Filmmaking legend Martin Scorsese gets his due Saturday night from Berkshire International Film Festival
GREAT BARRINGTON — When audiences sit down at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Saturday evening, they will hear from a legendary filmmaker whose place in the movie pantheon is secure and a contemporary director with a possible Academy Award contender coming out in the fall. That, all rolled into one, is Martin Scorsese, this year's Berkshire International Film Festival honoree.
Beginning at 7 p.m., Scorsese, 76, will be interviewed by documentarian Kent Jones before an 8:30 p.m. screening of Scorsese's 2016 film "Silence," which tells the tale of two 17th century Portuguese missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who go to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson). The film fell through the cracks and the director is still pursuing an audience for it.
Earlier in the day at the Mahaiwe, the director's 1980 classic, "Raging Bull," will be screened. This film did find its audience, and it is still regarded as a masterpiece of directing, editing, acting and cinematography.
"Raging Bull," which chronicles the life of heavyweight boxer Jake LaMotta, is generally regarded as one of the best, if not the best, sports movies ever made. The movie, filmed in stark black and white, gives the fight scenes featuring Robert DeNiro's LaMotta a period feel, which is heightened by the jarring explosions of light representing the popping of old-fashioned flash bulbs. No boxing movie before or since has captured the sweat, pain and brutality of boxing more realistically.
But "Raging Bull" is so much more than a sports movie. Damaged, violence-prone men, angry, paranoid, desperate to be healed by women but incapable of sustaining a real relationship, are a Scorsese archetype. In "Raging Bull" that man is LaMotta, who sabotaged his own career. In "Taxi Driver" it is the fictional Travis Bickle, again played by DeNiro, Scorsese's go-to lead actor. His tormented men seek redemption, another common Scorsese theme and not a surprising one from an urban Italian Catholic who once considered the priesthood. (It shouldn't really have surprised anyone, although it did, that Scorsese made "The Last Temptation of Christ.")
Scorsese favors a realistic style of film-making while making imaginative use of various artifices. "Raging Bull" gets in your face figuratively. Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas" and Leonard DiCaprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street" get in your face literally, staring directly into the camera as they provide back story and comment directly on the film.
The director is a technical virtuoso, but never simply for show. The famous tracking shot in "Goodfellas" in which Liotta leads his date (Lorraine Bracco) through the backdoor of a nightclub, snakes through the kitchen, and emerges at a choice seat in front of the stage is a marvel but it also establishes Liotta's Henry Hill as a man of power and influence, impressing his skeptical future wife in the process. (Any mention of Scorsese's seamless films must include reference to his long-time, Oscar-winning editor, Thelma Schoonmaker.)
What comes through in all of Scorsese's film is his love of movies. All kinds of movies. While best known for his trademark urban and crime movies he has directed period dramas like "The Age of Innocence," and the love he has for rock-and-roll (which is a critical part of the soundtrack of many of his films) further manifests itself in films like "The Last Waltz," a masterpiece chronicling the final concert of The Band. The love of film extends to the film preservation work he began in 1980 and led to the creation a decade later of The Film Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving and screening films on aging film stock that would otherwise have faded out of existence.
Scorsese's newest film, "The Irishman," will emerge this fall in theaters and on Netflix. DeNiro once again stars, this time as a mob hitman looking back at a career that may have included a role in the 1975 disappearance of Teamsters head Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino.) Scorsese regulars Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci, the latter rarely seen on screen in recent years, are aboard in a film that, with its reputed dark humor, appears to be in the proud tradition of "Goodfellas," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "The Departed."
Scorsese was 30 years old when he made "Mean Streets," his first widely acclaimed movie, and he is still going strong, whether making films or preserving them. He is also highly acclaimed for talking about movies, both live and on screen, to which a Mahaiwe audience Saturday will surely attest.
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