The flames of Hell are never far from Scorsese’s infernally brilliant body of work, lending an extra moral dimension to the gut-wrenching, stylistically daring genius that frequently earns the godfather of indie cinema the title of America’s greatest living movie director. No other director has explored the grime, glamour and Shakespearean corruption of underworld life with such appalled fascination as this native New Yorker. And yet, perhaps because he has witnessed it all first hand, Marty never idealises the sick side of human nature. The protagonists in his emotionally intense morality plays usually reap the wages of sin.
An asthmatic child raised in Lower Manhattan’s Little Italy, Scorsese grew up around mobsters, but initially trained as a Catholic priest. Swapping the seminary for NYU film school, he then pioneered the application of highly personal, European auteur-style film-making to American stories. Working with Method heavyweights including Harvey Keitel and, repeatedly, Robert De Niro, Marty began to examine the elemental passions of New York, America and the world through the prism of his own Italian-American heritage.
A product of the pre-rock’n’roll Rat Pack era, Scorsese even turned up to assist on Michael Wadleigh’s seminal Woodstock documentary wearing a suit jacket and cufflinks. But he adapted pretty sharpish to ‘70s Hollywood excess, developing a major cocaine habit while living with his long-term music advisor, The Band frontman Robbie Robertson, whose work he immortalised in the magnificent rock-doc The
Beginning with his 1980 masterpiece Raging Bull, Scorsese’s last quarter-century has produced peak after peak, from operatic gangster sagas to low-budget black comedies, historical epics and religious blockbusters. Having just completed his new Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Marty continues to tell ambitiously complex American stories on a grand canvas. His current pet projects include long-cherished Dean Martin and Mick Jagger biographies. Who better than a cinematic genius with more than a little sympathy for the Devil?