Martin Scorsese Biography

PHOTO: Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese is one of the most prominent and influential directors in movie history. His critically acclaimed movies range from 1970s and '80s cult classics 'Mean Streets', 'Raging Bull' and 'Taxi Driver', to 'GoodFellas' and 'Cape Fear' in the 1990s and 21st century hits 'Gangs of New York' and 'The Aviator'.

Scorsese's movies are often rooted in his own Italian-American heritage, with its social codes and violence.

His grandparents were Sicilian immigrants to the United States and his parents, Charles and Catherine, raised him in New York City's Little Italy. Both worked in the garment district. Charles regarded himself as a movie buff and trips to the cinema were one luxury his son Marty was always afforded.

Scorsese cites severe childhood asthma as another reason that adults would take him to the movie theatre, rather than the sports field. He developed an interest in painting and comic strip drawing, with his pictures and storylines reflecting Hollywood's latest Westerns and historical dramas. He hoped to become either a painter or a movie actor.

There was another cultural force, however, that had a hold on the young Martin Scorsese, one with more might than Roy Rogers: religion.

Scorsese decided to become a Catholic priest, perhaps because he had noted that even the crime bosses in his neighbourhood respected their local clergy. At 14, he began studying at theological college, but as both puberty and the 1950s progressed, he was seduced by rock and roll.

Scorsese became more interested in girls and Little Richard records than in celibacy, and was expelled from the seminary. Catholic themes of guilt and redemption were to become fixtures in the landscape of his movie-making.

With the door to the priesthood closed, Scorsese returned to his first love, movies, and majored in film at NYU. He graduated in 1964 with some student films under his belt and having met Laraine Marie Brennan, who he married a year later. The first of his five marriages, it resulted in his daughter Catherine. His student films caught the eye of director Roger Corman, who took Scorsese under his wing. Another of Corman's proteges was Francis Ford Coppola.

Scorsese began to collaborate with Harvey Keitel, a then theatre actor. 'Who's That Knocking at My Door?' starred Keitel as an Italian-American Catholic in turmoil. The film had problems finding a distributor until Scorsese agreed to add a gratuitous sex scene, and it was released in 1969. 1972's 'Boxcar Bertha', a tale of a female railroad robber produced by Corman, was another early movie of note.

Scorsese's legend as we know it was born with 1973's 'Mean Streets', an autobiographical tale of a group of young Italian-Americans living and dying in NYC. Harvey Keitel returned as protagonist, while Robert De Niro made movie history with his portrayal of the unstable Johnny Boy. The star-director pairing with De Niro would be one of the most influential in film.

The following year, Scorsese made 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More', a portrayal of a woman's struggle with domesticity that won Ellen Burstyn a best actress Oscar. But testosterone was the stuff that would make him famous. 1976 saw the release of one of the century's seminal movies, 'Taxi Driver'. De Niro starred as Travis Bickle, a disturbed Vietnam veteran and taxi driver, opposite Jodie Foster's teenage prostitute in need of redemption. Taxi Driver's highly violent finale was unprecedented and controversial, and would influence future directors including Quentin Tarantino. Scorsese appeared in the movie as a homicidal passenger.

Next, De Niro was paired with Liza Minnelli – an extra-marital love interest of Scorsese's – in a dark musical. 'New York New York' was a flop in 1977, but the director returned to form in 1980 with his masterpiece 'Raging Bull', again starring De Niro. Based on the
autobiography of boxer Jake La Motta, the script afforded Robert De Niro the role of his career. 'Raging Bull' brought Scorsese his first Oscar nod for best director, as well as another seven Academy Award nominations including best picture and best actor. Only De Niro and editor Schoonmaker took home statues.

By the time the 1970s were over, Scorsese, now divorced from Brennan, had married and divorced a second wife (Julia Cameron, mother of his daughter Domenica) and gained a third, model and actress Isabella Rossellini.

Buoyed by the success of 'Raging Bull', Scorsese attempted to fulfill a long-held ambition and make a Christ biopic, but was thwarted by the studio's reluctance to fund him. His personal life wasn't faring much better: the marriage to Rossellini had crumbled. The workaholic Scorsese ploughed forward. After another De Niro collaboration, 'The King of Comedy', he made a pool hustler drama 'The Color of Money', starring Tom Cruise and Paul Newman. Scorsese's new wife, Barbara De Fina, was the producer. The movie was a hit with five Oscar nominations and Paul Newman winning best actor.

Funded and finished at last, 'The Last Temptation of Christ' finally hit the silver screen in 1988, at which time Scorsese was accused of blasphemy by the church and few of his 'Raging Bull' fans were captivated. Still, he had finally crossed the ultimate biopic off his
list.

Despite a mixed reception to 'Last Temptation', it was becoming clear that the director's career was to be one of extraordinary longevity and consistent quality. In a 1990 return to more familiar subject matter, he released the hugely popular Italian-American gangster flick 'GoodFellas'. De Niro was cast alongside Ray Liotta in this supremely violent movie about a community attempting to juggle family life and crime. It a was a career high that brought another best director nomination.

The following year's 'Cape Fear' would be the most commercially successful film of the Scorsese's career to date. Like Jodie Foster before her, the movie launched the career of Juliette Lewis. Her kiss with De Niro - a 15-year-old girl opposite his convicted rapist - being one of the most memorable and uncomfortable scenes of any '90s movie. De Niro won a best actor Oscar for the 'Cape Fear' role in 1992.

The De Fina marriage had ended in 1991 and as the '90s progressed, Scorsese's output defied easy categorisation. 'The Age of Innocence', based on Edith Wharton's novel about high society in 19th century New York, seemed an unlikely offering, but earned respectful reviews. The mobster tale 'Casino', meanwhile, failed to have the impact of 'GoodFellas'. He next turned his attentions to another unlikely subject, the Dalai Lama. 'Kundun' (1997) was a visual and aural feast but, following on the heels of another similar-themed feature, (the Brad Pitt vehicle, 'Seven Years in Tibet'), it struggled at the box office, despite critical kudos. Scorsese met his fifth wife Helen Morris when she was editing the companion book to 'Kundun'.

In the next decade, Scorsese returned to the subject of immigrant gangs with a twist. The epic 'Gangs of New York', about Irish immigrants to New York in the 19th century, was a box office smash and the first of a series of collaborations with actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis also starred, and the film received 10 Oscar nominations, including Scorsese's fifth for best director.

DiCaprio and Scorsese triumphed again with 'The Aviator', 2004's well-received Howard Hughes biopic. New talents portrayed Old Hollywood, including Cate Blanchett as Kate Hepburn and Jude Law as Eroll Flynn.

Scorsese's next release, the documentary, "Bob Dylan: No Direction Home' (2005), reminded the world he was an avid music fan as well as a director. Dylan and The Band had been the subject of his documentary 'The Last Waltz' in 1978.

DiCaprio starred again in 'The Departed', an Irish-American crime story set in South Boston. It was for The Departed that Scorsese finally won a best director Oscar. He had been nominated for the Academy Award on five previous occasions, and twice for best screenplay. As he received his first Oscar, Scorsese, who attended the ceremony with his wife Helen, joked: "Could you double-check the envelope?"

In 2008, he returned to music documentary when he directed 'Shine a Light', which is a film depicting a concert by the Rolling Stones performed at New York City's Beacon Theatre in 2006. It also contains brief news and interviews from throughout the band's career. The world premiere of the film was at the 58th Berlinale Film Festival on 7 February 2008.

The director once again collaborated with Di Caprio for the 2010 film 'Shutter Island' which starred the actor as a detective sent to investigate a disappearance from a mental asylum. It also starred Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams. On 20 May 2010, Shutter Island was Scorsese's highest-grossing film.

He then delved into the world of TV, directing the pilot episode of 'Boardwalk Empire', which made its debut on 19 September 2010. It has just been recommissioned for a second series, of which Scorsese will be executive producer.

Future works that Scorsese has in the pipeline include 'Hugo', based on the children's historical book 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret'. It is set for release by the end of the year (2011) and is the first film the director has filmed in 3D.

He will also be directing an adaptation of Shusaka Endo's novel 'Silence', a biopic of Frank Sinatra and 'The Irishman' starring De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino.



Discover Scorsese's Hollywood - Conversations with Scorsese by Richard Schickel

Richard Schickel s canny and intelligent interviews guide us through Scorsese's life and work. An invaluable appreciation of one of our most admired film directors.

Scorsese and De Niro make movie history - Taxi Driver (2 Disc Special Edition)

Taxi Driver is the definitive cinematic portrait of loneliness and alienation manifested as violence. Robert De Niro, as the tortured, ex-Marine cab driver Travis Bickle, made movie history with his chilling performance as one of the most memorably intense and vividly realised characters ever committed to film. This masterpiece, which is not for all tastes, is sure to horrify some viewers, but few could deny the film's lasting power and importance.

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