Martin Scorsese is one of the most acclaimed and influential filmmakers of all time. Over the past five decades, Scorsese has created some of the most iconic films in cinema history including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street.
But what is it exactly that makes Scorsese such a revered figure in the world of movies? Here is an in-depth look at why audiences and critics alike love the work of Martin Scorsese.
His Unique Visual Style
One of the most identifiable aspects of a Martin Scorsese film is his distinct visual aesthetic. Scorsese has crafted a kinetic filming and editing technique that is often imitated but never duplicated.
His films are known for extensive use of tracking shots, slow motion, freeze frames, and abrupt cuts. This aggressive camerawork places viewers directly into the perspective of the characters and creates an immersive, energetic experience.
Scorsese also utilizes color to reflect psychological states or amplify emotions. The vivid red lighting in the strip club scenes of The King of Comedy or the hectic editing in Goodfellas when Henry Hill is cocaine-fueled paranoia are just two examples of how Scorsese’s visuals go beyond surface level photography. His images have layers of meaning that add emotional resonance to his stories.
Notable Visual Techniques
- Tracking shots that follow characters through chaotic settings
- Slow motion used during dramatic moments
- Freeze frames that capture emotional heights
- Abrupt cuts to generate tension
- Strategic use of color to convey mood and tone
Scorsese’s background in film analysis is evident in his calculated framing, camera movements, and editing. He composes scenes with care to guide the viewer’s attention and shape their reaction. This precision of vision is a large part of what makes his films so thrilling to watch.
His Exploration of Complex Characters
Martin Scorsese is known for his nuanced portrayals of complicated, troubled characters. Unlike the stock heroes and villains that populate many Hollywood movies, Scorsese’s protagonists are multidimensional figures wrestling with internal demons. They are deeply flawed, morally ambiguous people living in untenable situations.
Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, Henry Hill in Goodfellas – these characters exhibit qualities ranging from paranoia to narcissism to nihilism. Scorsese takes the viewer on an intimate journey into their fractured psyches. We come to understand their motivations and empathize with their pain, even as we recoil at their destructive actions.
By embracing characters with edges and shadows, Scorsese creates rich, psychologically textured stories. The complex protagonists in his films feel painfully real and human.
Examples of Complex Scorsese Characters
- Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver – a paranoid insomniac prone to violence
- Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy – a delusional, obsessive stand-up comedian
- Howard Hughes in The Aviator – a brilliant aviator struggling with OCD
- Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street – a greedy, hedonistic stockbroker
- Frank Costello in The Departed – a ruthless, calculating mob boss
Scorsese deals with the darker sides of human experience, from addiction to isolation to moral compromise. His flawed, complicated characters let him explore those themes in all their complexity.
His Command of Genre
While Martin Scorsese is best known for his gangster films, he has proven himself to be a virtuoso director across a range of genres.
He shot Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore in the style of a 1970s melodrama. The Age of Innocence applied his directorial skills to a period romance film. The Aviator delivered an epic biopic. Hugo captured the magic of childhood through the lens of an adventure fantasy.
Scorsese even won an Oscar for The Departed, a gritty crime thriller that few would have expected from the auteur. He manages to leave his unique imprint on any genre he tackles.
This genre hopping shows the breadth of Scorsese’s filmmaking abilities. While his themes and techniques are consistent, he adapts them to the story he wants to tell. He can work within mainstream genres or subvert them completely. This flexibility has kept Scorsese creatively fertile over decades.
Genres Scorsese Has Mastered
- Gangster films (Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed)
- Psychological thrillers (Taxi Driver, Cape Fear)
- Biopics (Raging Bull, The Aviator)
- Black comedies (The King of Comedy, After Hours)
- Period dramas (The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York)
No matter the genre, Scorsese infuses the film with his signature style. He has proven that great filmmaking transcends labels and categories.
His WILLINGNESS TO Push BoundarieS
Another aspect of Scorsese’s cinema that attracts audiences is his willingness to push boundaries. Throughout his career, Scorsese has been willing to explore provocative subject matter that many mainstream directors shy away from.
He has depicted shocking violence in films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas. He has incorporated nudity and sex scenes when they serve the story, as in The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese presents the darker underbellies of societies such as the Mafia, Wall Street, and the 19th century upper class.
While this edginess has gotten him in trouble with ratings boards and studios, it is part of what makes Scorsese’s work so affecting. There is a feeling of authenticity from his unflinching approach. He is committed to portraying reality with all its rough edges intact.
This artistic courage makes Scorsese a director who is always worth watching. Fans appreciate that he refuses to play it safe or fall back on convention. Pushing boundaries with sex, violence, and moral ambiguity shows Scorsese’s commitment to his artistic vision above all else.
Examples of Scorsese Pushing Boundaries:
- Violence in Goodfellas, Casino, Taxi Driver
- Sex/nudity in The Wolf of Wall Street, After Hours
- Dark subject matter in The King of Comedy, Cape Fear
- Morally ambiguous protagonists in The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street
- Racial slurs and profanity in Mean Streets, Casino
Scorsese portrays life unfiltered. His willingness to tackle controversy makes his films feel more honest and emotionally impactful.
His Ability to Balance Entertainment and Artistry
Martin Scorsese has managed to perfect a rare and difficult balance in filmmaking – creating movies that are both highly entertaining and highly artistic.
Scorsese’s films are entertaining in the most visceral sense of the word. The startling violence, dark humor, and brisk pacing of pictures like Goodfellas and The Departed make them an absolute thrill ride for audiences. You are locked in for the entire journey.
At the same time, Scorsese films function as high art. His painstaking directorial craft and thoughtful thematic explorations give his movies depth. He is a clear inheritor of the cinematic tradition from masters like Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa.
Very few directors have been able to so consistently marry the exhilarating and the profound. Scorsese’s rare ability to deliver both immediate entertainment value and timeless artistry is a key aspect of his genius. He makes films that captivate us in the moment and resonate across decades.
Examples of Entertaining Yet Artistic Scorsese Films
- Goodfellas – Gangster epic that is hugely rewatchable yet meditates on violence, paranoia, etc.
- The Departed – Gritty cops vs criminals thriller with inspired filmmaking
- The Wolf of Wall Street – Darkly comedic while dissecting greed and corruption
- Raging Bull – Brutal yet visually astonishing boxing drama
- Hugo – Enthralling kids adventure imbued with love of cinema
This fusion of entertainment and thoughtful art is why Scorsese is loved by both casual moviegoers and cinephiles. He offers a little something for everyone.
His Illustrious Collaborators
Martin Scorsese is also known for working with an impressive roster of elite collaborators both behind and in front of the camera. This has elevated his films and enabled him to consistently create cinema at the highest level.
Scorsese has worked with legendary cinematographers such as Michael Ballhaus and Robert Richardson who have brought their impeccable eye to realizing Scorsese’s vision. He has edited films with masters like Thelma Schoonmaker who has been indispensable to cementing Scorsese’s distinctive pacing and style.
And he has coaxed all-time great performances from actors like Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Joe Pesci under his direction. De Niro in particular formed one of the most fruitful director-actor partnerships in cinema history.
By attracting the very best in the business in all departments of filmmaking, Scorsese ensures that his movies meet his exacting standards. The combined talents of these creative collaborators under Scorsese’s meticulous direction are key to the finished products being more than the sum of their parts. The work somehow feels both distinctly Scorsese’s while bearing the marks of all who contributed.
Notable Scorsese Collaborators:
- Cinematographers: Michael Ballhaus, Robert Richardson
- Editors: Thelma Schoonmaker, David Tedeschi
- Actors: Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe Pesci, Daniel Day-Lewis
- Writers: Mardik Martin, Nicholas Pileggi, John Logan
- Producers: Irwin Winkler, Barbara De Fina, Emma Tillinger Koskoff
Surrounding himself with master film artists allows Scorsese’s visions to be fully realized from script to screen.
Martin Scorsese has given us some of the most indelible images and stories in cinema. His gritty yet aesthetic films tackle profound themes while providing robust entertainment value. Scorsese’s bold style, complex characters, genre hopping, boundary pushing artistry, and top-tier collaborators create a body of work that has touched audiences worldwide for over 50 years.
He is far more than a master of mob movies. Scorsese is a masterful filmmaker who will be remembered as one of the great American auteurs. His lifelong passion for cinema shines through in every frame. That is why audiences consistently flock to see the latest Martin Scorsese picture – it’s filmmaking at its finest crafted by one of the all-time greats.
Frequently Asked Questions About Martin Scorsese
What films is Martin Scorsese best known for?
Martin Scorsese is best known for gritty crime dramas including Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Departed, and The Irishman. He is considered a master of the gangster genre, providing a psychologically complex look into the criminal underworld.
What was Martin Scorsese’s first major film?
Martin Scorsese first garnered serious critical attention with Mean Streets in 1973, a realistic and unflinching look at small-time hoodlums in New York’s Little Italy. With dynamic camerawork and editing, Mean Streets established Scorsese as an emerging talent and set the template for his future crime films.
How did Martin Scorsese develop his signature filmmaking style?
Scorsese developed his kinetic filming and editing technique during his time at New York University in the 1960s. His student films experimented with jump cuts, freeze frames, and fluid camera movements. Scorsese took inspiration from French New Wave directors as well as Golden Age Hollywood film noir. Over time he refined this style into his unique cinematic language.
What major actors have frequently collaborated with Scorsese?
Scorsese has had long-running collaborations with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. De Niro starred in many of Scorsese’s early classics like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. DiCaprio has been featured in more recent Scorsese films like Gangs of New York, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Other actors who have appeared in multiple Scorsese films include Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
What awards has Martin Scorsese won?
Martin Scorsese has been nominated for 14 Academy Awards over his career, winning Best Director for The Departed. He also has three Oscars for films he produced. Other major honors include the Palme d’Or, Grammy Awards, three Golden Globes, four BAFTAs, and the AFI Life Achievement Award. Scorsese is one of the most critically acclaimed directors in film history.