Martin Scorsese’s cinematic reality, populated by hustlers, wise guys, prize fighters, vigilantes, lawmen, madmen, and moguls, demands settings as vivid as its characters. His movies, often period pieces rooted in particular parts of 20th-century America (and increasingly, earlier eras and farther-flung lands), evoke their times and places most notably with songs. Among their twenty greatest musical moments Indiewire lists Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” in The Color of Money, The Clash’s “Janie Jones” in Bringing out the Dead, Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” in Casino, and the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” in The Departed (one of its three uses so far in Scorsese’s filmography).
But Scorsese’s involvement with music goes far beyond layering it below, or indeed above, the scenes he shoots. In addition to directing his widely acclaimed features from the “New Hollywood” 1970s to the present day, he’s also led something of a parallel career making films wholly dedicated to music and musicians, including 1978’s The Last Waltz, which captured The Band’s “farewell concert appearance”; the 2003 multi-director documentary series The Blues on that venerable American musical tradition; 2005’s No Direction Home on Bob Dylan, 2008’s Rolling Stones biographical concert film Shine a Light, and 2011’s Living in the Material World on George Harrison.
Some of the power of Scorsese’s musical selections owes to his long friendship with The Band’s guitarist Robbie Robertson, which began with The Last Waltz and continues to this day. “We’ve always had this relationship going back and forth,” a Telegram article on their quasi-collaboration quotes the director as saying. “We started a kind of relationship in which we’d touch base as to every film I was doing and the type of music I was using.”
In his new memoir Testimony, Robertson touches on a particularly important job in Scorsese’s career that surely did something to shape his friend’s musical-cinematic consciousness: assistant-directing and partially editing his NYU film school classmate Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock. “We were all, naturally, passionate about film-making, but Wadleigh and I were equally passionate about rock music,” Scorsese writes in the foreword to Woodstock: Three Days that Rocked the World. “I thought then, and I still think, that it formed the score for many of our lives; we moved through the days to its swaggering rhythms.”
Now you can move to all the rhythms of Scorsese’s days, and therefore of his filmography to date, in a 326-Track, 20-Hour Spotify playlist. (If you don’t have Spotify’s free software, you can download it here.) It comes assembled by Thrillist, whose Anna Silman writes that, “as might be expected, The Rolling Stones take the crown for most featured artist with a total of 14 appearances,” but “Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, and Louis Prima all put up some decent numbers, too.” She suggests you enjoy it “on shuffle with some egg noodles and ketchup,” and if you get the reference right away, the playlist will certainly bring back some of your most vivid cinematic memories — and maybe even a few historical ones.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.