Uproarious applause and cheers filled the Exam Hall on Front Square yesterday evening, Friday February 24, as Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese received his Gold Medal of Patronage from President Matthew Nuding of the Philosophical society. The enthusiastic reception from the crowd for Mr. Scorsese was a worthy one – in his long-spanning career Scorsese has been nominated for and won numerous Academy Awards, Golden Globes and more, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest living film-makers. With some members of the crowd having queued for more than five hours to see him, the atmosphere in the room was one of restrained excitement, reverence, and anticipation for what was sure to be an unforgettable discussion.
Scorsese began by talking about storytelling in film, and how he is often more concerned with character than the plot itself. Referring to his own work, he cited Taxi Driver as an example of a film where the character dictates and drives the story forward. He moved on to discuss his experience making The Departed, revealing that in the course of making the film he lost track of the plot and became “obsessed with the characters”. The film, he said, “took on its own life in the editing room”, although it had to be completely redone after the first edit due to his character-based focus.
Scorsese provided valuable insight into the behind-the-scenes issues of production – constantly at odds with financial backers, and the studio who wanted him to “keep DiCaprio alive so that we could have a franchise”. Scorsese laughed, and stated that there’s “no way” he’d be interested in sequels. “The film is a process – the characters, the story, I’m in it – – and when it’s done, when I’ve invested so much emotionally and psychologically, I don’t wanna see it anymore”. He took on a slight melancholy tone when he said that he only likes watching his movies back over to see his parents in them (they appear in many of his films).
An interesting question was posed by Nuding in relation to parallels between Taxi Driver and the political affairs of today’s world. Scorsese deftly skirted around mentioning Trump or taking any particularly opinionated stance, referring to his own long memory of various Presidents like Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Kennedy, all with good and bad elements. Moving closer to the present day, he stated that “once the attack on September 11 occurred, I knew this was gonna be a never ending situation”. Citing the Iraq War, he said “Taxi Driver still has a terrible resonance”, adding that the “attempted democratisation” ultimately had the effect of creating “thousands and thousands of Travis Bickles”.
Moving on from politics, when asked on his tactics in dealing with actors, there was a heartwarming comedic moment as Scorsese grinned and said “well, Jonah Hill and Andrew Garfield are very different”. He discussed his relationship with long-time collaborating actor Robert DeNiro in depth, describing him as “a delicate instrument” and explaining that it is through building up a strong trust between the pair that they are enabled to experiment with ideas and come out with their best work. Interestingly, it was DeNiro who initially told Scorsese about DiCaprio, in a phone-call where DeNiro said “I’m working with this twelve year-old kid and you gotta work with him”. Fast forward to 2013 and Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” garnered DiCaprio a nomination for best actor at the Academy Awards. Excitingly, Scorsese will be working with DeNiro and DiCaprio respectively in two upcoming films, “The Irishman” and “The Devil in the White City”.
On technology, Scorsese stated that with virtual reality headsets, filmmaking has “no limits”. What does that mean for narrative and film-making? “That’s up to you,” he smiled to the crowd. He says that the advancement in media technology has had an adverse effect on stardom and celebrity culture – more than ever, the media acts “as a monster”, throwing people out and disgracing them in a matter of moments, only for them to be brought back in. He mused on how in his day in film school, he and his classmates wanted to be like Godard and the greats, “but it’s a great struggle”. As he left escorted by a flurry of security staff with dozens of cameras clicking, it’s clear to see the struggle he’s referring to. However, the thunderous applause and beaming faces of the audience certainly help in balancing it out.