Director Martin Scorsese is having the week of his life. After 35 years or more of making movies, he's finally being celebrated. It's about time.
On Friday, Scorsese will get his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Saturday night he'll get the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of America. If all works out, he may also get the DGA Award for Best Director for Gangs of New York.
(Something tells me he won't, though, since the DGA may feel that that's a lot for one person. But Scorsese is still the odds-on winner for the Academy Award no matter what happens.)
On Wednesday night in New York, the American Museum of the Moving Image devoted an evening to Scorsese's New York, showing clips from his early film Italianamerican, all the way through Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, GoodFellas, The Age of Innocence, Bringing Out the Dead and Gangs. They even showed his Michael Jackson video from 1987, "Bad."
Afterward, Scorsese and his Gangs writers Kenny Lonergan and Jay Cocks shared the stage with "olde" New York expert Luc Sante, author of Low Life.
Later we found out that on March 8, Scorsese will get a special award from the Writers Guild of America East for his collaborative efforts with screenwriters.
So many awards, so little time!
If you're a fan of Gangs — and I have been since last May, when I first wrote about it from the Cannes Film Festival — the AMMI evening was revelatory.
For one thing, Scorsese told us that the elaborate and gorgeous set that was built as the Five Points section of New York from 1860 is now being used for Mel Gibson's Jesus movie as Bethlehem. How do you like that?
We learned a lot more about Scorsese during the two-hour session.
About Raging Bull, voted by critics as the best movie of the 1980s: "I thought it would be my last film. I put everything I knew into it. I did it because of Robert De Niro's obsession with Jake La Motta."
On After Hours: Scorsese had moved to New York's SoHo after his divorce and found the cavernous loft spaces were not for him.
"I was dating at 44. What was that all about?" he said rhetorically.
The original version clocked in at two hours, 45 minutes, he said. "And it wasn't funny after 90 minutes."
Directors Steven Spielberg and Michael Powell gave him pointers and suggested an ending which he ended up using.
Taxi Driver cost $1.3 million, took 45 days to shoot, and "every day was a hellish experience. It was the summer and there were constant thunderstorms."
The famous scene of De Niro reciting the lines, "You talkin' to me?" was shot in a condemned tenement on the Upper West Side at Columbus Avenue and 90th St.
Gangs of New York was started back in 1980, as Scorsese and Cocks started reading everything ever written on the Draft Riots and New York of the period. (Listening to them discuss the real characters they based Bill the Butcher and others on was kind of mesmerizing.)
"But then Heaven's Gate happened," Scorsese said, "that and three or four other blockbusters which all came out at the same time and were huge flops. We thought that was it. Those movies destroyed a whole studio at the time [United Artists]."
As for Daniel Day-Lewis' legendary business of staying in character: "One day he and Leo [DiCaprio] got into a huge fight. They were rolling around on the ground. We didn't know who said what to whom. Then we realized Daniel was fighting with him, working them up to the point of physical exhaustion for the last scene. So we figured we'd better shoot it."
One thing that really caught me off guard was the clip from Scorsese's early documentary about his parents, called Italianamerican. His fans will recognize his parents, particularly his mom, from their cameos in his movies.
Two things developed from this film: Scorsese's interest in the idea of successive generations of immigrants moving into New York, and the use of cooking as a device.
In Gangs, of course, the early Americans resent the newly landed Irish. Interestingly, Scorsese's dad talks in 1962 in Italianamerican about the Irish treating the newer Italians in downtown New York so badly. It's just another part of the chain.
If you go see Italianamerican at AMMI, you'll see the set up for the famous GoodFellas scene when Joe Pesci takes the guys home and wakes up his mother (played by Catherine Scorsese) for a middle-of-the-night Italian meal — while there's a dead body in their trunk.
It doesn't make sense that America's two finest living directors, Scorsese and Robert Altman, have no Academy Awards. Last year this was almost rectified when Altman came close again with Gosford Park. This year, a great wrong can be righted when Scorsese gets his Oscar.
This is no slight to Roman Polanski, Rob Marshall, Pedro Almodovar and Stephen Daldry — or even Peter Jackson. They all did exceptional work. But this is clearly Scorsese's year. More from his AMMI tribute next week.
Whitney Houston's disastrous recent album has claimed its first victim. Yesterday, Arista Records bounced its senior vice president of black music, Lionel Ridenour. He'd been with the company for a decade.
Just Whitney has sold just 540,000 copies, even though the Record Industry Association of America certified it as a platinum album. That means Just shipped a million copies to record stores.
Unfortunately, some 400,000 are still sitting in those same record stores, or are someplace other than customers' homes. Just Whitney is No. 100 this week after less than three months on the charts.
Last year, Arista chief L.A. Reid gave Whitney a reported $100 million deal. Even if the total wasn't really that much, the reality is the company cut her a $20 million check and handed it over. That's cash.
With extras added on, Houston took a total of almost $25 million in the end, I am told. Someone had to pay for this catastrophe, and it wasn't going to be Reid. So Ridenour is history.
The irony here is that Arista's only real success in the last year has been the debut album by Avril Lavigne, a teenage Canadian white girl.
When Reid came into power at Arista, it was assumed the label would become more "urban-oriented" (meaning black). But Just Whitney was just a bust, and Santana's Shaman album has been an overall disappointment after his previous Supernatural blockbuster.
In Ridenour's place comes hip-hop producer Jermaine Dupri. Will he fare any better?
So far Dupri's biggest achievement has been to date Janet Jackson. But Janet records for Virgin Records and she's produced by Jimmy "Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis, so she won't be adding to the Arista bottom line any time soon.
As for Whitney, she seems blissfully unaware that there's a bill out there, and it's coming due.
Check your newsstands starting this weekend for the fourth annual Oscar magazine edited by yours truly. It is now called Red Carpet, and features my exclusive cover-story interview with Nicole Kidman, odds-on favorite for Best Actress from The Hours.
Also check out our parody of Lord of the Rings and Denis Ferrara's assessment of Madonna's acting career. There are also interviews with Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Denzel Washington and Steven Spielberg and Pedro Almodovar. Also, check out the ten "Most Valuable Players" — the characters without whom you couldn't have made a movie in 2002.