Opening and Closing

When I first saw THE WOLF OF WALL STREET I remember thinking that the closing shot (above) was like the reverse angle of the last shot of THE KING OF COMEDY (also above). And then I thought, after seeing THE IRISHMAN/I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, that I’d like to see what other connections I could make.

Of course I don’t have a copy of THE IRISHMAN yet so I can’t include that one.

I’ve sometimes said that only two images make an end shot — the reaction shot (Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS) and the walks-off-into-sunrise (Chaplin in MODERN TIMES). But there’s a third category — everything else. Scorsese’s films tend to end squarely in this misc. category,

Three crosses. The flickering light in BOXCAR BERTHA is low sunlight coming through gaps in the train, in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST it’s caused by the film running out (Mark Cousins, interviewing Scorsese, flat-out refused to believe that was an actual thing that happened on the day) and in SILENCE the light is an annihiliating fire.

CAPE FEAR, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD and GANGS OF NEW YORK all echo TAXI DRIVER (top) in their first shots after the titles (CAPE FEAR ends on the same image), and BOXCAR BERTHA prefigures it.

This is the only opener Scorsese has really harped on. His films are about bearing witness.

BOTD’s shot actually comes in BEFORE Scorsese’s director credit but it’s the first live-action shot of the film and it’s more suited to this post than the following image, a jittery tilt from ambulance headlights to the flashing roof lights —

— so let’s pair that one with the start of GOODFELLAS.

I always think of GOODFELLAS ending with Joe Pesci firing a pistol at the camera, which should be paired with Edwin S Porter’s THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, but we actually cut back to Ray Liotta as he enters his home and shuts the door. So that makes a nice tie-in with CASINO. One door closes and another one opens.

THE IRISHMAN has something to do with this also.

What I remember about CASINO’s opening is DeNiro’s car exploding, leading to the Saul Bass title sequence, but he has to get to the car first and this is the building he comes out of.

This is how AGE OF INNOCENCE ends —

Harvey Keitel walks off at the end of WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? which has the same vibe, albeit with a different angle. And then the last shot of MEAN STREETS (below) — Catherine Scorsese closing her blinds — might supply the reverse angle. Does Catherine see Harvey Keitel, in another movie, trudging away defeatedly?

I just now realized what a big debt this one owes to the ending of Fellini’s I VITELLONI, previously discussed.

These kind of endings are the closest Scorsese gets to a walks-off-into-the-sunset motif. Apart from ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, which has certain self-conscious genre elements, and so ends in a fairly traditional way — the forties studio opening is echoed by the seventies location ending, each as comfortingly familiar as the other.

ALICE’s title establishing time and place, or the kind saying that this has some relationship to a true story, are also familiar Scorsese devices, sometimes preceding his opening shot, though —


AFTER HOURS opens with the camera dashing through an office in a hurry to get to our protagonist (and at the end the camera flies off and leaves him behind in the same office). The movie was made while THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST had been fully prepped and then shut down. When he Scorsese got it going again, he used an opening shot that’s doing something quite similar —

Only this time we’re flying through the treetops on our way to meet the Messiah.

KING OF COMEDY and WOLF OF WALL STREET also have some similarity in their beginnings. One is a promo video for a financial services company, the other is a TV show opening.

I put the end of BRINGING OUT THE DEAD next to the start of THE AVIATOR just because they’re both so very Robert Richardson. And have a religious feeling. Nic Cage is basically staging a pieta with his head comfortably pillowed by Patricia Arquette.

Tabletops are also a thing —

Opening shot of WHO’S THAT KNOCKING, closing shot of RAGING BULL, opening shot of THE COLOR OF MONEY.

New York looms large, as do other cities and places.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK ends with a kind of phantom ride, advancing down a rainy street — not precisely anyone’s POV. It’s haunting. And the credits start, one of those cases, as with TAXI DRIVER, where there’s no clear divide between film and titles. There’s no last shot, really.

I do not like the rat in THE DEPARTED.

The lighthouse in SHUTTER ISLAND is great. It has an ominous meaning established earlier and its appearance here is really grim.

KUNDUN’s similar first and last shots only reveal their poetry when placed together. The mountain seems merely an establishing shot at the start of the film: Tibet. At the end, we recognize it’s the closest view our protagonist can get of his homeland from his exile, through a telescope.

RAGING BULL is different from everything else — is it the film’s opening, or just a title sequence? Of course it’s fantastic.

TAXI DRIVER, SHUTTER ISLAND and SILENCE. Things emerging from fog are always good.

HUGO begins with cogs.

And then there are sunglasses.

“Hey, I’m BACK,” says Paul Newman, which was unquestionably Scorsese’s message to Hollywood after a dry spell. DeNiro takes of his shades and gives us The Look. Which takes us back to the top.

The ending of THE IRISHMAN does not resemble any of these. But it is very beautiful, and very sad.

Oh, here’s another Look —

But there’s more!

MEAN STREETS. Harvey Keitel wakes up, evidently from a bad dream. Like several other Scorsese characters, he then goes to the mirror… but what does he see?

“The future…”

6 Responses to “Opening and Closing”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    The mot important thing about the opening of “Casino” I the use of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” on the soundtrack — which makes it a homage to Pasolini.

    “Raging Bull” ends interestingly as Jake have looked at himself intently in the mirror and said his lines from “On the Waterfront” leaves the shot. We hear his voice but we’re looking at an empty mirror.

    And yes I love the last shot of “New York New York” too — a studio city street that Marty treats as if it were real.

  2. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    The rat at the end of The Departed is a homage to the deer at the end of All That Heaven Allows, which pokes through the frame in the background. Sirk intended that as a visual joke about how hollow and fake the idea of “nature” is.

    I think most of Scorsese’s final shots are stopping points more than endings. There’s a sense that life goes on but this is as far as we follow the characters. WOWS ends at the start of a kind of seminar where Belfort talks to the audience, we can imagine that the seminar will continue for a hour or so after the final shot. The Age of Innocence’s final sequence is all about Newland giving up seeing Ellen again and then walking away while in the background we see an old car moving and so on (which also echoes the end of The Leopard, where the Prince falls in despair and asks the stars for respite but then continues walking away with only a more hollow final days to look ahead to). Taxi Driver is weird because after the last bit where Travis turns the mirror suddenly, the credits spool over more footage of New York and we continue floating over Herrmann’s sounds.

    Casino has more of a sense of finality but also communicates a sense of banality about Ace’s final days, “Why mess up a good thing? And that’s that”. Silence is probably the most definite ending…and the cross in his fingers (which was probably inserted by Rodrigues’ wife in secret, which is one of the most mysterious bits in that movie) which is also a bit like the sled of rosebud going in flames…the great secret inside the character that he takes with him and will be lost to everyone else.

  3. All true.

    The trouble with homages is they only realy work when they work without you knowing it’s a homage. The rat feels very corny, and knowing about the Sirk connection doesn’t really lessen that. It just makes me ask “Why is Sirk relevant here?”

    Scorsese is at his best when he simply steals, but makes the stolen idea wholly his own (unlike DePalma who tears out whole chunks, God love him, or Schrader, who doesn’t always seem to digest what he bites off).

    It’s true that several Scorsese films: Taxi Driver, NYNY, After Hours, don’t deliver an end shot but just sort of run out through their end creds, suggesting an endless process.

    Mean Streets would work well on a loop, with Keitel constantly waking from the nightmare of his life, like Mervyn Johns in Dead of Night.

  4. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    In the case of Sirk and Departed, the deer at the end of All that Heaven Allows signifies a fake happy ending of the kind mandated in the Hays’ Code. In the departed, Matt Damon’s villain character suddenly being killed out of nowhere by Mark Wahlberg’s character is a pure deus-ex machina added in (the original Infernal Affairs had that character walk away). So the “rat” represents a kind of intentional sabotage about the bad guy being punished and so on, similar to what Sirk and others in the old days did.

    Some of Scorsese’s homages are also indirect, like the lighthouse in Shutter Island is an obvious allusion to John Huston’s Freud (where Monty Clift’s Sigi Freud has a weird nightmare involving a lighthouse). It’s also a huge phallic symbol and it’s the place where the lobotomy is done and so on. So it’s a kind of equating the loss-of-mind with an emasculation there, while the allusion to Freud’s dream in the reality of Teddy suggests a movie that looks and feels like an endless nightmare, which I guess is how DiCaprio’s character in Shutter Island saw his life. Huston’s Freud, along with Minnelli’s Cobweb, Shock Corridor, Lilith and a host of movies set in a psych ward influenced Shutter Island (as well as Caligari and Titicut Follies). Scorsese’s allusions are always indirect and associative, almost Eisensteinian in that it’s almost always a counterpoint to the scene in question.

    Mean Streets being an endless loop is right. As is Taxi Driver, because a good part of Scorsese’s oeuvre is about repetition, characters who don’t seem to learn.

  5. The question of whether character can change — which it always does in Hollywood movies — seems to concern Scorsese. Although Raging Bull ends with the “I was blind, but now I can see” quote, Schrader remarked “To me, [LaMotta] is the same schmuck at the end that he was at the beginning.”

    Scorsese specifically noted that despite his cathartic outburst of violence, Travis was just going to do it all again.

    And for Howard Hughes, things are just going to get worse.

  6. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Don’t forget the Lighthouse in “Portrait of Jennie.” A for “The Age of Innocence” the last shot of Newland walking off is a homage to “The Leopard.”

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