I warned the audience that it wouldn’t be a short program, invoking the words of Casper Gutman (played by Sydney Greenstreet) in The Maltese Falcon: “I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.” We both made a conscious effort to edit ourselves as the program went on, but the sold-out crowd never seemed impatient as Scorsese rattled off anecdotes, observations, imitations, and jokes.
Our conversation was, of necessity, propelled by the lineup of film clips, so we didn’t get to talk about such notable films as The Last Temptation of Christ and The King of Comedy or underrated ones like Bringing Out the Dead. Perhaps someday I’ll get to do part two of our q&a.
This is why he chose so many of his documentaries for the tribute: these films are highly personal and close to his heart. It’s where he finds refuge from the enormous responsibility of making big, expensive, complicated feature films—dealing with schedules, egos, and budgets. During the four-year period he was working on the Dylan documentary someone asked when it would be released. He replied, “There is no release date. We’re still trying to find the story.” (The producers of his Hollywood movies aren’t happy that he often edits his documentaries at the same time the features are shooting, but having those alternative projects are a release, not a burden, for him.)
When he talks about his early years there is a special light in his eyes, whether it’s recalling how he felt after seeing John Cassavetes’ Shadows or taking pride in the fact that when they shot the “You talkin’ to me?” scene in Taxi Driver, under pressure to finish up the picture, he left in the natural street sounds and even an airplane flying overhead, because they were real. When I told him how astonished I was when I first learned that Mean Streets—the quintessential New York movie—was filmed mostly in Los Angeles, he explained how that came about, and how he blended a week’s worth of New York shots with the balance of the film’s West Coast production. (Robert De Niro fires a gun on a rooftop in Manhattan and breaks a window in Hollywood, etc.)
I asked him if it was true that when he screened John Ford’s The Searchers for his class at NYU, he showed up in cowboy garb. It is true, but he explained that it was 1969-70, and he was a latecomer to cowboy boots and jeans (“I didn’t own a pair until I was 18. I’m Italian; we wear slacks.”). He also confessed that he was the only guy who wore cufflinks when he went to shoot Woodstock—and lost one there.
So many questions, so little time. By now most fans know that his daughter Francesca, who’s about to turn 12, was one of the key motivators for him making Hugo, the first of his movies she could actually see, and doing it in 3-D. He credits having a child later in life with putting him back in touch with his ability to play, and use his imagination, as kids do so naturally. Now that she’s older, he enjoys screening vintage films for her and her friends (from Cyrano de Bergerac to It Happened One Night), although he admits that most of the time he’s not watching the films so much as watching the girls. Spoken like a true parent…who just happens to be one of the world’s greatest filmmakers and movie lovers.
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