconic score, the crew on location (featuring some great black and white shots of Scorsese and De Niro), the original publicity materials and Martin Scorsese at work during the film.

Taxi Driver is out today from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

> Buy Taxi Driver on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Revisiting Taxi Driver (my longer thoughts on the film)
> The Digital Bits interview Grover Crisp of Sony about the new 4k restoration process
> Taxi Driver at the IMDb
> Martin Scorsese at MUBi
> Scorsese and Schrader discuss the restored version in a Q&A last month


Revisiting Taxi Driver

* Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Taxi Driver then there are spoilers in this post *

The new 4K restoration of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) is another reminder of why it remains an enduring American classic.

A drama about an isolated New York cab driver named Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), it charts his relationships with a fellow driver (Peter Boyle), a political campaign volunteer (Cybil Shepherd), a young prostitute (Jodie Foster) and her pimp (Harvey Keitel) as he starts to see violence as a solution to his problems.

I first saw the film on video in 1992 and then caught it several times on television and DVD since but had never seen it on the big screen until last night at the BFI in central London.

This new version has been given an extensive 4K digital restoration under the supervision of Grover Crisp of Sony Pictures, which means that the basic resolution of the 35mm negative has been preserved, and it was done with the co-operation of Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman.

All of this was for a 35th anniversary release, which includes a short theatrical run from Park Circus ahead of a UK Blu-ray release in June.

First time viewers should be aware that the film captures mid-70s New York in all of its grimy glory, so don’t expect some crisp, shimmering artefact that you might get from a more modern production.

However, this version is faithful to the look of the original and is complemented by a restored soundtrack which does real justice to the sound design and Bernard Hermann’s classic score.

Many things have been written about the film since it opened in 1976, so what follows are some thoughts that struck me after watching the restored version last night.

The Hitchcock style fonts on the opening titles: Just before Hermann’s classic score kicks in you might notice that the font of the opening titles are vaguely reminiscent of those Saul Bass designed for Alfred Hitchcock and others.

Was Scorsese preparing us for the music from Hitch’s longtime composer? (Also look out for the vintage Columbia Pictures logo which Scorsese insisted be put on this restored version).

Bernard Hermann’s Score: The classic drums and brass that open the film as De Niro’s cab comes out of the smoke are broken beautifully by the contrasting saxophone, which serves as a motif throughout.

It was Hermann’s final score before he died and is a fitting swan song for one of the all-time great film composers.

General Image and Sound: The new 4K restoration is deeply impressive, although it should be noted that the slightly grainy film look has been preserved. There are numerous scenes which look cleaner and crisper but there are also sequences – especially the climax – in which the rougher, desaturated look has been preserved. It should be noted that the film was shot entirely on location in New York, which makes the sound work all the more impressive.

De Niro’s Legendary Performance: Given the dramatic artistic collapse of De Niro’s acting career over the past fifteen years, his golden years of the 1970s and 80s are almost painful to watch. In The Godfather Part II (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), The Deer Hunter (1978) and Raging Bull (1980) he gave iconic performances, which were some of the finest in film history. Much has been made of his exhaustive research for the role, but look out for the layers he gives Travis.

Taxi Driver at

There is the charming innocent who tries to politely communicate with women, the amiable cab driver and ultimately, the disturbing vigilante who sees guns as a solution to his urban hell. De Niro brilliantly juggles all of these elements and really sells his gradual descent into violence. The now legendary ‘You talkin to me’ monologue is not only bravura acting, but mesmerising because it mixes his psychotic impulses with a human desire to communicate (tellingly he is talking to himself).

The Supporting Cast: Because De Niro is so outstanding, it is easy to forget how good the supporting cast is. Boyle is a classic ‘leader of the pack’ in the cab office; Shepherd is charming as the object of Travis’ affections; Brooks is deliciously smarmy as her political campaign colleague; Leonard Harris is pitch-perfect as the political candidate; Foster is precocious in what must have been a hard role to play; and Keitel is brilliantly sleazy as her pimp.

Portrait of Urban Decay: The production design and use of locations is masterful and comes across strongly on this restored version. The dirt and grime of New York feels incredibly real and is important in establishing the urban squalor that helps drive Travis to desperate acts. There are careful shots of pimps, street criminals and crowds that subtly set the mood. But overall, you come out thinking there was something deeply rotten about the Big Apple in the 1970s and Travis Bickle – in an iconic yellow cab – is a perfect metaphor for the city in this period.

Scorsese’s Cameo(s): The director has a famous cameo in the back of a cab, as rather irate husband in a suit. But he can also be seen very briefly earlier on with a t-shirt and jeans sitting down as Betsy walks in the street.

Are they meant to be two different characters? Or was Scorsese just short of extras that day? But whenever I see a Scorsese cameo I can’t help but think of Hitchcock – a director deeply important to him – who also made several on-screen cameos.

The Clint Eastwood Connection: Before the screening began I was comparing De Niro’s career to Eastwood to someone sitting next to me as they make for an interesting case study. In the 1970s De Niro was the respected leading man every serious actor aspired to be, whilst Eastwood was the commercial star of the Dirty Harry series and mainstream fodder like The Gauntlet (1977) and Every Which Way But Loose (1978). But today Eastwood is the hugely respected director of films like Mystic River (2003) and Letters From Iwo Jima (2006), whilst De Niro is the comedy dad-for-hire in commercial gunk like Little Fockers (2010) or horror crap such as Godsend (2004).

Coincidentally, as Taxi Driver progressed I noticed the presence of Eastwood in more ways than one. For a start his 1975 film The Eiger Sanction is showing opposite the cinema where Travis takes Betsy to see a Swedish sex film. Then there is Scorsese’s speech about the 44 Magnum and what it can do to the female anatomy. Could this possibly be a riff on Dirty Harry’s famous speech about the handgun? Or is it all just a coincidence? (Just a thought. Can you even imagine a contemporary director like Christopher Nolan or David Fincher doing this kind of cameo?)

The Political Dimension: The political campaign that hovers in the background of the film is shrewdly judged. Palantine’s slogan (‘We are the people’) typifies the calculated insincerity of politics so brilliantly that I’m surprised real campaigns haven’t used it more often.

The scene where the senator gets in the back of the cab is wonderfully played. Leonard Harris, who plays Senator Palantine, was actually better known as a TV cultural commentator but his natural gravitas and diction make him perfectly suited for the role.

His dialogue with Travis is funny but also splendidly awkward, showing the gulf between politicians and the people they represent, even though the illusion is that they have something in common. Isn’t this modern politics in a nutshell? It also foreshadows a key later sequence.

Bickle as Assassin: You could read Bickle as a thinly veiled version of loner assassins like Arthur Bremer or Lee Harvey Oswald in his frustration with life and desire to make a name for himself. But at the same time screenwriter Paul Schrader has admitted that his own personal troubles inspired the character and even Oliver Stone (a pupil of Scorsese’s at NYU film school) has said he could have been an influence on Bickle. Like Travis, Stone was a Vietnam vet who, during the mid-70s, wore a green combat jacket whilst driving a cab in New York. Bickle is thus a complex protagonist: a dangerous outsider who we can sympathise with up to a point. Certainly the original trailer sold the film on the danger of the central character:

But he is more layered than the traditional movie monster. In fact he is a disturbing character precisely because we get to know him. He ironically ends up a ‘hero’ in the press and it could be this quality which gave the film an unfortunate real life legacy when real life loner John Hinckley Jnr became obsessed with it and Jodie Foster, before trying to shoot President Regan in 1981. In his mind, did Hinckley think that he would end up like Travis does? This suggests a creepy relevance to Taxi Driver, which is perhaps a testament to how well it taps in to a certain mindset.

The Easy Andy Scene: The scene where Travis purchases guns from an illegal dealer, “Easy Andy” (Steven Prince) is a memorable one. The windows of the apartment room provide a great backdrop with their views of the Hudson, contrasting with the more claustrophobic scenes in the film. Guns here are a form of release for Bickle. Notice how he pointedly refuses any illegal drugs but buys as many weapons as possible. It seems hand guns are his real drug of choice. Incidentally, Scorsese later made a short film about Prince called American Boy. (Note the prescient mention of Crystal Meth at the end of the scene, a drug which spread in the US over the next thirty years).

Compassion Amidst The Murder: It is worth noting that Bickle throughout shows an unusual level of compassion towards others. Betsy is initially attracted to him because his honest compliments and sincerity contrast nicely to her smarmy co-worker, whilst his attempts to help Iris get out of child prostitution are similarly laudable. This prepares us for the end where the press and Iris’ parents see him as a hero, although not the one they think he is. It also shows us that even bad people can do good things – again, this is unusual in a mainstream Hollywood film.

The Racism of the 1970s: Maybe in retrospect, we like to think that racism is a ghost of the past exorcised by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. But Taxi Driver doesn’t shy away from the racial tensions of a large city. Notice the looks Travis gives to black characters (especially black pimps) and he freely uses racist terms. Scorsese’s cameo as the ‘sick’ passenger in Travis’ taxi features a use of the n-word that younger audiences might find objectionable. When Travis first shoots the robber in the convenience store, the owner carries on beating the man with a savagery that suggests a racial dimension. The pimp played by Harvey Keitel was black in the first draft of the script, but that was later changed as they wanted to avoid the stereotype and accusations that the film itself had racist overtones. So, the film is still a powerful and uncomfortable reminder of how racism lingers just under the surface of ‘regular’ society.

The Colour of the Climax: The violence of the climactic shootout freaked out the MPAA and they threatened to give the film an X rating if changes weren’t made (which would have meant commercial death for the film). As part of the changes Scorsese toned down the colour of the climax in order to get an R-rating, so that the blood looks less red. For this restored version Grover Crisp explained in a lengthy interview with The Digital Bits why they didn’t colour correct this sequence:

Q: Much has been made of the decision to alter the color of the shooting scene at the end of the film to get an R rating in 1976. Why didn’t you restore it to the originally-shot, more colorful scene?
A: There are a couple of answers to this. One, which we discussed, was the goal of presenting the film as it was released, which is the version everyone basically knows. This comes up every now and then, but the director feels it best to leave the film as it is. That decision is fine with me. However, there is an impression from some who think we could easily “pump” the color back into that scene and that is not as easy as it sounds. The film was not just printed darker, or with muted colors, as some think. There are two sections of the original negative that were removed from the cut and assembled camera negative. One is the long shot where the cab pulls up, Bickle walks over to Sport, they argue, he shoots him, then he walks back and sits on a stoop. That is all one shot that was removed. The second section removed begins with the shot of the interior of the apartment building where he shoots the hood in the hand and all the shots following this down to the final one of the overhead crowd shot outside – that entire sequence was removed as assembled. These two sections of original camera negative were then sent to TVC, a small lab in New York, where it went through a Chemtone process, a chemical treatment that somewhat opens shadows allowing for greater density and lower contrast, for the most part. The exact process was a bit clouded by TVC as a proprietary service, but it usually involved original processing and, at this point, the negative was already finished. Whatever the actual processes, what I can say is that they delivered back duplicate negatives of these two sections, with the long sequence, in effect, now an optical dupe and with the desired color and density built into it. So, literally, when printing this film at a lab then (or now), there was no way to grade it and print it the way it was shot. Those muted colors are built into the dupe negative and it doesn’t work to try to print it otherwise. We also searched many times over the years for the original negative that was removed, but to no avail. Likely, it was junked at TVC at the time.

Q: What about for the Blu-ray – couldn’t you just re-do the color with today’s technology?
A: No, the same situation exists in that environment. You can’t really successfully pump a color into a film that isn’t there. There were attempts, to some degree, to put more red into that scene on older transfers of the film (the most recent almost ten years ago, and without talent involvement) and you can see those results in DVDs that were released. There is more red than should be there, but the red is everywhere, in the walls, clothing, skin, hair, etc., and that is what happens when you try to force a color into an image that really isn’t present. This Blu-ray release is actually closer to what it looked like in 1976 than any previous home video release, and not just for the color. The well-know “you talkin’ to me” scene, for example, was seriously cropped on older editions. All those shots are actually from the camera looking at his reflection in the mirror, not straight on of him while he talks, and they cropped out the side of the mirror and zoomed in to the point where he had slightly more headroom, but you could barely see the gun he’s holding. We don’t agree with that kind of framing manipulation, so we framed it properly for 1.85 SMPTE standards for projection and now you will see the image as you would in a theater, which is the way it should be.

You can read the full interview with Crisp here.

The Final Shot: The ambiguous final shot of the film, which involves Travis looking suddenly in his rear view mirror has always been intriguing. It suggests that he has seen something (although it isn’t clear what) and that he is disturbed. Or is it all just a fantasy? On the audio commentary for the Laserdisc Scorsese revealed that the last scene implies that he might slip back into rage in the future, and is like “a ticking time bomb.” Schrader has also said that Travis “is not cured by the movie’s end” and that “he’s not going to be a hero next time.” Again the ambiguity is startling and fascinating and provides a great talking point in any post-screening discussion.

Some classic films can lose something when you revisit them but Taxi Driver stands up remarkably well.

Part of its  power lies in how well it taps in to urban alienation, the haunting power of Schrader’s script, the brilliance of Scorsese’s direction and the unforgettable central performance from De Niro.

Scorsese’s explores the dark heart of America like few other filmmakers.

It is no coincidence that his best films – Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas – have central characters who represent a side of the American psyche that Hollywood wasn’t always comfortable with.

Taxi Driver is re-released at UK cinemas from Friday 13 May in London, Edinburgh, Dublin and other cities

> Taxi Driver at the IMDb, Wikipedia and AllMovie
> Scorsese and Schrader discuss the restored version in a Q&A last month
> Scorsese interview about Taxi Driver
> The Digital Bits interview with Grover Crisp about the 4K restoration of Taxi Driver

DVD & Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-ray: Raging Bull

Raging Bull (20th Century Fox Home Ent.): Martin Scorsese’s classic 1980 biopic of Jake La Motta is a brilliant study of a flawed man in a ruthless profession.

In the lead role Robert De Niro gives one of the greatest screen performances in cinema history and Scorsese pulls out all the stops with stunning contributions by cinematographer Michael Chapman and editor Thelma Schoonmaker.

A word of warning though, as this is essentially the same Blu-ray that came out in February 2009, featuring the same HD transfer and lossless audio track, but with four new featurettes on the bonus materials.

If you don’t own the film, it is an essential purchase – but if you do, I’m not sure if the added extras are enough to justify buying it again.

The extras for this 30th Anniversary Edition are as follows:

New Material

  • Marty and Bobby (1080p, 13:35): A series of interviews with Scorsese and DeNiro, who discuss their working relationship and how they came to make Raging Bull.
  • Raging Bull – Reflections on a Classic (1080p, 12:15): Four filmmakers—Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry), Richard Kelly (Donny Darko), Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), and Neil LeBute (In the Company of Men)—discuss the impact that Raging Bull has had on their careers.
  • Remembering Jake (1080p, 11:04): Every month, members of the Veteran Boxers Association of New York gather together to eat, drink, and reminisce. Here, we get to drop in on one of their meetings to hear them discuss Jake LaMotta.
  • Marty on Film (10:30): The highlight of the disc’s new features, here we get to hear Marty talk about his first experiences with cinema and his early career.

Previously Released Features

  • Audio Commentaries: The disc includes, count ’em, three audio commentary tracks, and all of them are worth your time. The first features Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker, the second, a cast and crew commentary, includes Irwin Winkler, Robbie Robertson, Robert Chartoff, Theresa Saidana, John Turturro, Frank Warner, Michael Chapman, and Cis Corman, and the third—the “storytellers” track—is hosted by Mardik Martin, Paul Schrader, Jason Lustig, and Jake LaMotta himself.
  • Cathy Moriarty on The Tonight Show – March 27, 1981 (SD, 6:42): Watch Cathy Moriarty on Johnny Carson, promoting Raging Bull, her first real acting gig.
  • Raging Bull – Fight Night (SD, 1:22:32): A truly exhaustive, must-watch making-of documentary, broken conveniently into four parts, although you’ll probably just want to “play all.”
  • The Bronx Bull (SD, 27:54): A reflection on the film, featuring LaMotta, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and several film critics.
  • DeNiro vs. LeMotta (SD, 3:47): Some side-by-side comparison shots and clips of DeNiro and LeMotta, showcasing Scorsese’s attention to authentic detail.
  • LaMotta Defends Title (SD, 1:00): A short vintage MovieTone newsreel.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2:09)

> Buy Raging Bull on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about Raging Bull at Wikipedia


Leonardo DiCaprio discusses The Departed

I spoke to Leonardo DiCaprio about The Departed.

We discussed the film and his ongoing collaboration with Martin Scorcese, which included:

  • How this was different from his other films with Scorsese
  • The relationship with the Asian film that originally inspired it.
  • The single best thing about working with Scorsese.

Have a listen to the interview here:

> The Departed at the IMDb
> Official site