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Change of direction for Scorsese

A look at Martin Scorsese's more unlikely works, with the release of his movie Hugo just around the corner.

More than any other Hollywood filmmaker, Martin Scorsese's name is synonymous with gangster movies. From Mean Streets to Goodfellas and Casino, not to mention his current HBO show Boardwalk Empire, he's given us enough sharp-suited wise guys to fill a dozen speakeasies. But although his latest film, the 3D family adventure Hugo, is a significant departure from anything Scorsese has done before, his career has been littered with unexpected left turns.

Growing up in New York's Little Italy, the boy who would one day direct Taxi Driver suffered from such severe asthma that he was encouraged not to play in the streets with other children. Instead, he engrossed himself in cinema. His latest movie, based on Brian Selznick's popular illustrated book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, sees a young Parisian boy using cinema to escape the struggles of 1930s life, in a story that closely mirrors the director's own.

During his more than 40-year career, Scorsese may have made a name for himself as the go-to guy for baseball bat-wielding gangsters, but in between such fare he has had time to explore rock'n'roll, 19th-century romance... and even Buddhism. These are some of the filmmaker's more unlikely works.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)

When a New York woman is left widowed at just 35, she takes off across America with only her 12-year-old son and the dream of becoming a singer, in this poignant, funny but frequently painful drama. Things don't work out easily for Alice (Ellen Burstyn in an Oscar-winning role). Forced to take a job as a waitress and preyed upon by a succession of men, the film was both lauded and condemned by the emerging feminist community of the 1970s.

New York, New York (1977)

Scorsese's homage to the big-band era opens on V-J Day in 1945. It stars Robert De Niro as a brash and self-centred saxophone player - a typical Scorsese rogue - falling for a small-time singer played by Liza Minelli. With a story typical of the musicals that inspired it, the pair's love is put under pressure when her star begins to outshine his. Although less than fulfilling as a whole, you'll be singing the title tune for a week after watching the movie.

The Last Waltz (1978)

One of the greatest concert movies ever made, The Last Waltz captured the final live performance of the illustrious Canadian country-rockers, The Band. Recruited by the guitarist Robbie Robertson (who had been a fan of Mean Streets) Scorsese filmed the three-hour show, during which audience members sat at giant banqueting tables. The set included guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and many others. The director has made several rock'n'roll films since, including this year's George Harrison documentary.

The King of Comedy (1983)

Even when straying away from the gangster genre, De Niro is still Scorsese's first choice for leading man. In this black comedy, he plays the brilliantly named Rupert Pupkin, an aspiring entertainer with such a lack of scruples that he kidnaps a late-night talk show host (Jerry Lewis) in the hope that it will ignite his own career. A box-office bomb at the time, this hilarious and dark reflection on stalking and fame is one of the filmmaker's most underrated movies.

Cape Fear (1991)

De Niro returns with another character who is both deeply hilarious and disturbing in this remake of the 1961 film of the same name. He plays Max Cady - an intimidating, yet highly intelligent ex-con thirsty for revenge on the attorney (Nick Nolte) who crossed him 14 years earlier. The relentless story sees Nolte terrorised at every turn, as Cady - a convicted rapist and batterer of young women - sets his vindictive sights on the lawyer's family. Stories this dark are rarely as funny.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Before re-teaming on Gangs of New York, Scorsese made this 19th-century tale with the legendary thespian Daniel Day-Lewis. A dainty period piece that couldn't be further from Raging Bull in tone or pacing, the film sees a wealthy New York man torn between the wife that respectable society expects of him (Winona Ryder) and the woman he truly desires (Michelle Pfeiffer). Another box-office disappointment, some felt the subject strayed a little too far from the director's best-known work.

Kundun (1997)

The filmmaker's only venture into Asia, Kundun tells the story of the discovery of the 14th Dalai Lama in Tibet in 1937. As soon as the spiritual leader comes of age, however, the country is reclaimed by China and he is told by Chairman Mao that "religion is poison". Although lauded by critics, the film was another box-office bomb and Scorsese (as well as several of the crew) were banned from ever entering China again.

Shutter Island (2010)

It may have felt deadly serious on the surface, but you could tell Scorsese was laughing underneath. The Leonardo DiCaprio-led mystery referenced everything from B-movies, to EC Comics and Hitchcock's more fantastical creations. The romping story of a troubled detective investigating the disappearance of a murderess on a remote island became the biggest box-office success of the director's career.

 

artslife@thenational.ae

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