Mini Anthikad-Chhibber at Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre during a rewarding detour from the Berlinale.
At the Berlinale, amid all the films and the glittering premieres, there are these rewarding detours you could make.
The red carpet to one of the screening theatres is a movie script! Look carefully and you will see it is the script of Martin Scorsese’s brilliant portrayal of urban angst, Taxi Driver.
Another happy detour could be this super museum shop which seems to worship at the altar of Audrey Hepburn. From the shop you go to this comprehensive Scorsese exhibition.
In two floors, the exhibition kicks off on the fourth floor with the screening of Scorsese’s 1967 short film The Big Shave. The horrific film where a young man shaves his face and his skin is vaguely reminiscent of The Wall where Bob Geldof does pretty much the same thing. The Big Shave is a perfect introduction to themes Scorsese deals with in his movies — guilt, redemption and alienation.
Compiled from Scorsese’s private collections as well as that of his friend, collaborator and thespian Robert De Niro and writer Paul Schrader, the exhibition is divided into rooms, each dealing with a specific theme from Scorsese’s work. So the first room is dedicated to Brothers, which deals with the relationship between men, not necessarily related, in Scorsese’s films. There are clips from Scorsese’s breakout film, Mean Streets (1973), where Harvey Keitel plays guardian angel to De Niro’s loose cannon Johnny boy, Jesus (Dafoe) admitting his doubts to Judas (Keitel) in the director’s intensely personal The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Joe Pesci and De Niro arguing from opposite ends in Raging Bull, which is Scorsese’s take on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta (1980), and Casino (1995). Apart from movie clips, there are also photos on the sets of Raging Bull, Mean Streets, The Departed (2006) and The Last Temptation… Slices of history include the letter of agreement for Mean Streets and notes for Raging Bull. To read Scorsese’s hand-written note on a draft of Casino: “Bob, read this along with new drafts” is truly goose-bump inducing.
Scorsese regularly cast his parents in small roles in his films. In the section dedicated to Family there is that famous scene from mafia movie Goodfellas where Pesci goes home with a body in the boot. Scorsese’s mother plays the typical Italian mama who whips up a hot meal at 3 am and listens incredulously to her son (played by Pesci) as he talks about the need for a carving knife and of the accident with the poor deer.
The Men and Women section reveals how in Scorsese’s films while men define their relationship with definite rules and rites of passage, the relationship between the sexes is always awkward and fumbling. And so Travis takes Betsy to watch a pornographic film on their first date. The scene from The Departed where Mandolyn tells Costigan, “Your vulnerability is freaking me out” or the creepily intimate scene between Cady and the teenage Dani in Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear echo these themes.
No prizes for guessing what takes pride of place in the room dedicated to Lonely Heroes. Yes it is the clip of De Niro’s “Are you talking to me?” soliloquy from Taxi Driver. The following line, “Well, I am the only one here”, captures the crushing loneliness of the Viet vet who is trying so hard to be “a person.” In the display cases there is also De Niro’s cab licence — how is that for getting into character?
Though quite a few of Scorsese’s films are set in New York and are love letters to the city — not prettified, picture perfect paeans, but angry, hurt and messy yet still love letters, his stories are universal. In the New York section, there are clips from the New York movies including the Nicholas Cage starrer, Bringing out the Dead, King of Comedy and After Hours. There is also a model of locations in New York where the different films have been shot. The exhibition features film costumes including Cate Blanchette’s gold gown as Katherine Hepburn in Scorsese’s bio pic of Howard Hughes, The Aviator, Jake LaMotta’s gloves and shorts, Travis’s boots, the blood stained T shirt from Cape Fear and Amsterdam’s clothes (Gangs of New York).
On the first floor, the exhibition dedicates a section to Scorsese’s restoration, referencing and preservation work. There is a glass case filled with letters from the who’s who of the film industry in support of Scorsese’s plea to Eastman Kodak Company for a colourfast and durable film. It is great fun to read Spielberg insisting that the “blue is leaving the waters of Jaws while blood spurting from Robert Shaw’s mouth gets redder” or Terence Malik signing off as Terry and asking Scorsese how his new picture is coming along.
Of his restoration work, there is an interesting short film, The Key To Reserva a tongue-in-cheek homage to Hitchcock and also clips of Scorsese’s cameos in his films including Taxi Driver (he is the customer who is watching his cheating wife) and Bringing out the Dead (it is Scorsese’s voice on the despatch). The technical aspects of his work are celebrated with the virtuoso long shot in Goodfellas where Henry Hill takes Karen to the Copa Cabana club and in the editing section, Scorsese’s long and fruitful association with Thelma Schoonmaker is marked with clips from LaMotta’s final bout from Raging Bull as well as the tense mole hunt in The Departed.
Music plays an important part in Scorsese’s films and his choices for the background score in his films are always informed. While the exhibition doesn’t have any of his work on Woodstock (he was one of the editors) it has an autographed photograph from King of pop, Michael Jackson (yes Scorsese directed the Bad video!) and has clips from his Bob Dylan movie, No Direction Home, the Rolling Stones concert film Shine a Light and Living in a Material World, about ex-Beatle George Harrison.
The fun thing is you can watch the videos lying on a thick carpet. And as you curl up against this super comfy cushion and listen to a painfully young Dylan complete with chubby cheeks earnestly demanding “How many roads must a man walk down”, one can only marvel at Scorsese’s oeuvre. Are you talking to me?
The Martin Scorsese Exhibition is on till May 12 at the Deutsche Kinemathek, Museum Fur Film und Fernsehen, Potsdamer Platz .
The writer was in Berlin at the invitation of Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan.