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‘Content has taken a backseat'

RANJAN DAS GUPTA

Oscar-winning auteur Martin Scorsese talks about the soon-to-be-released ‘Shutter Island,' favourite actors, filmmaking and his Indian association.



Master and his works:(Clockwise from left) Martin Scorsese; Shutter Island; The Color of Money

“Drama must have conflict, which initiates the interest of the audience,” says Martin Scorsese, in a call from Los Angeles. The ace director is awaiting the release of his latest ‘Shutter Island,' which won accolades at the recent Berlin Film Festival.

“ ‘Shutter Island' is a thriller about a psychopath,” he says. With dramatic twists and sub-plots thrown in for good measure. “Leonardo DiCaprio has performed well, ably supported by an understated Ben Kingsley. I've not gone for forcible de-dramatisation.”

Social concern

The iconic director of Oscar-winning films such as ‘Taxi Driver,' ‘Raging Bull' and ‘Gangs of New York' considers ‘The Color of Money' his most memorable creation. “‘The Color of Money' was deep-rooted in social concern about the effect money has on the upper class. The billiards game in the film was a symbol depicting society. I very much liked Paul Newman in ‘The Rustler,' and thought of repeating him in a character with more mature shades. He scored with his brilliant underplaying, winning an Oscar. He was very cooperative with new-comer Tom Cruise, who showed promise. In fact, the whistling tone in the film titles was Newman's idea. He was one of those actors who made method acting spontaneous, and his emerald eyes spoke volumes.”

Talking of actors, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro formed one of the best actor-director duos of the 1970s and 1980s.

“With taut scripts by the dynamic Paul Schrader, I considered it a true cinematic challenge of working with a versatile actor such as Robert De Niro, who moulds himself according to each character. The only other actor who matches his histrionic ability is Al Pacino.”

The conversation veers towards his plans to do a film on the life of Frank Sinatra. “I've had it in mind for a long time. Even the initial script is ready. I'm yet to spot the actor who can bring back Frank Sinatra alive on screen. My choice is Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro as Dean Martin.”

The master analyst, who has shown the decay of the American bourgeois in his films with resounding success, feels Hollywood is going haywire with content.

“Now, there are brilliant technicians such as James Cameron who create wizardry. But, unfortunately, content takes a back seat, as Francis Ford Coppola and Sir Richard Attenborough have said many times. Stalwarts such as John Ford, Billy Wilder and William Wyler were not only versatile and thinking directors, they concentrated on a variety of subjects, with importance to content. If I'm to direct a ‘Reds' or a ‘Cry Freedom,' I simply will not be able to do so, as my commitment to cinema is of a different nature. In this context, I must admit that European directors are far ahead of Hollywood. We simply cannot imagine experimenting like Vittorio De Sica, Ingmar Bergman or Jean Luc Godard.”

The best ones

Martin Scorsese considers Meryl Streep the best actor in contemporary Hollywood, followed by Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie. His favourite actors include Catherine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman.

“ ‘Gone With The Wind,' ‘Louis Pasteur,' ‘Sunset Boulevard' and ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird' are my all-time favourites. I consider Eisenstein's ‘Battleship Potemkin', Sir Charles Chaplin's ‘Monsieur Verdoux' and De Sica's ‘Bicycle Thieves' masterpieces.”

Interestingly, he plans to restore Uday Shankar's masterpiece ‘Kalpana' and some of Mrinal Sen's films. “I've been in touch with Mamata Shankar, daughter of Uday Shankar, and received positive response. By the end of this year, I intend to start restoring masterpieces such as ‘Kalpana' and a few films of Mrinal Sen.”

He considers Satyajit Ray the greatest filmmaker from the country, and feels Ray is leagues ahead of him and his contemporaries, in terms of social concern and cinematic genius. “When I watched the ‘Apu' Trilogy and ‘Devi,' I was moved by his sheer sense of aesthetics and versatility. In our films, we receive so much of financial support and scope to experiment. But, Ray created wonders with shoe-string budgets, and experimented as no other director during his time did.”

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