Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The King of Film

      "My Life's a movie, call me Martin Scorsese." These are lyrics from a mainstream hip hop song, "Shut it Down," by Pitbull and Akon.  It is not this aspect of the song that sparks my interest, but the implication behind it.  
      It strikes me as significant that a popularized and mainstream song would include a reference to Scorsese. The primary reason behind this importance is two-fold.  Given the inherent 'geek-esque' quality of the film industry—in terms of amassing a working knowledge of cinema—it is uncharacteristic for mainstream America to incorporate or accept these references. But everyone appreciates and knows what Martin Scorsese does for a living.  This fact is irrefutable.  It is as much a result of Scorsese's genius as a filmmaker, as it is his popularity as a contributor to the film medium. 
      If you include a song with a reference to Alexander Payne, Edgar Wright, or Darren Aronofsky, chances are only those who follow film closely will be aware.  But Scorsese, like Spielberg, has been able to branch out his popularity into mainstream America.  And this is no small achievement given his level of adulation within the 'geekdom' of the film community. He has outstanding cross appeal.  Seldom are film directors praised by the average filmgoer.  Often times, film geeks champion film entities or person's that mainstream America is unaware of.  With Martin Scorsese, this disconnect is not applicable.
      The other aspect to this seemingly incidental reference, from a rather lackluster song, is the idea that Scorsese has become synonymous with movies.  This concept is equivalent with any other celebrated, well-known public figure.  For instance, everyone knows who Bill Clinton is, and everyone knows Bill Clinton was President.  The level of awareness for Scorsese and film as duel acknowledgments is not as stark or widespread as Clinton, but there is certainly a high level of recognition that cannot be understated.   
      At this point in his career, Scorsese is, in my most thoughtful of opinions, the preeminent authority on all things film.  His positive exposure to mainstream America is indicative of a culture that embraces its homegrown titans of industry.  American's have always required the presence of a behemoth-like personality to revere.   
      Building lasting legacy's is an integral part of the fabric of American culture.  Whether nostalgia befits adoring fans of Babe Ruth or Frank Sinatra, there has always been a momentum factor supporting America's brightest 'stars' well beyond their passing.  Although, Scorsese does not purport a bigger-than-life public image nor does he want one, his level of success indicates one does exist.    
      His acceptance of his first, long overdue Oscar for Best Director during the 2006 Academy Awards is evidence of his respect quotient.  "Could you double-check the envelope?," was the famous utterance by Scorsese as he accepted his Oscar.  But his humble sarcasm is just another reason as to why he is deserving of universal acclaim. 
      The mainstream appeal levied upon Marty is also significant because it marks a meaningful bridging of generations. Carving his niche in the 1970's, Scorsese has endured a 40-year career that includes a prolific amount of critically acclaimed films, in addition to successful box office results.  The tides of film criticism have changed.  The proliferation of film criticism has lead to inconsistencies of standards within the film community.  But Scorsese's imprint on the film medium has remained constant.      
      Whether one points to Taxi Driver, as a classic model of cinematic greatness, Raging Bull as an example of filming nirvana, or more recently, the critical and commercial hit The Departed; at any juncture of Scorsese's career, anyone can watch his film's and appreciate them as singular works of art.  His film's can be understood on a standalone level, absent any conditional back-story.  In particular, an individual not privy to Scorsese's style of filmmaking can sit in on a showing of Goodfellas, and instantly appreciate the depth of character development and raw violence that envelops the story.  
      Similar to the level of Kubrick, Scorsese's skill in filmmaking is tied to his perfectionist approach, demanding every ounce of heart and performance from his team. Consequently, Marty wields every conceivable tool to ensure a sound production.  He does so with an unmatched ease. 
      I never thought my unbridled respect for Scorsese could ever reach new heights.  This realization was intact until a few months back when I watched The King of Comedy for the first time.  Wow, this movie totally knocked my socks off!  I can honestly evaluate the greatness of this film on numerous levels, but such an evaluation would require another blog.  Therefore, I will only explore a few major points as this post is getting lengthy.  
      First off, watching this movie without an awareness of the time in which it was created makes me think that the movie conceivably, could have been produced a few years ago, replete with subjection to the Rottentomatoes style of criticism.  How's 1980 sound!?  Scorsese's prescient exploration of the depths of celebrity is stunning both on a visual and narrative level.  The character of Rupert Pupkin is so enthralling that if I've never seen Robert De Niro before, I would honestly think that he is Rupert Pupkin.  De Niro's performance is exemplary.  Aside from helping produce an immense performance from his star, Scorsese also delves deep into cultural concerns. 
      Scorsese smartly investigates contemporary aspects of celebrity culture at a time, in the 1980's, when such reality TV, 15-minute celebrity style hysteria was foreign to the American consciousness.  This fact to me is startling.  Witnessing Marty's predictive power and his intricately woven tale of a multilayered protagonist is equivalent to witnessing Da Vinci's painting of the Sistine Chapel.  Of course, I cannot attest to either of these scenario's but on a historical level of identifying greatness, this scenario seems feasible.
      From a purely visual guise, Scorsese himself paints an elaborate yet simplistically deranged world of competing sentiments—both honesty and contradiction.  The best reason I can give you on this point is evidenced towards the latter of the film.  Spoiler Alert.  As the audience is witnessing the full Rupert Pupkin stand up act on the Jerry Langford Show, he is also imploring a prior acquaintance at a rundown bar to watch his performance from the bar television.  The ambiance of the Langford Show is defined by a certain glitz and glamor combined with the spruced up style of Rupert's wardrobe.  This 'Hollywood' element is contrasted with the downtrodden and barren bar that Rupert is watching his performance from.  The dichotomy of this visual arrangement is terrific.  The dark comedic tones of the film are fully realized by this sequence  
      The final montage of the film cements this dark undertone by illustrating the obsessive and celebrity crazed nature of American culture through the lens of Rupert Pupkin, as he becomes a bona fide star after his release from prison.  The fact that Rupert was sentenced to a prison term because he kidnapped Jerry Langford is brushed off as incidental given his well-received comedic bursting onto the scene. 
      These are among the reasons as to why I so greatly appreciate Scorsese's contributions to film and eagerly await his next production.  The fact that we are both cut from an Italian-American cloth, proud alum's of New York University, and thoroughly engrossed in the magic of film are merely coincidental.
      My continuing appreciation for the career of Martin Scorsese is central to my love for cinema.  The reasons I have enumerated for Marty's genius closely align with my reasons for evaluating film.  The process and level of thought that leads to my determination of a film as good or bad is thoroughly layered.  My appraisal of a film involves a scathing magnifying glass that encompasses broad criteria.  
      In one of my upcoming blogs, I will precisely outline the elements of my criticism in a way that effectively communicates a fool-proof standard. But I want to preface that although my criteria of what constitutes good film is tangibly constant, my perspective and standards are subject to change.    

* Here is a link to an old school style trailer of The King of Comedy.  If you're skeptical about viewing the film, peep this youtube video.

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