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AT LINCOLN CENTER, MARTY'S ALL THE RAGE

When I did the first of my three New York Times interviews with Martin Scorsese, he was savoring his initial taste of mainstream success. The year was 1973 and the critics and public were applauding the 31-year-old director’s extraordinary “Mean Streets.” I knew that Marty was here to stay, but I didn’t know that 35 years later The Film Society of Lincoln Center would be honoring him with a series of "Eleven Scorsese Classics.” The tribute, of course, is much deserved.

Details, courtesy of Lincoln Center, are given below. Click here for additional program information.


Click here for my 1973 interview with Scorsese, and click here for the interview I conducted with Scorsese stalwart Robert De Niro the same year--Guy Flatley


A VERY MARTY HOLIDAY AT THE FILM SOCIETY

Eleven “Scorsese Classics,” Dec. 26-31

The Film Society of Lincoln Center rings in the New Year with a New York institution, Martin Scorsese. From Dec. 26-31 at the Walter Reade Theater, the film series Scorsese Classics will bring 11 prominent titles by the Academy Award-winning director back to the big screen. Classic highlights include “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “Mean Streets,” and the expansive 2005 Bob Dylan documentary “No Direction Home.”

The series opens on Friday, Dec. 26, with “Who’s That Knocking at My Door,” the 1967 New York romance that introduced the 25-year-old director’s adventurous and distinctly American cinematic voice. Six years later, “Mean Streets,” Scorsese’s close-up look at small-time thugs in Little Italy, screened at the 11th New York Film Festival to widespread acclaim and established a career “at the forefront of world cinema, offering essential visions of American life while constantly challenging the styles and conventions of cinematic storytelling,” says Richard Peña, program director at the Film Society.

Honored masterworks in the series include Scorsese’s Palme d’Or-winning window on post-Watergate alienation and anxiety, “Taxi Driver;” the bruising Jake La Motta biopic “Raging Bull,” for which Robert De Niro earned his second Academy Award; and “Goodfellas,” a breathtaking chronicle of Henry Hill’s ascent in the mafia, which garnered a best supporting actor Oscar for Joe Pesci. They screen alongside several Scorsese titles that are ripe for re-examination: the jazz-age musical “New York, New York,” celebrity satire “The King of Comedy,” and an epic inside look at Las Vegas, “Casino.” Finally, three celebrated documentaries—“No Direction Home,” “American Boy: A Profile of Stephen Prince” and the personal family portrait “Italianamerican”—offer skillful counterpoints to Scorsese’s fictional works.


WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR
1967

Scorsese’s first feature film began its existence as a short titled Bring on the Dancing Girls, which was later expanded into a short feature, I Call First. Searching for a distributor, Scorsese found one who’d release it if a sex scene was added. And so, Who’s That Knocking at My Door was born.

Despite this somewhat choppy production history, the film shows the young (only 25-year-old) filmmaker attempting to combine the innovations of European art cinema with the rich American storytelling tradition. J.R. (Harvey Keitel), a product of New York’s Little Italy, spends most of his time hanging out with his overgrown buddies while suspecting there just might be something else out there. His suspicion pays off when he meets an attractive young woman (Zina Bethune) on the Staten Island Ferry. She introduces him to a whole new world, until a secret forces J.R. to ask himself what he’s really looking for.
Full of ideas and some wonderful set pieces—the first encounter between J.R. and the girl on the ferry, done in a single take, is terrific—Who’s That Knocking on My Door serves as an excellent introduction to Scorsese’s later work

MEAN STREETS
1973


“Writer-director Martin Scorsese knows the Mulberry Street underworld like the back of his fist, and cuts into its heart with all the unflinching sympathy of a surgeon operating on his best friend…[Mean Streets] signals both the return of a native son and the arrival of a major film-making talent”— 11th New York Film Festival

Charlie (Harvey Keitel) struggles to find a middle ground between his aspirations to be a gangster and his efforts to lead a morally upright life with his epileptic girlfriend Teresa (Amy Robinson). But when he intervenes in a dispute between his irrepressible friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) and loan shark Michael (Richard Romanus), he loses any control he had over the course his life was taking.

For his third film, Scorsese returned to the autobiographical themes of Who’s That Knocking at My Door to create a gritty portrait of small-time thugs in Little Italy that established so much of what was to come in his filmmaking: gangsters and the mafia, outsiders as antiheroes, allusive technique, popular music as a narrative device, and the partnership with De Niro, who would become as much a symbol of Scorsese’s work as the director himself.

ITALIANAMERICAN
1974

Scorsese’s documentaries have often served as thematic counterpoints to his better-known fictional works. Made directly after Mean Streets, Italianamerican is a personal journey through the immigrant experience, focusing on the lives and stories of Scorsese’s parents, Catherine and Charles. Shot entirely in their Elizabeth Street apartment, the film shows where the artist got his storytelling talent, as the senior Scorseses weave a moving tale about the long and occasionally awkward process of becoming Americans. The film ends with Catherine Scorsese’s recipe for meatballs (which we see her make during the film), something you won’t want to miss.

TAXI DRIVER
1976


The product of a calamitous period in the life of writer Paul Schrader, the rumored inspiration for John Hinckley’s assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan, a milestone of post-Vietnam American filmmaking, and one of cinema’s most divisive films.

Taxi Driver stars Robert De Niro as New York cabbie Travis Bickle, whose feelings of alienation are amplified by his late-night confrontations with passengers throughout a bleak, decaying city landscape (made more potent by a New York garbage strike taking place during the shoot). Bickle eventually finds a brutal release in his parallel obsessions with a presidential candidate and the long-haired pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) promoting teenage prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster).

“I never thought Taxi Driver would make a dime,” said Scorsese about the film that cemented his reputation as a master filmmaker; it was a surprise box-office hit, won the Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, and earned four Oscar nominations. Nevertheless, it has consistently split critical opinion, alternately assailed for its supposed indifference to extreme violence and celebrated as an essential document of ’70s American culture.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
1977

In the euphoria of the celebrations marking America’s victory over Japan, saxophonist Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) prowls Manhattan, hoping to land an audition in one of the clubs springing up all over town. He also wouldn’t mind meeting someone with whom he could celebrate privately. Enter Francine (Liza Minelli), an aspiring singer who is taken with Jimmy, but quickly moves on.

Their number is far from finished, and New York, New York chronicles their re-acquaintance, love affair, parallel careers, marriage and eventual marriage problems against a swinging background set in the waning days of the big-band era.

Working with ace cinematographer László Kovács, Scorsese creates a brilliant sense of movie musical artifice (the film is loaded with references to some of his favorites) that’s juxtaposed to his gritty exposition of the lives of Jimmy and Francine. A critical and box office disappointment when first released, New York, New York looks better than ever.


AMERICAN BOY: A PROFILE OF STEPHEN PRINCE
1978

American Boy introduces us to the unsettling world of Stephen Prince, sometimes actor (he plays the gun salesman in Taxi Driver), sometimes roadie (for Neil Diamond), sometimes drug addict. Another extraordinary storyteller, Prince outlines the contours of his life, outrageous and even humorous at first but gradually dark and frightening. Scorsese had made (and would continue to make) films about men who look over the edge of the abyss. With Prince, he examines someone who’s been over that edge lived to talk about it.

RAGING BULL
1980

“You didn’t get me down, Ray.”

Four years removed from Taxi Driver’s definitive account of ‘70s culture, Scorsese delivered a ferocious and uncompromising biopic that is often credited as the best American film of the ’80s.

Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) is a middleweight contender whose stellar performances in the ring all too often find their way into his home life with brother Joey (Joe Pesci, in only his second film) and second wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty, in her first). The result is his lonely later-in-life existence as a barely remembered celebrity lounge act.

Martin and Paul Schrader, Raging Bull develops La Motta’s relentlessness as the hallmark of one of cinema’s most unforgettable if unlikable protagonists and the defining reason for his athletic success; as La Motta says during the vicious beating he takes at the hands of Sugar Ray Robinson, “You didn’t get me down.”

It remains a commanding showcase of De Niro’s skill and sacrifice (he gained more than 50 pounds to play the aged La Motta), as well as Michael Chapman’s black-and-white cinematography and Thelma Schoonmaker’s breathtaking editing.

THE KING OF COMEDY
1982

Scorsese and De Niro return to Taxi Driver territory with this portrait of a loner whose maddening obsessions force him into a desperate criminal act. Wannabe comic Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) is determined to start at the top, with a guest spot on the show run by legendary, Carson-esque host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). But Pupkin mistakes Langford’s initial brush-off for the sincere promise of an audition, leading to a series of threatening office visits, unfortunate close encounters, and a bizarre kidnapping scheme hatched with the help of an even more deranged Langford fan, Masha (Sandra Bernhard).

Scorsese’s caustic satire on the cost of television celebrity and fame joined New York, New York and Raging Bull as box office disappointments. Yet the versatile performances of its two lead actors earned a cult following, and the moody story has become even more chilling and relevant in a culture inundated with upstart celebrities.

GOODFELLAS
1990

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster.”—Henry Hill, Brooklyn, 1955

Based on the nonfiction book Wiseguy—in which the real Henry Hill (now in a witness protection program) recounted his life story to writer Nicholas Pileggi—Scorsese’s masterwork details Hill’s remarkable, shocking, intoxicating climb into the ranks of the American Mafia of the ’60s and ’70s.

Since he was a boy, Hill (Ray Liotta) was fascinated by men he saw in his neighborhood who didn’t work but always had plenty of money, new cars, and never worried about parking tickets. The mob takes promising recruit in, beginning Hill’s induction into the through-the-looking-glass world of organized crime, a parallel society with its own conventions, customs and rules that he masters with dazzling speed. Teaming up with Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy de Vito (Joe Pesci, Oscar-winner for best supporting actor), Hill ascends the ranks, until events start spinning out of control. No other filmmaker could have captured the feeling of this world—its banality, its horror, but also its excitement—as effectively as Martin Scorsese.

CASINO
1995

Scorsese’s turn on the cinematic epic brings Sin City back into its heyday to follow handicapper Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro) and his friend and bodyguard Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) on the fast lane to the head of the line as mob-appointed operators of the Tangiers. When Ace falls into a tempestuous affair with local hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone) and Nicky mixes his working-day violence with drugs, they discover that the good times can’t last forever.

Scorsese re-teamed with Goodfellas writer Nicholas Pileggi to adapt this gripping, inside account of the rise and decline of mob rule in ’70s Las Vegas from Pileggi’s book. Stone earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as the updated femme fatale, while the film is populated with several real-life Vegas mainstays, including Don Rickles, Dick Smothers, and, as themselves, Frankie Avalon, Jerry Vale and Steve Allen.


NO DIRECTION HOME
2005

Working with archival material, interviews conducted by Bob Dylan’s manager, footage from D.A. Pennebaker, and selections from work by filmmakers including Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas and Ken Jacobs, Scorsese traces the folk singer’s life up through his 1966 motorcycle accident.

The movie is a flood of personalities—from Dave Van Ronk and Allen Ginsberg to Joan Baez and Maria Muldaur, who remembers asking Dylan to dance at the party right after his disastrous electric gig at Newport and getting an unforgettable response: “I’d love to dance with you, Maria, but my hands are on fire”—as well as places, anecdotes, and, of course, the music, as Scorsese explores the powerful drive that took Bob Zimmerman out of Hibbing, Minn., dropped him into the heart the New York folk scene and onto the world stage.

And then there is the dark, introspective, wise and wizened face of Dylan himself, speaking directly of and to his life. A great film, and a great big-screen experience.