What amazes me after having read "Scorsese on Scorsese" (Faber and Faber, revised 2003, $15) is how much divergent work this one great American director has been able to get done in Hollywood. It took this book, edited by Ian Christie and David Thompson, to really focus my attention on Martin Scorsese's career and put it in perspective—somehow, before reading this, I was sure that he was at least two different men. But it's true—the director of "Gangs of New York," "GoodFellas," and "Raging Bull" is the same man responsible for "The King of Comedy," "After Hours," "The Age of Innocence" and, yes, the "Last Temptation of Christ." The man whose fame arose in part from his collaborations with Robert DeNiro even directed "Cape Fear" and was offered, believe it or not, "Analyze This."(Good move turning that one down, Marty.)
The book reads a little like a series of director commentaries similar to those you can hear on many DVD movie releases. Scorsese apparently has recounted the experiences he had on some key—and, perhaps, not so key—films through his career, and we read about them in his own words. In between, short entries from the editors move the action forward and tell a little about what was going on in Scorsese's career while he was making the film. While by no means a biography, the format allows you to explore the artistic drive that has caused Scorsese to make the films that he has.
In many cases that drive is a fascinating combination of a desire to take on the technical challenges—for "Gangs of New York," the Five Points neighborhood of mid-18th-century New York was completely recreated on a life-sized Italian set—and an interest in exploring a specific emotion or character trait, such as the obsessions that drive Howard Hughes in Scorsese's upcoming "The Aviator," scheduled for release in late 2004 (starring Leo DiCaprio).
Scorsese's work is informed by a love for music—he contributed to a 2003 series of music documentaries called "The Blues," and he is currently working on a Bob Dylan project—and an extraordinarily deep knowledge of film. In fact, you might feel a bit beaten up by his references to films and filmmakers in "Scorsese on Scorsese"—but in a good way that a film fan should appreciate. And copious chapter endnotes help to make sense of his references. You also learn that Scorsese is obsessive himself when it comes to planning his films, relying a great deal on storyboards and drawings to pre-visualize nearly every frame of a picture that he's making.
If anything, Scorsese is brilliant for having not only fought being typecast after an early career that focused on the Italian-American struggle, but also for getting so many good and interesting films made while working within the business constraints of Hollywood—and, frankly, mastering them.
— Todd Stauffer