— Ian Mantgani (@mant_a_tangi) May 28, 2020
Most who saw the last feature by Martin Scorsese, 2019's The Irishman, saw it at home. That had to do with the fact that the budget came from Netflix, which surely aimed to get its not inconsiderable money's worth by offering the film on its own streaming service as soon as possible. If The Irishman's financing and distribution was a sign of the times, Scorsese's new short is even more so: shot on a smartphone by the famed director himself, it recently premiered on Mary Beard's BBC special about "lockdown culture." Seeing as the coronavirus isn't known to spare famous auteurs — and indeed does seem disproportionately to harm individuals over age 70 — Scorsese has spent a great deal of time at home over the past few months. But like all true creators, he hasn't stopped doing what he does.
"Been quite a while, now, that I've been quarantined," says Scorsese, turning his camera away from a screening of Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man on his office wall. "We had been working so hard on so many different projects, and things were spinning and spinning and spinning, and suddenly there was a crash. And a stop." At first, "there was a day or so of a kind of relief. I didn't have to go anywhere or do anything. I mean, I had to do everything, but I didn't have to do it then." Then, "the anxiety set in." But as time passed, and as he truly felt that time passing, "a sense of relief settled in. And a real sense of freedom, because you can't do anything else. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be in this room. I don't know when we're going to be able to actually start production in this film."
By "this film" Scorsese means Killers of the Flower Moon, a $200 million true-crime Western set in 1920s Oklahoma that will bring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, the director's leading men of choice, together in a Scorsese feature for the first time. As a joint production between Apple and Paramount, notes the Observer's Brandon Katz, the picture "will receive all the necessary funding it needs while still receiving a worldwide theatrical rollout," but the question of when its shoot can start — and indeed, when moviegoers will return to theaters — remains open. "I do know that, given the grace of time and life, we will be in production somehow," says Scorsese in his lockdown short, after a few shots of the memorabilia on his shelves.
Toward the end of this personal dispatch, Scorsese remembers his final conversation with the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. "We were at a dinner in Lyon a few years ago and he looked at me and said, 'Don't do anything you don't want to do.' He knew. He understood. One can't depend on time. One doesn't know. Ultimately that time has to be worth it, even if it's just existing. Even if it's just being alive, breathing — if you can, under these circumstances." But as we've all learned, circumstances can change, and suddenly; it falls to us only to make best use of the situation in which we find ourselves. To underscore that last truth, Scorsese characteristically cites a classic American movie. Though our lives may be restricted, as we see in Robert Siodmak's Hemingway adaptation The Killers, nothing's stopping us from keeping our eyes on the stars.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.