Martin Scorsese looks at the changing face of Oscar season over four decades
For years, the Oscars and Martin Scorsese just didn't seem to jibe. His films didn't resonate with that crowd. Maybe it was because he was an outsider. Maybe it was because he didn't trade in the breed of films that typically found footing with the Academy. Whatever the case, it became, for decades, a consistent note: How does Martin Scorsese not have an Oscar?
Things began to change nearly three decades into his career. Until 2002, a Scorsese film registering with the group was not nearly the consistent occurrence it is today. Yet since "Gangs of New York," four of his last five films Have received Best Picture nominations and he finds himself a perennial fixture on the Oscar circuit, a circuit he has seen change drastically over the course of his career.
With Oscar voting drawing to a close, I spoke with Scorsese recently about that very phenomenon, how zealous campaigning by Hollywood magnate Harvey Weinstein may well have played a hand in catapulting the director into this new frame, and how perception of his work, whether from the industry or from the public, has always seemed to dance on a thin line. And here he is, "The Wolf of Wall Street" recently having become his most successful film to date, a culmination of sorts as many threads have slowly drawn together over the last decade.
Check out the back and forth below, with added discussion about his partnership with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker and what to expect from his upcoming "Silence" scattered throughout.
HitFix: Hey, sir. How are you? Thanks for taking time to chat on the weekend.
Martin Scorsese: Yeah, running around here. It's a little bit — time schedules are, you know — your body reacts a little oddly to it. I think I saw you in Santa Barbara and had just come in from Taiwan.
Where are you now?
Apparently in New York. So they tell me. And we're going out to L.A. again.
Yeah, it's a crazy time of year.
It's one of those things, you know, it's great. It's very nice that it's happening, but it is a bit... I also had to do location scouting in Taiwan so, trying to pull everything together — sleep patterns are lost. Anyway... So I hope I make some sense to you. What do you got?
Well I'm going to try to ask you some things that maybe you haven't been answering a million times. I'm going to give it a shot, anyway.
[Laughs.] I'll try to answer, seriously, as best I can! [Laughs.]
Well what you're talking about is actually part of it. I'm very curious about your perspective on the Oscar season because look, for the longest time, it was like, "Marty doesn't even have an Oscar. Who cares about the Oscars?" And then suddenly in the last 10 years you have four Best Pictures out of five movies and you're just on this circuit all the time. I'm curious your perspective on the season back in say the early-'80s versus now and just how it feels to you.
Well, that certainly was a different time, there's no doubt. The early-'80s, talk about the '70s, you know, "Taxi Driver" was nominated Best Picture, but myself and Paul Schrader were not nominated.
Well, at that time it was also Hal Ashby, his picture "Bound for Glory" was nominated and he was not nominated, and we were replaced by these two upstarts: Ingmar Bergman and Lina Wertmuller. [Laughs.] I mean, I adore Bergman, love Wertmuller, so it's like, what do you say and what can you do?
Yeah, that's a tough one.
I also realized that night, or when the nominations came out in '75, I think it was, or '76, that because of the nature of the films I was making, one never knew whether the American film industry, the American film art form has won, in a way — combining, because that's what it is in commercial cinema, whether they're independent films or not — what I'm saying is that I think it's all cinema, you know? Some are more commercial than others, obviously. And we were coming in from a less commercial side, in a way. And in those days it was encouraged, I mean for sensible budgets, where one didn't indulge, you know? And so I realized that was going to be the fate of the films I made, that we were just lucky enough to have recognition where we were based, which was Los Angeles at the time — to have recognition for the films at a place like the Academy. But normally the kind of films I made are not celebrated by the Academy, or if they are, they're recognized, but not given Oscars. They'll give an Oscar to the actor, maybe the writer, certainly to technical — editing, maybe cinematography. I think the best shot film that year was "Taxi Driver," Michael Chapman — he wasn't nominated. You know what I'm saying? Because the film is hard. It's a tough film. I don't know what to say.
I finally got used to the fact that — especially with "Raging Bull," when we were nominated, but I didn't win the Oscar, I didn't get it, which was fine — I actually had to put myself into a frame of mind saying, "Look, what are you complaining about? You can't complain. You have this picture that you finally put together. You got your career back online." Because after "New York, New York," that was a bit derailed and I didn't quite know where I was going, in a way. I was more concerned about whether I even have the passion to make another film. And with De Niro's help, etc., "Raging Bull" came out of that. That's what the whole movie is really about. It's about why you want to — it's the "Red Shoes" thing — why do you want to dance? Why do you want to live? If you can't express who you are or you have that kind of compelling need to utilize cinema and you can't get a subject matter or the financing to do what you really feel that you want to do, then why make it at all? So that was that scary period for me and it reached fruition in "Raging Bull." And that was good enough for me! [Laughs.] Getting the picture made was good enough for me at that point.
And that was also when you brought Thelma Schoonmaker back and were able to work with her again. Was reconnecting with her on a professional level, did that flip a switch for you, too?
Well, it's complicated in that I'm from New York. I come out of independent cinema. I may love and be inspired, and still am, by American classical Hollywood cinema, by European, Asian, etc., but I don't do that. I mean I thought for a while I could, but I don't. And so I come out of a tradition in the late-'60s — that was becoming a tradition, I should say — that was really spearheaded by independent filmmakers here and documentary filmmakers on the East Coast, some on the West Coast, too, but mainly on the East Coast. As far as narrative cinema is concerned it was, really, you go to Cassavetes and Shirley Clarke. And they were involved in the editing of their films.
In Hollywood, it was different, and I found that I certainly was not welcome in the editing room. I was making a living as an editor with Roger Corman and others out there at that time around '71, '72, '73, right before I made "Mean Streets." And so basically I was working as an editor, but I was non-union and for some reason I decided not to try to be or get in the union. First of all I didn't know how to, you know? But I was supervising a lot of montages, they called it, and editing films feature films for Roger Corman.