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The Nine Best Quotes from Martin Scorsese's Essay on the Language of Cinema

Thompson on Hollywood By Maggie Lange | Thompson on Hollywood July 28, 2013 at 2:46PM

Martin Scorsese pens an inspiring, spiritual, and comprehensive essay for The New York Review of Books called "The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema." The whole thing is worth a read, but we have selected some key highlights from the original piece.
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Georges Melies
Georges Melies


  • Over the years, the Lumieres and Melies have been consistently portrayed as opposites--the idea is that one filmed reality and the other created special effects. Of course this kind of distinction is made all the time--it's a way of simplifying history. But in essence they were both heading in the same direction, just taking different roads--they were taking reality and interpreting it, reshaping it, and trying to find meaning in it.


  • You're seeing it all in your mind's eye, you're inferring it. And this is the fourth aspect of cinema that's so special. That inference. The image in the mind's eye… For me it's where the obsession began. It's what keeps me going, it never fails to excite me. Because you take one shot, you put it together with another shot, and you experience a third image in your mind's eye that doesn't really exist in those two other images... And that has been called, appropriately, I believe, film language.


  • We're face to face with images all the time in a way that we never have been before. And that's why I believe we need to stress visual literacy in our schools. Young people need to understand that not all images are there to be consumed like fast food and then forgotten--we need to educate them to understand the difference between moving images that engage their humanity and their intelligence, and moving images that are just selling them something.


  • So not only do we have to preserve everything, but most importantly, we can't afford to let ourselves be guided by contemporary cultural standards--particularly now. There was a time when the average person wasn’t even aware of box office grosses. But since the 1980s, it's become a kind of sport—and really, a form of judgment. It culturally trivializes film.


  • We have to remember: we may think we know what's going to last and what isn't. We may feel absolutely sure of ourselves, but we really don't know, we can't know. We have to remember Vertigo, and the Civil War plates, and that Sumerian tablet. And we also have to remember that Moby-Dick sold very few copies when it was printed in 1851, that many of the copies that weren't sold were destroyed in a warehouse fire, that it was dismissed by many, and that Herman Melville's greatest novel, one of the greatest works in literature, was only reclaimed in the 1920s.


  • Someone born today will see the picture with completely different eyes and a whole other frame of reference, different values, uninhibited by the biases of the time when it was made. You see the world through your own time--which means that some values disappear, and some values come into closer focus. Same film, same images, but in the case of a great film the power--a timeless power that really can't be articulated--is there even when the context has completely changed.


The full essay is here, at the New York Review of Books

This article is related to: Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.