Martin Scorsese, director of tormented souls

  • A sublime exhibit in Ghent honors the “Taxi Driver” director.
  • Documents and film clips demonstrate the existential themes of a director obsessed by humanity’s demons.

As a young man, Martin Scorsese planned to become a priest. Some of his films, including Kundun, The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out the Dead, have a hint of that spiritual quest.


“Marty,” who is currently putting the finishing touches to his new film The Wolf of Wall Street, would be pleased with the idea that his life’s work is being honored in a religious cloister in Ghent. The exhibit is not far from the place where his short film The Big Shave was shown at the Knokke experimental film festival in 1967, supported by Jacques Ledoux and the Belgian Royal Film Institute.


Following on from Ingmar Bergman, Jacques Tati and Stanley Kubrick, the Ghent Festival is celebrating Scorsese with a rather passionate exhibit. The historic poster for Taxi Driver, created by the Belgian Guy Peellaert, is at the exhibit’s entrance.


At the age of 70, Martin Scorsese has been the master of American independent film for almost 40 years. Some of his films, including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas were instrumental in the birth of contemporary film, as much for their incendiary style as for their existentialist subjects and obsession with humanity’s demons.


The Ghent exhibit highlights the Scorsese hero in all his tragic complexity. He is truly an anti-hero, a lone wolf, marginal, thin-skinned, in conflict with society. He is a human beast, often brought to life on the big screen by Robert De Niro and more recently by Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator, Gangs of New York, The Departed, Shutter Island).


Boxer, gangster or messiah, the Scorsese hero is broken, his conscience crushed, and he is often filmed as a crucified Christ. He’s a person of suffering, suspicions and almost always violence. He is obsessed by loyalty and trust, but tripped up by betrayal. “Where I grew up,” says the child of Little Italy, “to betray someone was the worst thing you could do. The idea completely electrified me.”


A family director in the largest sense, including the Mafia family, Scorsese tells the story of the deadly battle between Cain and Abel in a dozen of his films. From Mean Streets to The Departed and including Gangs of New York and Casino, the obsession lingers and resonates as in one of Elia Kazan’s films, East of Eden, worshipped by Scorsese: between brothers, whether of blood or heart, there is as much rage and hate as love. In Scorsese’s films, there is always the issue of women or money between them, and always broken moral contracts that precede a fall.


The exhibit includes several documents, including photos, letters and models, primarily from Scorsese and De Niro’s private collections. Excerpts from his abundant filmography (31 films to date) are projected on twenty screens. However, in this exhibit, the clips are only subtitled in Dutch.


The city of New York occupies an important place in the Italian-American director’s work, often as a complete character. From the shady and cursed New York of Taxi Driver to the historic city in Gangs of New York, to the Little Italy of Mean Streets and that of The Wolf of Wall Street (to be released in early 2014), its range is beautiful and wide. Scorsese’s focus is always on the Big Apple’s demons, compared to Woody Allen’s romantic vision.


Other parts of the exhibit recall Marty’s passion for music, film history and classic film restoration. A director rooted in the primal scream, Scorsese surrounds himself in film with the music of Bernard Hermann, Howard Shore, Philip Glass, Peter Gabriel and the songs of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and George Harrison. He even directed Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video in 1987.


His passion for film often led him to include veiled tributes. New York New York pays homage to Vincente (and Liza) Minnelli, Hugo to the films of Méliès, The Departed to Hong Kong productions, King of Comedy to Jerry Lewis’ genius, Cape Fear to Robert Mitchum’s, and Raging Bull to Hitchcock’s ghost and Psycho.


Scorsese, a fan of Fellini, Godard and Kurosawa, has been an ambassador of film heritage his whole life, producing two documentaries on American and Italian film. In My Voyage to Italy, he celebrates Antonioni’s modernity at the beginning of the 1960s. Following the example of the director of The Adventure, in the 1970s Scorsese anticipated the obsessions of our era with rare insight. He is a great modernist in his own right. And of course, a classic.



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One Response to Martin Scorsese, director of tormented souls

  1. Paul says:

    … in this exhibit, the clips are only subtitled in Dutch… No need to make problems where there aren’t any: given that the original films are in (American) English, it won’t be a problem for the readers of this series of articles to perfectly understand the communication involved.

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