I have often said to friends and acquaintances that I think Martin Scorsese is a hugely overrated director. “Goodfellas,” which I recently watched for the second or third time, chronicles the history of people so repulsive that one hardly knows where to begin. Scorsese has given the phrase “banality of evil” new meaning, and he has done so repeatedly in his movies. Looking at gangsters objectively, or from a distance, fails to make them attractive subjects. But Scorsese’s entire approach to the phenomenon of the Italo-American gangster is to attempt to endow his gangsters with the charm of the quotidian. Yes, gangsters like to eat and cook and have sex. Still, where they belong is in jail or in a cemetery and away from human view. The antiheroes of “Goodfellas” are despicable, stunted creatures. Watching a movie like this becomes an exercise in self-loathing.
I cannot improve upon what A.O. Scott had to say about “Shutter Island” in his “New York Times” review: “But in this case the equivocation, the uncertainty, seems to come from the filmmaker himself, who seems to have been unable to locate what it is in this movie he cares about, beyond any particular, local formal concern. He has, in the past, used characters whose grasp of reality was shaky — or who stubbornly lived in realities of their own making — as vehicles for psychological exploration and even social criticism. But both Teddy’s mind and the world of Shutter Island are closed, airless systems, illuminated with flashes of virtuosity but with no particular heat, conviction or purpose.”
While I was often gripped by the technique in this movie and by the claustrophobic atmosphere of pervading dread, I also felt terribly cheated in the end by the simultaneously overwrought and superficial nature of the screenplay. I honestly do not understand how people of talent can commit themselves to this kind of childish manipulativeness.
I did catch a few minutes of “After Hours” on television recently also, and that is a well-made, funny movie, one I will watch with pleasure again in the future. And I watched the entirety of “Raging Bull” again recently, widely regarded as Scorsese’s masterpiece. Here again, the central character is mainly repulsive, and the fight scenes in this movie are not the masterpieces of realism they are sometimes represented as being. In fact, they are highly stylized and unrealistic. The fight scenes in “Hurricane” are considerably better, for example.
“The Last Temptation of Christ” awaits me.
Good post, fella.
It’s spelled cemetEry.
(No time to write more now.)