Martin Scorsese reflects on isolation in his new short film
by Kaleem Aftab
- Martin Scorsese reveals his lockdown anxiety and the fact that he has mostly spent isolation in a single room in a short made for BBC's Lockdown Culture with Mary Beard
Any Martin Scorsese film is a momentous occasion, so there was much excitement when it was revealed that he had made a self-shot short for Lockdown Culture with Mary Beard. The film, commissioned by the BBC, premiered in the final episode of Lockdown Culture with Mary Beard, just after Lee Daniels revealed that his latest film, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, had been due to launch at the 73rd Cannes Film Festival before its cancellation.
In the end, the short by Scorsese was most in keeping with his Voyage Through Cinema films, in which the director talks about his relation to the movies. The Italian-American director filmed himself in portrait mode, which has become the annoying manner in which cinema has decided to highlight that a scene is being shot on a mobile phone. So, for much of the time, Scorsese's face was squished into the middle of the screen. He did occasionally switch to landscape mode, especially at one moment when he had set up Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man, ready to play on a projector screen behind him. The film also included clips from the 1956 Hitchcock classic. Scorsese revealed that watching these movies in the past and the present had given him an understanding of isolation. It's no surprise – given the Catholic guilt that is a major theme in many of his classic films – that the director's experience of isolation has been one of “relief” but, most of all, “anxiety”.
In a room with his books, and two posters on the wall, plus a French one-sheet for the 1932 classic Doctor X and one for Cat People (although it is unclear if it was for the 1942 original or the 1982 remake by his oft-times screenwriting partner Paul Schrader), the 77-year-old director started by saying how the abruptness of having to stop life because of isolation initially brought a sense of relief. "At first, it was a day or so of this kind of relief. I didn't have to go anywhere or do anything. I mean, I had to do everything, but I didn't have to do it then."
He was in the middle of putting together what is expected to be his next film, a western called Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. It will be the first time that Scorsese has paired the actors he regularly uses in a single movie, which, it has been reported, will be financed by Apple. But will it survive COVID-19? "I do know that, given the grace of time and life, we will be in production somehow. What that production is going to be like, I'm not quite sure."
But the relief never lasts long in a Scorsese picture. "And then the anxiety set in."
The short mixes several clips from movies, ending with a scene from the 1946 film noir The Killers, showing two inmates taking comfort in looking through the bars to the sky and seeing the stars. There are also cut-outs to ornaments and books on Scorsese's shelf and a shaky camera, perhaps meant as a reflection of his inner turmoil. In truth, it was less a film and more a vox pop, but with everything Scorsese says, interest is high. His one major takeaway from isolation is that time should not be wasted and that we should look after each other. In this way, it was Scorsese revealing the man, rather than the myth.
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