A fundamental element of Italian history was emigration, which involved millions of people from 1876 to 1970, for almost a century. 45% of the emigration after the Unification of Italy, driven by poverty, headed towards the United States and moved mainly south of Sicily, Calabria and Campania. Every emigrant went where he could find friends or relatives who could help him.
Many were attracted to America by letters from their relatives, who often contained prepaid tickets as a sort of propaganda at the exodus. This meant that privileged links were soon established between departure areas and destination areas. Catholics and workers, Charles Scorsese and Catherine Cappa, both sons of Sicilian expats, went to live in Manhattan in the part known as Little Italy, on Elizabeth Street. It is precisely here that their son Martin will live during his adolescence.
Because of asthma he could not play sports and his small stature did not allow him to join the local gang. Thus, in 1956, he began his studies to become a priest, but he soon abandoned and developed a passion for neorealist and western cinema, starting to write and draw some stories.
“I trusted church because it made sense, what they preached, what they taught. I understood that there’s another way to think, outside the closed, hidden, frightened, tough world I grew up in”
Given his passion for cinema, he enrolled at the Tisch School of the Arts at the University of New York. In the future he returned as a professor and among his students there was a young Spike Lee (he also wrote his own list of films, you can find it here). His first feature films were Who’s That Knocking at My Door and Boxcar Bertha, then he directed Mean Streets, another film about Italian Americans in New York. From here on, the real success arrived.
It is worth mentioning the artistic partnership first with Robert De Niro and later with Leonardo Di Caprio. De Niro is the star of his eight films, including Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, which are among the cornerstones of American cinema and have contributed to increasing the international fame of both. De Niro won the Academy Award as best actor in Raging Bull.
With Di Caprio, on the other hand, the collaboration begins in Gangs of New York and continues with The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street. It would be interesting to understand why the actor has never won an Academy Award with the films directed by Scorsese.
Martin Scorsese is considered the greatest living American director and one of the most important in the history of cinema. In his long career he received many awards, including the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976 for Taxi Driver, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Film Festival in 1995, an Academy Award for best director in 2007 with The Departed, the Golden Globe for career and as Best Director for Gangs of New York and Hugo Cabret.
The Sight & Sound magazine in 2012 asked the greatest contemporary directors to choose their list of 10 best films of all time. Scorsese actually chose 12 titles. Through his favorite films you can understand a lot about his art:
- Citizen Kane by Orson Welles, 1941
- Paisà by Roberto Rossellini, 1943
- The Red Shoes by Michael Powell, 1948
- The River by Jean Renoir, 1951
- Ugetsu monogatari by Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953
- The Searchers by John Ford, 1956
- Ashes and Diamonds by Andrzej Wajda, 1958
- Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock, 1958
- Salvatore Giuliano by Francesco Rosi, 1962
- 8 ½ by Federico Fellini, 1963
- The Leopard by Luchino Visconti, 1963
- 2001: A Space Odissey by Stanley Kubrick, 1968
“8½ has always been a touchstone for me, in so many ways—the freedom, the sense of invention, the underlying rigor and the deep core of longing, the bewitching, physical pull of the camera movements and the compositions (another great black-and-white film: every image gleams like a pearl — again, shot by Gianni Di Venanzo). But it also offers an uncanny portrait of being the artist of the moment, trying to tune out all the pressure and the criticism and the adulation and the requests and the advice, and find the space and the calm to simply listen to oneself.”Martin Scorsese