Director Martin Scorsese Gets A New York Museum Exhibit

Dec 11, 2016
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

He's directed some of the most famous scenes in the history of American cinema.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TAXI DRIVER")

ROBERT DE NIRO: (As Travis Bickle) Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOODFELLAS")

JOE PESCI: (As Tommy DeVito) I'm funny how? I mean, funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you, I make you laugh.

CHANG: That's Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and "Goodfellas." Today, a new museum exhibition opens in New York City about the director's life and work. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Martin Scorsese has been making films for more than a half-century, but this is the first time a museum in the U.S. has mounted a major exhibition about him. And it's in some of the most ordinary objects on display at the Museum of the Moving Image that you'll find the richest stories of where this auteur came from, like his parents' wooden dining table.

MARTIN SCORSESE: They bought this new furniture that kind of - it's too ornate or I don't know - really, really I thought bad taste. But they loved it, and we had so many wonderful dinners at that table, and I shot "Italianamerican" at that table.

(SOUNDBITE OF "ITALIANAMERICAN AND THE BIG SHAVE" DOCUMENTARY)

WANG: That's the documentary short Scorsese shot in 1974 with his parents, Charles and Catherine.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ITALIANAMERICAN AND THE BIG SHAVE")

CHARLES SCORSESE: Talk the way you talk to me when you talk to your son.

CATHERINE SCORSESE: Are you looking for a fight or something, dear?

CHARLES SCORSESE: No.

CATHERINE SCORSESE: See, Marty, every time I sit close to him, he moves away.

WANG: They recount how Scorsese's grandparents left Sicily for New York City while they share a pasta and homemade meatballs. Scorsese recently told NPR's Steve Inskeep that those kinds of dinners were regular weekend gatherings for him and his film friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SCORSESE: And some evenings, Francis Coppola would be there many times. In fact, he fell in love with a dish my mother used to make with lemon chicken with some garlic in it. It's at his restaurant. Maybe I should have been the one to patent it, I guess. I don't know but...

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: You could've marketed that. It could have been Scorsese's lemon chicken.

SCORSESE: I should've - market's the word, yes. I never thought of that kind of thing.

WANG: What Scorsese has thought a lot about since his teen years - besides movies - is vinyl. One section of the exhibition is devoted to music.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHNNY MATHIS' "IT'S NOT FOR ME TO SAY")

SCORSESE: There's a box of my 45 rpm records that basically all the music from my, if you may call, profane movies comes from.

WANG: One of those records...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S NOT FOR ME TO SAY")

JOHNNY MATHIS: (Singing) It's not for me to say...

WANG: ...Ended up as music for an awkward double-date scene in Scorsese's "Goodfellas."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOODFELLAS")

LORRAINE BRACCO: (As Karen Hill) I couldn't stand him. I thought he was really obnoxious. He kept fidgeting around.

WANG: But it was how Scorsese used another record that really impressed Barbara Miller, a curator at the Museum of the Moving Image. It's in one of his earliest feature films from 1973...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MEAN STREETS")

SCORSESE: You don't make up for your sins in the church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home.

WANG: "...Mean Streets."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MEAN STREETS")

LENNY SCALETTA: (As Jimmy) You can't call me a mook.

GEORGE MEMMOLI: (As Joey Scala) I can't?

SCALETTA: (As Jimmy) No.

MEMMOLI: (As Joey Scala) I'll give you mook.

WANG: A pool hall brawl breaks out between the owner and some wannabe gangsters as The Marvelettes sing "Please Mr. Postman." This type of juxtaposition is a Scorsese signature, says curator Barbara Miller.

BARBARA MILLER: That tells you, for these guys, this was a joyful, exciting thing. This wasn't a terrible dark moment. This was them expressing in their own way this joy that they had about sort of who they were. And I think that the music was really the way to show that.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ROLLING STONES' "JUMPIN' JACK FLASH" SONG)

WANG: There's a letter on display in the Scorsese exhibition about securing music rights for "Mean Streets." Almost half of the film's budget went to paying for fees to use songs such as "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes and this Rolling Stones song, "Jumpin' Jack Flash." It's playing when Robert De Niro's character strolls into a bar with his arms around two women he just met. De Niro made another dramatic entrance on screen seven years later.

(SOUNDBITE OF "RAGING BULL" FILM)

WANG: In the lush strings of an Italian opera introduce a shadowboxing Jake LaMotta in Scorsese's "Raging Bull." Storyboards drawn by Scorsese for that 1980 film are featured in the exhibition.

Says Sugar Ray punching CU. CU stands for close-up?

MILLER: Yeah.

WANG: And then Jake's face, MCU...

DAVID SCHWARTZ: Medium.

WANG: Medium close-up.

SCHWARTZ: Yeah.

WANG: Curator David Schwartz says these pencil-and-ink sketches of LaMotta's last boxing match with Sugar Ray Robinson show how much Scorsese prepares for his films.

SCHWARTZ: A lot of directors would film fight scenes almost like documentary-style, you know, capturing the action, but this is very carefully staged.

WANG: Take a closer look at the research material for Scorsese's movies and you'll see that almost no detail is too small. Nils Warnecke, another curator who helped put together this exhibition - originally in Berlin - points to photos taken for Scorsese's 1991 remake of "Cape Fear." They show tattoos on Robert De Niro's chest and arms when he was preparing to play a former prisoner.

There's a tattoo of the name Loretta here.

NILS WARNECKE: Right.

WANG: And in Sharpie says a very dark, blue-green black.

WARNECKE: Right. So they were kind of obsessed with detail.

WANG: It's an obsession that forms the foundation of Scorsese's work. Warnecke compares his films to great architecture.

WARNECKE: And you can't take away anything, and there's nothing in just by coincidence. Everything has been thought about a lot.

WANG: It took about 25 years each for Scorsese to make "Gangs Of New York" and his latest film, "Silence." But movie lovers will only have a few months to see some of the costumes and props up close. The exhibition closes at the Museum of the Moving Image in April. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEREK & THE DOMINOS' "LAYLA" SONG) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.