The Haul

What I do is, I mostly go from charity shop to charity shop, these days. They’re all very stocked-up, can’t shift the stuff fast enough, and I’m finding lots of interest.

Mary Pat Kelly’s Martin Scorsese: A Journey is one of the finest books on this filmmaker. Part biography, part critical study, part oral history. Full of fascinating stuff. Readers of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls may be amused by how the drug stuff is elided. But just as a for instance, in the section on RAGING BULL, we learn that DeNiro thinks that Vickie LaMotta cheated on Jake with his brother Joey. Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty are dumbfounded by this. “Absolutely not.” And yet DeNiro had a hand in the script. They deduce that he sees the story entirely through Jake’s eyes.

The Genius of the System by Thomas Schatz doesn’t seem to argue its case but is full of research and stuff. I need to give it a chance, I guess. I don’t agree with the concept and a lot of the stories told in it tend, to my way of thinking, to confirm that the genius lay in certain individual practitioners of the system, though of course the system facilitated them and they all required brilliant collaborators…

Making a Film: The Story of Secret People by Lindsay Anderson, most of whose faded lettering has been washed out by my camera, was a real find, and I got it only five minutes from the Shadowplayhouse. Anderson follows the development, preproduction, shooting, and most of the post of Thorold Dickinson’s 1952 Ealing drama. It’s an odd little film — Ealing had just made THE LAVENDER HILL MOB and THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT so one could argue that poor Lindsay has picked the wrong movie to follow. But it doesn’t matter what film it is, since Dickinson is a smart director and Anderson has total access to his process, apart from the bits going on in the man’s mind. Audrey Hepburn, a bit player in LAVENDER HILL, is elevated to a major supporting role here, and Dickinson directed the screen test that got her the lead in ROMAN HOLIDAY, so the story of SECRET PEOPLE is hooked into history. I’m reading this now, properly, and loving it.

North Berwick is an idyllic seaside town with good ice cream, fish and chips, and charity shops. The weather’s been hot so we went, and I picked up Chaos as Usual: conversations about Rainer Werner Fassbinder by Juliane Lorenz. It isn’t as scandalous as I’d expected but it’s very enjoyable — feeling the need to dip into some more Fassbinder. I’ve seen very little of his massive output, really. Appetite whetted.

The Essential Wrapped in Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks by John Thorne. Lots of interviews in this one, which is what sold me. Only covers the first two series. It has many typos, like the Fassbinder book, but these ones are more amusing, as in the phrase, “ad-fib.” An improvised lie? Sounds like a useful term.

Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film by Adam Lowenstein seems like an ambitious critical work. I’m not at all sure Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE is inspired by the Holocaust but I’m interested to see Lowenstein argue it.

That’s just a fraction of the reading matter I’ve been acquiring. More soon!

69 Responses to “The Haul”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Mary Pat Kelly’s book is excellent and what you note here about DeNiro’s take on Jake vs. Marty’s is most interesting , especially in that doing the film was DeNiro’s idea and Marty had no interest in boxing prior to making it. What got him in was it’s angle on Italian-American city life as he knew it as a id. In this the scene where Jake argues with his first wife is key. It’s all about ho “the whole neighborhood ” can hear them. (See my Marty Book For More)

  2. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I think DeNiro went a little too much in identifying with Jake LaMotta to the point that the paranoia of the character slightly affected his judgment.

    Mary Pat Kelly’s book was the first Scorsese book I ever read in full and it’s an essential resource as is David Ehrenstein’s book, Ian Christie and David Thompson’s Scorsese on Scorsese, and also Michael Henry Wilson’s Scorsese on Scorsese (weird that these two separate series had the same title). Glenn Kenny’s Made Men also has a lot of biographical details which aren’t touched on elsewhere. Active directors who are living tend to provide a lot of oral histories but because they are working and still dedicated to the next movie and so on, and the director’s public image and reputation is a key asset towards that goal, it tends to be hard for movie scholarship to get a real consensus-view of the subject backed with solid data.

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    The thing is “Data” rarely remains “solid” One of the reasons for this is that filmmakers continue to work. “Goodfellas” is one of the most popular of all of Marty’s movies. But it’s far from the most “solid” one when t comes to the world of crime. “Casino,” “The Departed” and “The Irishman” are larger, more expansive very different takes on the same overall subject.

  4. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I agree.

    The Departed is a movie about the police more than organized crime, imo (after all all the bad guys in that movie are moles for different law enforcement organizations and spent their time in nihilistic acts of violence and infiltration). The Irishman is more diffuse and poetic in its approach and concerns to the extent that it’s harder to categorize than most any movie Scorsese’s made.

    Scorsese is a bit like Renoir in that his public persona is one of almost infinite generosity and interest, while remaining somewhat Sphinx-like. His introduction for Pascale Merigeau’s biography, which is a bit of a debunking of a number of Renoir myths (some created by him, others created by the New Wave about him) has him reflecting on how Renoir, seemed to “sand off the rough edges of his life” and Scorsese writes and reflects that he relates to that and feels that knowing Renoir in the round helps us appreciate his generous impulses, to his characters and others, with more nuances.

  5. bensondonald Says:

    Scouring thrift shop shelves is no longer as easy and fruitful as it once was around here, thanks in part to the monetizing of old stuff (library book sales are now haunted by predators with barcode readers, scooping up everything with a viable eBay price). Also, local students / scholars / collectors no longer seem to haul their purgings to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Serious film books and the like can be found, but almost exclusively in the few bookshops that know what they’re worth.

    A story idea I played with long ago: A casual bibliophile starts finding an abundance of uncommon books on an obscure subject in local shops. He comes to realize that somebody unloaded a substantial private library (bookplates and flyleaves have been removed) and that somebody else is stealthily and desperately trying to run down specific volumes. The MacGuffin would be a treasure or Dangerous Secret, revealed either by the content of the books or a Francis Bacon-type coding system. The latter was deployed by Christopher Morley in “The Haunted Bookshop”, although there it came down to one specific book used by a spy ring.

    It would take somebody more literary than myself to make it work. Yours for a free copy of the resulting book.

  6. Scorsese called The Departed his first film with a plot, and it’s more about the mechanism than the meaning, for me. The rat at the end suggests he wasn’t taking it too seriously. And The Irishman is a film about death. The first thing we see is the retirement home corridor with about four signs diminishing into the distance, all saying EXIT.

    I liked Scarlett Thomas’ The End of Mr Y purely because it begins with the character finding exactly the book they want.

  7. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    The Irishman is definitely Melvillean. Melville is an interesting reference for Scorsese because he’s a film-maker Scorsese didn’t know very well from the 1960s (the films Scorsese loves from JPM’s catalog – Le doulos, Le deuxieme souffle, L’armee des ombres didn’t have wide release at the time). So it’s a film-maker Scorsese has grappled on to more recently, and that explains The Irishman and its interest in male camaraderie and its cool look at process.

    Another reference which I feel hasn’t been discussed much is Francesco Rosi, especially his Lucky Luciano (a movie about the founder of the Italian-American mob who ends up dying anti-climactically, all the while scheming and fulminating in denial of his impending his death) and also Il Mattei Affair (where you have a guy, Enrico Mattei, who was like a Hoffa of the global economy who wheeled and dealed and did corrupt things but in the aim of the greater good of weakening the Global North in favor of the poor). Salvatore Giuliano and Hands Across the City are also important for the same reasons.

  8. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Male camaraderie is a major Marty subject. But his films are very emotional and direct (eg. “Mean Streets”). Melville’s are practically emotion-less. I recall going to see “Le Doulos” with Marty when it opened in New York at a theater on 42nd street. We were primarily interested in Belmondo at that time so the ultra-cool Melville mise en scene was quite a revelation

  9. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, never knew that at all. Ginette Vincendeau in her book on Melville claims that Melville’s films save for Bob le Flambeur and Le Samourai didn’t have purchase in America. But I guess she missed a spot.

  10. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “Les Enfants Terrible” played Art Houses in the U.S. not long after its release in France. But that was because it was considered a Cocteau film

  11. It’s funny to watch Scorsese and Allen jockeying for position. Which one will make the NEXT worst film ever created? Wonder Wheel and that de-aging garbage cinema of Marty’s run neck and neck.

  12. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    You know I saw A Rainy Day in New York on Amazon Prime recently. Amazon funded the movies and had a deal with Allen but went backsies because of the Farrow farrago and then made that film essentially blacklisted, but it’s slipped back on Prime Video. Seems Jeff Bezos cares as little about boycotts as he does about unionizing and the environment. A Rainy Day in New York is in fact a very good film with some real emotional depth and the deftness with which it weaves through subplots and juggles characters is really elegant. It’s one of those “it feels like a musical but it’s not got any music” films.

  13. Good to know the child molester still has himself a fan base!

  14. I did dislike Wonder Wheel a lot, but I should try Midnight in Paris which is sitting on my shelf along with a lot of late ones I picked up for pennies and haven’t had the enthusiasm to watch.

  15. I HAD TO SEE THAT ON MY BIRTHDAY. IT IS EGREGIOUS UNFUNNY GARBAGE!!!!!!

  16. One more abbreviated screed on social justice in the States and how said “justice” helps Woody): imposing an entirely new lexicon on a citizenry that doesn’t read — this “mistake” may not be a simple error in judgement. What if the language cops (who revise Wokeness every three seconds by jettisoning their own words to mint new ones willy-nilly) absolutely NEED to fail in order to retain ersatz power. Powerlessness is Power!!! (In other words, the society becomes increasingly regressive, and you have more unwashed masses to yell at.) This legitimate resentment against the Woke Priesthood provides cover for predators. Just claim that any criticism of Allen is “political correctness run amok” — and you’re golden.

  17. But Marty is an even worse filmmaker IMHO.

  18. Since the death of the 70s zeitgeist, Allen has made FAR more decent films than MS.

  19. I think Wolf of Wall Street and Silence were a highly impressive back-to-back pairing.

    Allen’s guilt or innocence and what should be done about it have nothing whatever to do with political correctness as far as I’m concerned.

  20. Wolf of Wall Street????

  21. Jonah Hill was good.

  22. Marty made every actress who auditioned for MR’s part strip and act out orgasms.

  23. Another abuser. That film was all style. And the style is tired.

  24. What was your source for that naked screen test story?

  25. This comment may appear twice. It has yet to appear… An actor I know is friends with one of Wolf’s stars. I recall mentioning the story to you before the film hit screens. Or maybe it was… a little later> Dunno.

  26. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Child-Murderer Mia hasn’t had a career for years.

    Where do you get these scummy stories about Marty, Daniel?

  27. Daniel’s told me the source, without naming him, in private. There IS a source, but not first-hand. It may be true but I can’t base my opinion of Scorsese on something unconfirmed. And it wouldn’t greatly affect my view of the films anyway.

  28. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I’ve been friends with Marty since 1963 and know quite a lot about him (including the brother non one talks about) He’s had quite a number of relationships with women as different as Liza Minnelli and Illeanna Douglas, but I have never heard of anything Weinstein-like about him.

  29. Interesting that Jonah Hill saves “Marty” in WOLF. Everything the auteur touches turns into a stale Whitman’s Sampler, a box of assorted treats from the 70s still wrapped in plastic. Hill is a fresh face in that context. And Margot Robbie, a great actor, is trapped in the most stultifying, sexist role she’s ever played. Marty made her simulate fellatio as an audition.

  30. Relevance? That’s rhetorical, btw.

  31. Side note: Beanie Feldtstein, Jonah Hill’s sister, is AMAZING in “Booksmart”. Would that “Marty” could recapture that same vital element of exploitation without being creepy. He’s forced to import it via younger actors, whom he slowly suffocates. Hey Leo, what happened?

  32. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Robbie is also fine as Sharon Tate in Tarantino’s egregious “One Upon a Time in Hollywood”

  33. Wolf of Wall St made MR a star, so her contribution to the movie’s success was reciprocated. I also think it’s the first Scorsese film in which Leo is genuinely effective: far from being suffocated, he’s liberated from having to be gloomy and “sympathetic”.

    Brian De Palma tells an “amusing” story about Scorsese hitting his girlfriend in the 70s documentary Movies are My Life, now available at rarefilms.com.

  34. Tarantino’s overt commitment to trashiness seems to deceive his critics who miss (as I did for many years) a heartfelt transcendentalism: his characters vacillate between Life and Death, in strictly cinematic terms. He’s doing Varda (oh, yes!). De Palma has elements of this theme, still photography versus motion pictures as stand-ins for people — 3D human beings — BECOMING film. Film preserves the soul. T messes around with reification as a way to produce LIFE!

  35. On the surface, he’s a moron. Just as Marty is a moron deep down.

  36. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Tarantino’s overt commitment to trashiness procceds from the fact that he’s deeply trashy.

    You have No Idea of who Marty is “deep down.”

  37. The films, and his fan base, betray him.

  38. His films are unk-jay. But I’m interested in misunderstood filmmakers. My recent interview with David Amram exposes the wide-spread hatred for Elia Kazan as nothing more than a cinephilic neurosis (mixed with Classism). It’s a deadly combo. Here’s a snippet. https://chiseler.org/post/655344179274301440/amraminterviewvideomov

  39. Amram’s 90 years old and bell-clear. I don’t think Kazan is hated for naming names, since most of the people who get upset about that side with the systemic kaibosh against unions, via an allegiance to the Democratic Party. These same indignant characters participated in the Dem’s Neo-McCarthyism under Trump, calling Glenn Greenwald “a Putin Stooge”. “Marty” worship fits this same pattern: a quasi-religious set of biases and allegiances to power masquerading as taste. Kazan made great VITAL films even after he got old.

  40. David Ehrenstein Says:

    But Glenn Greenwald IS a Putin Stooge, dear. And you’re a Total Loser for regarding him as anything else.

    Kazan’s a complex character. He’s a brilliant director and a total S.O.B. He deeply resented Barbra Loden for “Wanda” — a masterpiece she made without a smidgen of help from Gadge.

    David Amram ia a great film coposerand in his youth Total Babe. I haven’t seen any recent picture of him but I’m sure he’s still fabulous.

  41. Then watch the interview, DE! At 90, HE PULLS OFF JEAN SEBERG’s T-SHIRT FROM BREATHLESS!

  42. Just watched Kazan’s THE VISITORS without knowing it was Kazan. During the opening sequence I thought: “Cronenberg, only WAY better!” I think it was Kazan’s constructive revenge against Loden’s WANDA, a film Pauline Kael completely misunderstood. Kazan was right to be jealous.

  43. Amram is lovely.

    You can’t get Kazan off the hook by attacking his attackers – his ethics or lack of ethics has nothing to do with his latter-day opponents.

    This kind of opinion-flashing is utterly boring to me, though, and pig Latin does not take the curse off it. What does junk mean? Probably different things to different people. It tells me nothing.

  44. Scorsese is academic, the equivalent to painters like Bouguereau.

  45. David Cairns: You’re wrong. I’m not trying to take Kazan off any hook (since I separate art from life, while you merely pretend to). DEWD! PLEASE POST MY INTERVIEW WITH AMRAM TO SHADOWPLAY! In return, I’ll stop flashing my opinions from beneath a pig-latin trench coat! YOU WILL NEVER BE BORED AGAIN!

  46. EASE-PLAY AVID-DAY — IMME-GAY OME-SAY ADOWPLAY-SHAY???!!!!!

  47. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Gadge was initially going to speak to HUAC of his own experiences and nothing more. Then a very powerful and very evil queen named Mike Connolly told him that if he didn’t name names “On the Waterfront” would never be made. So he did. Some never forgave him for it. I’ll never forget when LAFCA honored Abraham Polonsky with its “Career Achievement” award the same hear the Academy was giving Gadge a special Oscar. In accepting our award Abe said “Well, is it worth it — the shit you’re going to get for giving me this award? Because on the other side of town another film organization is giving an award to a RAT!. Everyone says ‘Forgive and Forget.” Well I NEVER forgive because I NEVER FORGET” Warren Beatty who was there to get a prize for “Reds” applauded loudly.

  48. It’s a format I fell into out of shyness and legit humility. I called David Amram cold, knowing he was a Chiseler fan, and asked if he’d discuss The Arrangement. After 2 hours on the phone, I said, I’d like you to just, y’know, GO, no prompts from me. He instantly responded: “That’s the way I work best!” There’s more than an hour I cropped out!

  49. It’s the hook itself I’m indicting, DC… Scorsese extrapolated too much from Taxi Driver in which camera movement had poetic sentience and the BH score added to said sentience — taxi, streets, steam were all alive, and possessed of dark thoughts. For decades he’s built an academy of stylistic conventions based on that film, applying camera tics to grandiose themes, storylines he can’t cope with on a deep personal level of experience and expression. That’s “unk-jay” in my book. I’m not flashing opinions about directors. But am happy to point fingers at the movie fans who prop up the canons that celebrate pap and put down its opposite. Now please please please post Amram!!!

  50. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Neither “The Irishman” nor “The Age of Innocence” have anything visually in common with “Taxi Driver” And that’s just to cite two example.

  51. Ever see Tarantino on the set. He’s a PSYCHO, standing inches from the actors with this goofy/creepy grin as they try to work. Not saying this proves a thing, of course, but I see him as a geek with an incredible ear. a fanboy who somehow knows how to fill up trashy conventions with love. Marty is a lecturer. The podium intrudes. Wait. HE’S THE PODIUM!

  52. DE: Those are epic films in their horribleness for all the reasons I stated above (minus swinging the camera around, which is something, you’ll admit, he does a great deal over time).

  53. Marty has made inexplicably ugly films on a visual level — GANGS OF NEW YORK and that thing about the loony bin (won’t bother summoning the title) just looked amateurish. I almost always believe I am where a film tells me to be, no matter how shite the sets or how cheap the production. Ugh. Marty cured me.

  54. On a strictly moral plane, it’s the combination of wasteful sums of money and horrible craftsmanship that irks. I kind of dig bad craftsmanship if some life seeps in through the shoddiness. But here we have a guy whose every move comes off as self-congratulations doing his utmost to impress. Sometimes it looks as if his cameraman doesn’t know what digital is — shooting in relative darkness leaves pixels agogo. If there were anything authentic and moving to watch, I wouldn’t mind.

  55. David Ehrenstein Says:

    You want to talk “swings the camera around” ?

  56. No pixels in Marty films, you have had bad viewing experiences, the films themselves are technically slick as hell. I didn’t like Shutter Island either, there’s some mismatch when Scorsese does genre. His best works fuse his hyper-intensity to realist subject matter.

  57. Nah, I’ve seen dozens of pixel-gripes on Fb re Shutter. In any event, Marty himself openly discusses the market as fundamentally changing his approach to surviving as a director when the 70s thing died. No point in arguing that it was precisely that cynical calculus that killed his films to anyone who appreciates them. I see Marty Inc. as factory-style commercial products that sell “greatness”, a dull product generally and, here, the embodiment of falsehood in advertizing. No Amram? Phooey. Nerts. Boo.

  58. Friend: “Don’t bother. I know you love a provocation more than making sense.” The fact that Robert De Niro gives a far more convincing performance in MIDNIGHT RUN than in THE IRISHMAN is — well, utterly irrelevant to middle-brow fandom. The latter movie signals “Greatness” and branding is all that matters. MR’s cast is PERFECT and the film knows exactly what it is. There are honest pleasures throughout. But try arguing that Scorsese Bloat is antipodal to honest expression and wait two beats… “OPINION-FLASHING!” Anyhow, revisited MR last night, and was startled by the decline it implies — boilerplate De Niro in 1988 > same today.

  59. It’s long been apparent to me that at the time of Midnight Run, which felt like De Niro branching out into more straightforwardly commercial filmmaking, he was still applying the same high standards to his own work and everything around it. That clearly cannot be said of later movies e.g. the stupid Luc Besson gangster comedy. However, he is still capable of raising his game, which I think we see in e.g. Silver Linings Playbook. And I think he raises his game in The Irishman, although he’s pretty hampered by the impossibility of playing someone decades younger.

    I have found, revisiting The Irishman, that it glides past LIKE A DREAM, it is assured and exciting filmmaking, but there’s room for all opinions in this best of all possible hellscapes.

  60. The telephone call in IRISHMAN, one of your favorite proofs that De Niro’s still got it, isn’t half as moving as the moment in Midnight Run when he confronts his daughter — in large measure because the “dream” you’re describing (and loving), THE IRISHMAN, is a nesting doll of self-conscious artifice that contains De Niro’s own. He somnambulates in his private movie, lost in mimicry of his former selves…. He’s still lithe in MIDNIGHT R.UN. He uses a whole set of tics but only in flashes, appropriate doses. His timing’s perfect to a film that is itself always fulfilling its own scale. De Niro’s physicality is not something you can remove and expect to get away with it.

  61. I think the heart of The Irishman is the old age scenes. Everything else is a memory, recalled in old age, so I could probably concoct some theory about why everyone moves like an old man…

  62. MARILYN THINKS SO TOO! Dewd, this is the LAST TIME I’ll ask: ARE YOU SURE YOU DO NOT WANT A BYLINE? Chetwynd’s edit is subtle, classy as fuck and allows for a LONG read, zero fatigue. Please email me. If your final word is no, I’ll go it alone. Not a critical word about the diva here. I decided to pay for the edit, since RC has been VERY generous in the past ($200, no chump change — AND TOTALLY WORTH IT!)

  63. “A movie is set free only when its original audience dies. Ask me why, Asshole.”
    “Why, Asshole?”
    “I was thinking of ‘Marty’ Worship. When he and his Audience die, the films will (I hope) mostly fall away. A few good ones will live without fear of having to fulfill some weird, strictly generational need that has nothing to do with cinema.”

  64. Well, I do think there will be a different ATTITUDE to the way non-superhero cinema is assessed when the current bifurcation of film has passed into history. But are you sure you’ve watched all of The Irishman? Because ultimately it’s about old age and casting old actors was essential and it all pays off in way that seems pretty undeniably powerful and true.

  65. Yes, I endured it all. The old-dudes prison scene was good. I thought that, as a whole, the film was foul garbage. Super hero movies, which I hate, are less horrible.

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