Born Nov. 17, 1942 in Flushing, NY, Scorsese grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in Little Italy. Both his parents, Catherine and Charles, worked in New York's famous Garment District, which afforded them a life lived in tenements, surrounded by winos and vagrants, some of whom left an indelible impression upon Scorsese for the rest his life. He grew up a sickly child, suffering from asthma that kept him indoors while the other neighborhood kids played stickball or ran through the gushing water of an opened fire hydrant. To make their son feel better, his parents took him to the movies, unwittingly fostering what would become a lifelong obsession. When he was eight, he began sketching elaborate shot-by-shot retellings of movies he had seen in the theater. By the time he reached 12, the sketches became originals; often titled "Directed and Produced by Martin Scorsese." An outsider to most because of his asthma, Scorsese nonetheless took part in the coming-of-age rituals for kids growing up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood; namely helping set up kids for a beating, since he could not partake in the fisticuffs himself. Also present throughout his youth was the Catholic Church, which led him to initially aspire to be a priest. He attended seminary during his adolescence, but discovering girls brought to light other possibilities on how to go about life.
After leaving seminary, Scorsese attended Cardinal Hayes High School in The Bronx, before attending New York University, where he earned his bachelor's in English. As an undergrad, he directed his first short film, "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?" (1963), a nine-minute short about an obsessive compulsive writer (Zeph Michaels) who becomes so fixated on a photograph of a man in a boat that he can concentrate on nothing else. Early traces of his experimental style - obviously heavily influenced by Federico Fellini - were evident throughout, including rapid-fire editing and first-person narration. After directing a second short, "It's Not Just You, Murray!" (1964), Scorsese graduated with his bachelor's, quickly moving into NYU's master's program for filmmaking in 1966. He made another short, "The Big Shave" (1967), which depicted a man shaving his hair and the skin on his head, creating a bloody mess in the bathroom, evidence of Scorsese's unflinching use of violence to underscore a deeper truth; in this case, self-mutilation as a metaphor for the increasingly destructive Vietnam War. With three short films under his belt, Scorsese was ready to take the next bigger step.
While pursuing his master's, Scorsese made his directorial debut with "Who's That Knocking at My Door" (1967), starring a baby-faced Harvey Keitel as working-class Italian-American from Little Italy who starts dating an educated, uptown girl (Zina Bethune), only to learn she is not a virgin, which clashes with his Catholic upbringing. First developed as a short, then filmed on and off for four years, "Who's That Knocking" displayed many of the elements that would eventually become Scorsese trademarks - fluid camera movements, a pulsating soundtrack and a visceral portrayal of violence. Despite its showing at the 1967 Chicago Film Festival, the film waited another two years for a theatrical release. Meanwhile, Scorsese began teaching at NYU, where he helped fellow student, Michael Wadleigh, as an assistant director and editing supervisor on "Woodstock" (1969), which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary. In 1971, Scorsese moved to Los Angeles, where he took a work-for-hire gig with Roger Corman, directing the Depression-era crime thriller, "Boxcar Bertha" (1972), all in order to gain more professional experience. Upon seeing a rough cut of the film, friend John Cassavetes chided the young director for "making a piece of sh*t" and pushed him to do something personal.
Scorsese took Cassavetes' words to heart, going to work on what would become his breakthrough film, "Mean Streets" (1973), a gritty, semi-autobiographical tale that marked the first of many landmark collaborations with actor Robert De Niro. Scorsese returned to the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Little Italy, where he explored the struggles of a young hood (Keitel) who tries to save the neck of his hotheaded best friend (De Niro) from the wrath of a local loan shark, while at the same time, struggling to reconcile his Catholic guilt triggered by his reckless lifestyle. Though shot in Los Angeles, "Mean Streets" brilliantly conveyed the teeming violence and despair of Manhattan's Lower East Side, as well as turning De Niro and Keitel into overnight stars. Meanwhile, Scorsese put on full, dynamic display many of the conventions he only hinted at in his previous work, especially the kinetic pool hall fight scene set to the tune of The Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" that became the first of many of Scorsese's landmark cinematic moments. After a showing at the New York Film Festival, "Mean Streets" was released to wide critical acclaim, earning a spot on The New York Times' list for "Ten Best Films" in 1973.
He followed up with what ultimately became his only female-centric film, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (1974), a bittersweet tale about a Southwest housewife (Ellen Burstyn) who goes on the road to fulfill her dream of being a lounge singer after her husband's sudden death, only to flee her new, abusive boyfriend (Keitel) and take a job as a waitress at a diner ran by a loudmouth cook (Vic Tayback). His first bone fide studio movie, "Alice" wound up becoming a critical and box office success that netted Burstyn an Oscar for Best Actress and spawned a long-running CBS sitcom. Scorsese was on much more familiar ground with the testosterone-laden "Taxi Driver" (1976). An iconographic street opera penned by Paul Schrader, the film marked Scorsese's second collaboration with De Niro, who delivered a tour-de-force performance as Travis Bickle, a lone nut New York City cab driver whose revulsion towards the scumbags on the streets leads him to try to save a teenage prostitute (Jodie Foster) from her pimp (Keitel), unleashing holy hell along the way. While the film garnered a share of controversy for its bloody finale - a sustained, hallucinatory, brilliantly-staged set piece - "Taxi Driver" went on to earn four Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture, and eventually went down in cinema history as one of the more iconic films of Hollywood's second Golden Age.
Firmly established as one of the top directors of his generation - which included friends Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas - Scorsese was hailed for being a great practitioner of experimental films, despite working within the studio system. Since he was also a renowned film historian, it was only natural for him to want to make an old-school Hollywood movie. With his next film, "New York, New York" (1977), Scorsese tried to create a nostalgic look at the movie musical, but shifted gears during filming to shape the story around the deteriorating relationship between a jazz saxophonist (De Niro) and a big band singer (Liza Minnelli, in a performance loosely based on her own mother, Judy Garland). The result was an uneven film that audiences - especially those fond of musicals - found woefully depressing. Realizing he was no Busby Berkeley, Scorsese returned to documentary filmmaking with "The Last Waltz" (1978), a film hailed as one of the finest rock concert movies of all time. Filmed in 1976, the documentary showcased The Band's farewell performance at San Francisco's Winterland Arena, bringing audiences both behind the scenes and upfront for a close look at an exceptional concert highlighted by guest performances by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell and many others.
At the time of filming "The Last Waltz," Scorsese was living with Band drummer and lead singer Robbie Robertson. Though he never liked talking much about it after the fact, Scorsese was doing heavy amounts of drugs, which led to complete exhaustion and a stay in the hospital in the late 1970s. Meanwhile, other commitments and re-editing of "The Last Waltz" - which included removing via rotoscoping a large chunk of cocaine from Neil Young's nose during his performance of "Helpless" - kept the film from being released for two years. Meanwhile, friend De Niro was concerned enough with Scorsese's own cocaine use that he convinced the director to kick the habit. Thankfully for De Niro and moviegoers around the world, the director kicked drugs, got back on track, and went on to direct what many considered his masterpiece, Raging Bull (). A searing and unyielding look in black-and-white at former middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta, who after becoming the 1948 champ, loses everything due to his self-destructive, violent nature, "Raging Bull" was later regarded as one of the top movies ever made of any decade. Scorsese was passed over at the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture, despite De Niro winning a much deserved Oscar for Best Actor. It would not be the last time Scorsese would go home empty-handed.
For his next film, Scorsese examined the effects of fame in the underrated The King of Comedy (1983), which cast De Niro as Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe stand-up comic living in his mother's basement who becomes so desperate for a break, he hatches a plan to kidnap a famous late night talk show host (Jerry Lewis) in order to get a spot on his show. "The King of Comedy" proved to be Scorsese's third financial flop in a row; something that would have shaken the mettle of most other directors, but not Scorsese. He next attempted to make his dream project, "The Last Temptation of Christ," but Paramount withdrew funding at the last minute due to a ballooning budget and outrage from Evangelicals. In reaction, Scorsese made After Hours (1985), a cheaply made dark comedy set in Manhattan about a slightly nerdy yuppie (Griffin Dunne) who goes on a bizarre one-night adventure with a Soho woman (Rosanna Arquette) he meets at a café. He moved on to Chicago for The Color of Money (1986), a sequel to "The Hustler" (1961), with Paul Newman reprising his role of pool shark 'Fast' Eddie Felsen and Tom Cruise as his protégé. Perhaps the one film lacking Scorsese's distinct style, "The Color of Money" nonetheless earned wide critical praise and an Oscar for Newman.
Returning to his childhood dream of making a movie about Jesus, Scorsese finally made The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel. Much to the dismay of religious groups once again up in arms, the film depicted a very human spiritual leader (Willem Dafoe) who was a social outcast, wavering between good and evil while battling the desires of the flesh and ultimately choosing a path to redemption. It was the culmination of Scorsese's filmic theses. Though superbly shot, using exotic locations and a galvanizing world music score, the film somehow lacked the emotional power and cohesion of Scorsese's earlier, smaller-scale productions. Clearly an intensely personal project for Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader, the film generated controversy, with religious forces accusing Scorsese of blasphemy, and causing some theater and video chains to refuse to carry the film. Scorsese next joined forces with two other famous New York filmmakers, Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola, for New York Stories (1989), which showcased three separate films that reflected various aspects of life in the Big Apple. "Life Lessons," a drama about an indulgent artist who can not bear to tell his lover (Rosanna Arquette) how he really feels about her art, was often considered the best of the three.
Though Scorsese made several films throughout the 1980s that were widely praised, nothing he did at that time reached the heights of "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull." That all changed with Goodfellas (1990), his long-awaited and welcome reunion with Robert De Niro. In what many felt was the director's best work, Scorsese adapted Nicholas Pileggi's novel, Wiseguys, about small-time gangster-turned-Federal witness Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). As a young, half-Irish kid, Hill is taken under the wing of Jimmy Conway (De Niro), a mid-level mobster who shows him the gangster life. Along with a hot-tempered Sicilian (Joe Pesci) quick to pull the trigger, the three embark on a decades-long spree of robbing and killing that eventually leads to a breakdown of their once strictly-held moral code to each other and their bosses. The film captures both the undeniable excitement, as well as the tawdry details of life on the fringes of the Mafia, pushing audience manipulation to the extreme by juxtaposing moments of graphic violence with dark humor. The film also boasted superb camerawork, including several extended tracking shots, a vibrating soundtrack and sterling performances. While some critics ranked "GoodFellas" among Scorsese's finest achievements, others were put off by the film's violent excesses.
After hitting his stride again with "GoodFellas," Scorsese knocked himself back a notch with his next film Cape Fear (1991), a slick, pretentious and excessive remake of the 1962 original that starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. The performances in Scorsese's version were notably strong - particularly from Nick Nolte and Juliette Lewis, while the camerawork and editing were impressive. On the other hand, De Niro's over-the-top performance as Max Cady, a deranged ex-convict who seeks revenge on the attorney (Nolte) who improperly defended him, was the height of bombast, while the film's climactic scenes were more suitable to low-budget horror films. Nonetheless, "Cape Fear" turned out to be a significant box office hit; one of the few commercial successes in his career. His next film, The Age of Innocence (1993), a Victorian romance based on Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, seemed an unlikely direction for Scorsese to take. A subtle drama of manners set among the high society of 19th century New York, Scorsese used a careening camera, sumptuous color and decor to tell the story of an aristocratic lawyer (Daniel Day-Lewis) struggling with his passion for the beautiful cousin (Michelle Pfeiffer) of his fiancé (Winona Ryder). For inspiration, Scorsese turned to such masters as James Whale, William Wyler, Max Ophuls and Luchino Visconti, helping "The Age of Innocence" earn respectful reviews and healthy box office totals.
Scorsese was back in typical fashion with Casino (1995), his eighth collaboration with De Niro. Set in the 1970s and 1980s and focused on the mafia, "Casino" was a vibrant, albeit uneven look at a corrupt Las Vegas casino owner (De Niro) who lives and breathes the odds for gambling, but has trouble figuring out his hustler wife (Sharon Stone) and trusting his best friend (Joe Pesci). Featuring swirling camera movements, a pumping soundtrack and confiding voiceover from De Niro, "Casino" was a flawed allegory of America's loss of innocence - ground most reviewers felt was covered to better effect in "GoodFellas." With Kundun (1997), Scorsese once again defied categorization, turning his attention to another unlikely subject, the Dalai Lama. The story of a child spiritual leader of a non-violent movement of Tibetan monks, "Kundun" showed the audience a rarely seen world. Filled with gorgeous saffrons and deep maroons, the film was a visual and aural feast, with the Philip Glass score among its strongest components. The sequences covering the Dalai Lama's early life and training were compelling, but Scorsese and screenwriter Melissa Mathison seemed lost with how to end their film. Following on the heels of the Brad Pitt vehicle "Seven Years in Tibet" (1997), "Kundun" struggled at the box office despite critical kudos.
Scorsese next directed Nicolas Cage as a fast-living EMT in the morbid, psychotropic drama Bringing Out the Dead (1999), which yielded little by way of critical acclaim or box office success, ultimately ending up one of Scorsese's weakest films. Returning to documentaries, he made "My Voyages to Italy" (2001), a look at the history of the Italian cinema that deeply influenced his style and career. Meanwhile, Scorsese spent a few years working on the epic Gangs of New York (2002), a sweeping look at the New York immigrant riots of the late 19th century. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz, "Gangs" went through a series of setbacks, budget problems and delays that resulted from haggling between Scorsese and Miramax head Harvey Weinstein over various details. Upon its release, "Gangs" was hailed as a mighty achievement, lavishly staged and photographed and featuring a powerhouse performance from Day-Lewis as the delightfully savage Bill the Butcher. While some marveled at the world Scorsese created, others were dissatisfied with the overall story, which lacked the urgency and captivation of his previous top-shelf fare. Nevertheless, Scorsese took home a Golden Globe, but earned his fourth Academy Award nod without a win for Best Director.
Defying the hype surrounding the difficulties of bringing "Gangs" to the screen, Scorsese reunited with DiCaprio for The Aviator (2004), a lavish biopic of the legendary billionaire Howard Hughes, which DiCaprio first developed with screenwriter John Logan and director Michael Mann. Feeling a certain kinship with the obsessive-compulsive Hughes and impressed with the way the script zeroed in on a specific era of Hughes' life, covering his early days as a Hollywood studio head to his bitter battle with the U.S. government over his airline, Scorsese delivered his grandest, most enthralling film since "Casino." Thanks to an increasingly fruitful collaboration with an impressive DiCaprio, Scorsese presented a sumptuous era which captured much of the exotic glamour of old Hollywood, while underscoring Hughes' rapidly deteriorating and desperate inner world. Powered by the legendary promotional muscle of Miramax Films, "The Aviator" won the Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture. It also led the pack with 11 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, Scorsese's fifth nod in the directing category. Once again, however, the director failed to bring home either the DGA honor or the long-awaited Oscar.
In 2006, Scorsese made a triumphant return to form with his next film, "The Departed," a slick crime thriller loosely based on the excellent Hong Kong actioner, "Infernal Affairs" (2002). The film focused on Billy Costigan, a young undercover cop (DiCaprio) assigned to infiltrate a mob syndicate run by deviant gangland chief Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson in his first-ever collaboration with Scorsese). As Costigan gains Costello's confidence, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a member of the boss' gang, has managed to infiltrate the Boston police department. Each man becomes consumed by his double life, gathering information for their employers, while it becomes clear to both that they are in danger of being exposed to the enemy. Scorsese's return to the organized crime thriller was hailed by fans and critics alike; he had studiously avoided the genre since "Casino" in order to explore other avenues. This time, however, he chose to eschew his Italian heritage to explore the Irish-run mob in Boston, a slight departure that was a fresh take on an old convention.
Meanwhile, "The Departed" earned huge helpings of critical kudos prior to its early October 2006 release, positioning the film for a strong opening weekend. The film did have a substantial box office take - over $120 million all told - while earning the director another win at the Golden Globe Awards for Best Director, setting the stage for an Oscar nomination for Best Director at the 79th Annual Academy Awards. To the delight of everyone in attendance and those watching at home, Scorsese finally won the coveted Oscar for Best Director, an honor made that much sweeter when he received a standing ovation and was handed the award by his longtime friends and peers, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Meanwhile, in 2007, he formed the World Cinema Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving neglected films for posterity and restoring others that had been damaged by the ravages of time and poor storage. Aside from his place in the pantheon of filmmakers, Scorsese was a deeply knowledgeable and astute film historian, having long been a champion of film preservation and an ardent foe of colorizing classic black-and-white movies.
After a rare television crossover to direct "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" (PBS, 2005-06), his Emmy-winning look at Dylan's influential early years spanning 1961-66, Scorsese gathered 18 cameras and shot the footage for what eventually became Shine a Light (2008). Echoing his extraordinary achievement with "The Last Waltz," Scorsese spent two nights filming the Rolling Stones at the legendary Beacon Theater in New York in the fall of 2006. The result was an impressive and intimate look at an aging band that had somehow managed to retain their youth. Back in feature films, Scorsese joined forces a fourth time with DiCaprio for Shutter Island (2010), a period mystery set in the 1950s about two U.S. Marshals sent to a federal institution for the criminally insane in order to capture a violent escapee. At the time, Scorsese received the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 67th Annual Golden Globes, presented to him by both De Niro and DiCaprio. Also that year, he served as executive producer of "Boardwalk Empire" (HBO, 2010- ), a lush period drama following Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), an organized crime figure ruling over Prohibition-era Atlantic City. He directed the pilot episode, which earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series in 2011. At the end of the year, Scorsese released his next feature, Hugo (2011), an inventive children's adventure about a 12-year-old boy (Asa Butterfield) whose anonymous life inside a busy Paris train station is put into jeopardy after meeting an eccentric young girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). The film was hailed by critics and instantly garnered awards-season buzz, with Scorsese eventually winning a Golden Globe for Best Director. Weeks later, "Hugo" led the Oscar pack with a whopping 11 nominations, including nods for Best Picture and Best Director for Scorsese.
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