The exciting, dark, and obsessive talent of Martin Scorsese is seen at its best in his explorations into the Italian-American identity. He looks into its endemic machismo and violence that often manifests itself in crime. His inventiveness was first noticed as editor and virtual director of Woodstock (1970), the rockumentary. Producer Roger Corman helped him make his first feature, Boxcar Bertha (1972), an excellent apprentice work with a fine sense of locale. Scorsese spent a bedridden asthmatic childhood with his Sicilian-Catholic family in Little Italy, New York. He gives the impression of being obsessed with his background, although he claims to have exorcised his childhood demons by making Mean Streets (1973). Filmed in dark tones, the movie inhabits the twilight world of nightclubs, where two crooks, Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and “Johnny Boy” (Robert De Niro), try to survive. The smooth bonhomie between members of the Mafia, the pasta meals, Italian arias, religious and family rituals camouflaging the gun lore seething beneath, were to become familiar elements in Scorsese’s thrillers. This milieu was revisited in GoodFellas (1990), where he refines the examination of these dubious, ironically glamorized, members of the Mob, seen through the eyes of Henry (Ray Liotta), who is attracted to the false aura of power and success. In Gangs of New York (2002), Scorsese recreates the Manhattan of the mid-19th century, where the predecessors of the “goodfellas” operated, on an epic scale. Raging Bull (1980) is the story of Jake LaMotta – world middleweight boxing champion from 1949 to 1951. Virtually an anti-biopic – unlike his more conventional The Aviator (2004) – it tells us nothing of La Motta’s past. Rather, it presents us, in splendid black-and-white images, with the male animal’s primitive emotions. Scorsese’s favorite actor, Robert De Niro, won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the raw energy of his performance. If the New York of Taxi Driver (1976) is the city of the 1940s film noir, then New York, New York (1977) shows the wonderful town of 1940s musicals. De Niro convincingly enacted the role of a disturbed would-be comedian in Scorsese’s black comedy, The King of Comedy (1982). The Departed (2006), a crime drama, won him a Best Director Oscar.
Away from the violence that dominates many of his films, Scorsese successfully entered Merchant-Ivory territory with The Age of Innocence (1993) and courted controversy with The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). In response to the criticism that his films contain pointless violence, Scorsese says, “There is no such thing as pointless violence. It’s reality, it’s real life, it has to do with the human condition. Being involved in Christianity and Catholicism when I was very young, you have that innocence, the teachings of Christ. Deep down you want to think that people are really good – but the reality outweighs that”.