Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies...

Martin Scorsese is a director who has delivered a string of great movies. Undoubtedly he is one of the living legends of cinema. That's why I was excited about a movie in which he talks about movies. A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies is a BFI produced  documentary. Made in three parts, it spans a total of three and a half hours.

As the title says, in this movie, Scorsese recounts the history of cinema in America. As he himself is a director, he narrates it from the perspective of a director. This is evident from the first movie that he introduces- The Bad and The Beautiful, a drama about the relationship between a producer and a director. The creative struggle of the director forms the backbone of the documentary. His dilemma, whether to make a movie according to his sensibilities or to cater to the whims of the investors and to play it safe, is a constant theme that Scorsese often falls back to. His selection of movies is divided into four segments according to the different roles played by the director in making movies.

He starts by lauding the role of director as a story teller. For this he introduces three genres that has got identified as distinctly American- Westerns, musicals and crime film. He describes the inception, growth and evolution of these three genres, showing clips of movies from different eras as examples. He talks about directors who established the ground rules of generic film making and explains how social changes of different times were reflected in their evolution.

Next, he shows us the director as an illusionist who uses technology to create images instead of just copying them. It is incredible and inspiring to watch how new technologies and new ideas in editing, cinematography and special effects progressed step by step and made it possible to create movies with increasingly complex narratives. Directors who used techniques effectively opened up new frontiers and revolutionised movie making. From silent to sound, from black and white to colour, American directors were more open to embrace and experiment with innovative technical processes. 

The studio system seriously curtail the freedom of a movie maker. But there are directors who worked within that system, cheated it and got away with it. They discreetly included their personal visionary statements in their movies. Most of these directors were champions of B-movies because B-movies suffered lesser interference from studios. Scorsese calls them smugglers. Along with horror and science fiction, film noir was also a genre that facilitated smuggling of ideas and political and social statements into the movies. It's another matter that the directors never knew they were making film noir, as the term was created much later by French.

The last part deals with directors who are to be considered iconoclasts. These are the directors who unlike smugglers, took the system head on and made groundbreaking movies that defied convention. Sometimes their uncompromising nature made them failures. These include visionary directors like Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Sam Peckingpeh who had to suffer the ire of studios at some point of their life. But more than the ones who conferred to the system and made movies that earned money for studios, the iconoclasts earned longevity in the annals of movie history.

In a movie that constitutes of a procession of movie clips and footage videos, Martin Scorsese's passionate narration is the element that binds it. He speaks with a precision and clarity that gets straight inside your heads. Adding to the pleasure are clips from interviews of several iconic directors. From Griffith to Kubrick, the movie showcases greatness in its many forms. It's an essential watch for movie enthusiasts.

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