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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Just when you thought Alice doesn't live here anymore

I liked The Departed more than Ben did, so I'm pleased that Martin Scorsese got an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. It's not my favorite of his movies, but I had a completely fun time suspending disbelief for it. I wouldn't have believed anyone who told me ten years ago that I'd be amazed by a Matt Damon performance, but I've been consistently impressed by his "hollow man" roles in The Departed, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and the Bourne series. Who knew to expect that from Will Hunting? I loved Scorsese's acceptance speech at the Golden Globes and thought of Mark Singer's amazing profile of the director in the New Yorker several years ago. The profile is reprinted in Singer's Character Studies: Encounters with the Curiously Obsessed. I'd be skeptical of this paragraph for the mannered rhetorical questions were they describing almost anyone other than Scorsese, but Singer does a great job of showing how much information is packed into just one Scorsese sentence. Singer lets the quotations run on for lines to show how Scorsese moves from one association to the next, and surely the associations probably wouldn't end if there weren't another question on the table. The profile, which was written in 2000, is about Scorsese's work on Bringing Out the Dead and his plans for Gangs of New York, neither of which I loved, but I do love hearing him talk about the movies. Here's Singer on the Scorsese interview experience:

Across many months, I had many conversations with Scorsese, encounters that tended to engender a mixture of awe and sympathy. Along the way, I would speculate about the agreeably garrulous fellow: What's the weather like inside his brain? Evidently, every movie he'd ever watched--and he'd probably seen more than any other living director, more than most movie critics--was stored there, along with five-plus decades of personal history, sensory memory, family mythology, music heard, books read, all of it seemingly instantly retrievable. Was it painful, I wondered, to remember so much? Scorsese's powers of recall weren't limited to summoning plot turns or notable scenes or acting performances; his gray matter bulged with camera angles, lighting strategies, scores, sound effects, ambient noises, editing rhythms, production credits, data about lenses and film stocks and exposure speeds and aspect ratios. Instinctively, he'd engraved facts and images and feelings that he'd been able to draw upon throughout his creative life. But what about all the sludge--wasn't that a burden, or was it just part of the price one paid to make great art?

The other profiles in the book are fantastic. When I looked through the collection, I wasn't surprised that I remembered reading most of the profiles when they were first published, even if I hadn't remembered the author. The Ricky Jay profile, in particular, has stuck with me since I read it years ago. I love the part about piercing the watermelon with playing cards. The necessary companion to Character Studies is Lawrence Wechsler's A Wanderer in the Perfect City. Wechsler's profile subjects aren't as famous as Scorsese, Jay, or Donald Trump, but they're just as (if not more) curiously obsessed and eager to talk about their enthusiasms.

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Blogger Ben on Tue Jan 23, 09:07:00 PM:
I finally saw The Last Waltz, and of course it's shot brilliantly, but I was surprised how bad it was. Mostly, that's because, as I found out, I just don't like The Band. But Scorsese's interview interludes were bland and pointless. It compared poorly to the documentary Festival Express, also featuring the band.

The Joni Mitchell and Neil Young songs were a big exception. A year ago, Alice wrote about watching their duet over and over.
Anonymous Anonymous on Fri Jan 26, 12:30:00 AM:
I love Scorsese and I loved The Departed. In my case, I was amazed that I could be blown away by a Di Caprio performance. Yes, as usual, I am a late comer to a world wide consensus. Have you ever wondered what *The Godfather* would have been like if Scorsese had directed it? I hadn't until just now.
(Please go see *Pan's Labyrinth.* Food for the generically obsessed. And tell us what you think.