K is for Keitel: While the number of times he’s worked with Scorsese haven’t reached the likes of Robert DeNiro, and his performances never achieved the same impact on popular culture or the awards circuit as Joe Pesci or Leonardo DiCaprio, Harvey Keitel has been an instrumental figure in Martin Scorsese’s career. Both men allowed for each other to get their start in Hollywood. Since 1967, Keitel has been featured in a total of five Scorsese films. Scorsese’s debut film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door? was also Keitel’s debut as an actor. While his career has typically typecast him as morally depraved figures, and unflinching criminals, Keitel (with the exception of Sport, the pimp in Taxi Driver) was afforded opportunities for emotional complexity in Scorsese’s films, as characters who were untraditionally sympathetic. His roles as J.R. in Who’s That
Knocking at My Door, Charlie in Mean Streets, and Judas in The Last Temptation of Christ all explored the struggle of maintaining faith, and Catholic guilt (a favorite of Scorsese’s). Keitel’s performances have consistently elicited a blue-collared honesty, the desire to make the best of limited resources, and while they’re not flashy, they have always helped to ground those select Scorsese’s films in realism.
L is for Leonardo DiCaprio: Beginning with Gangs of New York and continuing through The Wolf of Wall Street, DiCaprio has worked with Scorsese five times. Despite the age gap between the two, they’ve formed a close bond which has benefitted both their careers. Scorsese has described DiCaprio as his muse and the reason he can still get films made as an older director in the current Hollywood system. It can be argued that Scorsese is primarily responsible for helping DiCaprio emerge from his Titanic-driven status of teen-idol into the serious dramatic actor he is today. Three of DiCaprio’s five Oscar nominations (one as producer for The Wolf of Wall Street) and his two Golden Globe wins are for his work with Scorsese. Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, and The Wolf of Wall Street, allowed for DiCaprio to create a range of characters who all struggled with the fallout of their psychosis and obsessions. Scorsese’s work with DiCaprio allowed both to create some of the most compelling character moments in modern cinema. It seems likely it’s only a matter of time before they work together again.
M is for Music: From The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Cream, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan, Scorsese’s use of music has not only created some of the most memorable moments in his filmography but has also made him one of the most exciting documentarians of the music world. His most frequently used song is The Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter” which appeared in each film of his unofficial “gangster trilogy” (Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed). Scorsese’s use of music is not only used to punctuate the psychological dilemmas of his characters but also to celebrate the musical icons that reached the height of their popularity around the same time he emerged as a filmmaker. He has made five music documentaries about said icons (The Last Waltz, The Blues, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, Shine A Light, George Harrison: Living in the Material World). Scorsese’s focus on music will continue with a documentary on The Grateful Dead he’s producing, and a new show he’s developing for HBO with Boardwalk Empire creator, Terence Winter, and Mick Jagger, which will focus on the Rock ‘N Roll industry during 1970s New York.
N is for New York: Gangs of New York, The Age of Innocence, and Taxi Driver, offer wildly different views of New York, but Martin Scorsese’s love of the city is evident in every shot. Scorsese was born in Queens, New York and later his family moved to Little Italy in Manhattan. He received his film education at New York University and made his first films there. The city is ingrained within him and it should come as no surprise that New York forms the DNA of many of Scorsese’s films. His films have not only explored the many avenues and corners of New York but offered us a look at the city’s history. He’s taken us to mean streets, post-Vietnam areas of urban decay, boxing rings, broadcast stations, and Wall Street. Scorsese’s films have depicted both the beauty and despair of a city that offers as much as it takes. Along with Sidney Lumet and Woody Allen, Scorsese perfectly captured the essence of the city during American New Wave filmmaking, defining it for a generation. His look at gangsters, performers, and comedians all operated with the understanding that these figures made the city and the city made them in return. His films that take place in New York exude a certain level of comfort, which stands out more so when looked at in context with his films that take place in other locations. Scorsese’s New York is a place rich with heritage, music, romance, and seediness.
O is for Outside the Box: Outside-the-box films are those that really don’t fit in with the rest, but as we’ve already seen, that’s pretty hard to confidently say with Scorsese. There is one film, though, that really does fit into this black sheep category: Hugo (2011). Scorsese wanted to make a film that his own child could see, and this is in many ways a kid’s film, based on a kid’s book, even. But it’s also a magical experience for adults; as unexpected as we may find this film to be, that’s part of what’s so magical about it. Plus, it’s a celebration of film history, and in that sense, it’s not all that outside of Scorsese’s usual concerns after all, since he grew up as an asthmatic child, watching films instead of playing outside, allowing himself to be enchanted by the cinema.