Could you double-check the envelope please?

The 82nd Annual Academy awards are around the corner and we will witness yet another page in cinema history take a glamorous turn. Take the best of world cinema over the year gone by, have a gallery of movie veterans judge them and give the world something to cherish for another year. This is the Oscars story that has lived on for decades and has stood as the single most awaited awards ceremony in the calendar. The desire to claim the golden statuette drives a lot of artists in the film fraternity and while some are blessed with it after one tremendous performance, many have come a long way to win the coveted prize and the name that first comes to mind when one thinks of the latter is the director Martin Scorsese.

"Could you double-check the envelope please?", this was the rhetoric that Scorsese gave the world as he picked his first Oscar for The Departed in 2006. Having been nominated 5 times before, the 67 year old director from NYC is a classic example of making cinema for cinema's sake and nothing more. One look at the director's record of movies and its global reception and we are swiftly reminded of audiences and critics who have showered more praise and honor on him than the belated Oscar. So I guess the question I am asking myself is, if I look back at Scorsese's career and his cinematic achievements, should Oscar glory really mean much to him or any other artist of the film fraternity?

Now a 23 year old, my fascination with Marty's movies began with his 1976 classic Taxi Driver. Straight after the success of Mean streets, Taxi Driver established Scorsese as a prolific film maker who brought European influences to Hollywood and renewed the film noir. Contemporary cinema during the 70's saw the likes of Brian De Palma, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese who enjoyed a sense of freedom in film making. That freedom was translated into great story telling for Scorsese. Teaming up with Paul Schrader as the movie's writer and Robert De Niro (who would become Scorsese's life long friend and screen muse), Taxi Driver was beaten at the Oscars in that year by the insufferable underdog classic Rocky. An interesting observation that was made on the difference in film making of the then directors from the West coast like Spielberg and Lucas and in Scorsese's East coast movies was the assertiveness and confidence that Scorsese possessed in giving his audiences what he felt like giving while Lucas and Spielberg were more careful yet experimental in trying to understand what the audience wanted and then giving it to them. This difference sometimes stands out for me as to why the Oscars ignored his earlier classics.

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster". The opening lines from Goodfellas, another masterpiece from Scorsese came after a long bout of failed films and bad box office performances. His thematic take on the Italian American mafia worked wonders with the audience. We began to take note of his style and the trademarks! His use of music, ranging from Dylan to Stones to lacerating instrumentals; his first person narration; slow moving shots; raw depiction of women et al were all admired and hailed by the film viewer. Goodfellas did rake in good money at the box office or in other terms, it was a mainstream commercial success but was beaten at the Oscars by Dances with Wolves. One could have probably imagined his sudden and unforeseen success at the box office as a slip in judgment to award it the best picture. His Age of Innocence was a sudden departure from his inimitable style for portraying existential social issues based in a particular period of recent history to a more dark and dreary indulgence in the Age of innocence.

In many ways, Scorsese was the rebel that his earlier movies portrayed. As a director who did not necessarily choose his audience or walk an already toed line, his movies could well have been a touch too bold for an Oscar jury. After all, the age old debated question of 'Oscar winners' Vs 'Good cinema' has thrown his name quite often to represent good cinema. After a couple of rockumentaries, the turn of the millennium saw Marty inducting Leonardo Di Caprio for his movies and that resulted in the Gangs of New York in 2002 followed by Aviator in 2004, The Departed in '06 and quite recently Shutter Island '10. The opening sequence of Gangs of New York is an epic and I cannot help but share the video here for the readers to appreciate his panache.

Gangs of New York lost to Chicago and Roman Polanski toppled him with the Pianist in 2002. 2004 was another year that Clint Eastwood got the best of the Oscars with his grunge style Million Dollar Baby. The moment of reckoning finally came in 2006 with The Departed that was a remake of Infernal Affairs that fetched him an Oscar. The Departed was a commercial success and had its own share of Marty's trademarks. It was quite momentous to watch his contemporaries George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg presenting him the Oscar that evening which was foreseen by many as Marty's award in vanity and the Oscar jury's final redemption.

I sometimes wish he didn't accept the award and continued to make movies that break the norms and push the envelope of story telling but a statuette to acknowledge his achievements never harmed anybody. Here's to a genius that has given the world a piece of himself - Martin Scorsese!

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Rebecca said...

Fascinating portrait of Scorsese, this is at best very educational for me. Can’t comment too much coz Iv hardly watched any of these movies :( but its definitely a well written piece on him. Love these directors who make movies independent of worries about the moolah they would rake in, always produces something very avant garde and intellectual for the audience and off course a sheer pleasure to watch!!