Martin Scorsese: the work of a master

Peterson Hill

I remember the exact moment when I went from being an avid moviegoer to an outright cinephile. It was just after my 15th birthday, and my siblings had given me Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies.”

Until that point, I don’t recall ever reading a serious critic or considering film much more than escapist art that I adored with abandon. I flipped through the book with quick fingers and landed on one review in particular.

The screenshot of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” stopped me dead in my tracks. I read the review twice and then I asked to be taken to go rent the movie. That night, I was reborn a cinephile.

To this day, I will never be able to recapture the feeling of watching that movie for the first time. If I could go back in time and watch it with those open eyes and eager spirits, I would in a heartbeat. It’s like a music fanatic listening to “The White Album” for the first time — it is a feeling that only people who can feel art as something transcendent, and the religious will ever be able to know.

Within the first week, I had seen “Taxi Driver” seven times, three of those times in the first day. Since that day, Martin Scorsese has been my favorite director, and I have seen most of his films upwards of 10 times. He seems to speak a language I understand with a clarity and vision only communicated in art.

Scorsese has made more masterpieces than most directors make good films. All filmmakers after 1980 are students of Scorsese. Most modern audiences will marvel at Scrosese’s works like “The Departed,” “Gangs of New York” and “Goodfellas,” all of which are fantastic films. But to understand the true scope of Scorsese’s work one has to go back to the film that began it all — his second film, “Mean Streets.”

Only three years later, he would come like a hurricane back to the scene with “Taxi Driver,” which would become one of his crowning achievements. This film would also start the Scorsese tactic of telling a story through showing men searching for their identities. All of his best work is about these types of men searching for meaning in a world that can’t exist without sin — the worst part is that they, like all of us, feel the inevitable urge to sin again and again.

Scorsese would team up with Robert De Niro again four years later with the film that is touted as the best film of the 1980s, “Raging Bull.” This is probably my favorite film by the master.

I have personal ties to “Taxi Driver,” but “Bull” is his greatest achievement. It is a movie about a man wounded by his own insecurity so deeply he must act violently against others to try and compensate for his own failings. But what happens when the boxing ring that gave him that chance disappears? This is the central question that Scorsese captures in gorgeous black and white.

All of these questions fill his great works that show the stamp of the man. Of course, these questions will all be prevalent in his most recent work “Shutter Island,” about a U.S. Marshall who is trying to find a way to exist with what he saw during the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. Yes, the plot is about the marshall trying to find an escaped killer, but the story of Marshall Teddy Daniels serves as the crux of the story.

This film also pairs Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese together for the fourth time, as well as being the first feature film since Scorsese won his first Oscar. So, this is new ground for the legendary director in a way. What will life after winning the most prestigious award a director can win do for the man?

Probably nothing. I assume he will go on taking his craft as seriously as he always has. He will go on loving film with the spirit of a pilgrim at the beginning of their travels merely ready for what comes next. He will go on forging new bonds to the craft just trying to contribute his verse and add to the art that he cherishes with every bone in his body.

Peterson Hill is a senior in New College. His column runs on Wednesdays.