Martin Scorsese Breaks Down His Most Iconic Films: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, and More

“Did Scors­ese make the best movie of each decade since the ’70s?” asks GQ’s Zach Baron in a recent pro­file of that long-lived auteur. “Prob­a­bly not (I think his case is weak­est in the first decade of this cen­tu­ry), but you could argue it, and many peo­ple have.” And indeed, you may well find your­self believ­ing it after watch­ing the video above, also pub­lished by GQ, in which Scors­ese him­self dis­cuss­es a selec­tion of fea­tures from the past half-cen­tu­ry of his career, the ear­li­est of which, Mean Streets, was a break­out project for both its young direc­tor and even younger star, a cer­tain Robert de Niro, in 1973.

Scors­ese’s lat­est, Killers of the Flower Moon, opens next month as not just anoth­er of his many col­lab­o­ra­tions with de Niro, but the first Scors­ese film to fea­ture both de Niro and Leonar­do DiCaprio. “We were acquaint­ed with each oth­er when we were six­teen years old,” the direc­tor says of de Niro in the GQ video. “He expe­ri­enced what I expe­ri­enced grow­ing up” in rough-and-tum­ble New York neigh­bor­hoods like Lit­tle Italy and the Bow­ery, and thus “knows who I am and where I came from.” Hence the trust with which Scors­ese took de Niro’s rec­om­men­da­tion of DiCaprio in the ear­ly nineties: “You got­ta work with him some­day.”

That some­day came in 2002, with Gangs of New York, after which the Scors­ese-diCaprio pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ship would mature to bear addi­tion­al cin­e­mat­ic fruit with projects like The Depart­ed and The Wolf of Wall Street. At this point it has become a par­al­lel enter­prise to Scors­ese-de Niro, which can be traced from The Irish­man, which came out in 2019, back through the likes of Good­Fel­las (though it stars the late Ray Liot­ta), Casi­no, The King of Com­e­dy, and Rag­ing Bull — a pic­ture that, along with oth­er brazen­ly ambi­tious Unit­ed Artists releas­es like Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la’s Apoc­a­lypse Now and Michael Cimi­no’s Heav­en’s Gate, Scors­ese now sees as mark­ing the end of “the pow­er of the direc­tor.”

In “new Hol­ly­wood” era of the nine­teen-sev­en­ties, Scors­ese remem­bers, “things were wide open, and we went in and took it like the bar­bar­ians at the gate, and we trans­formed what­ev­er we could, but they caught us.” Still, since then he’s “nev­er stopped work­ing for any notice­able amount of time,” as Baron puts it, though in recent years he’s been giv­en to rue­ful com­ment about the artis­tic and eco­nom­ic dynam­ics of his indus­try and art form. As for the state of the world in gen­er­al, he makes an equal­ly grim diag­no­sis with ref­er­ence to his and de Niro’s best-known col­lab­o­ra­tion, Taxi Dri­ver: “Every oth­er per­son is like Travis Bick­le now.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Mar­tin Scors­ese Directs a Movie: The Tech­niques Behind Taxi Dri­ver, Rag­ing Bull, and More

The Decay of Cin­e­ma: Susan Son­tag, Mar­tin Scors­ese & Their Lamen­ta­tions on the Decline of Cin­e­ma Explored in a New Video Essay

The Film­mak­ing of Mar­tin Scors­ese Demys­ti­fied in 6 Video Essays

What Makes Taxi Dri­ver So Pow­er­ful? An In-Depth Study of Mar­tin Scorsese’s Exis­ten­tial Film on the Human Con­di­tion

Mar­tin Scors­ese Explains the Dif­fer­ence Between Cin­e­ma and Movies

Scorsese’s The Irish­man in the Con­text of his Oeu­vre – Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #29 Fea­tur­ing Col­in Mar­shall

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 or on Face­book.

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