The Religious Affiliation of Director
From: Rose Pacatte (fsp, Director, Pauline Center for Media Studies), "Stuck between dying and dead...: Resource paper for film panel on Bringing out the Dead, Boston Faith & Film Festival, 10 February 2001 (http://www.daughtersofstpaul.com/mediastudies/reviews/filmbootd.html; viewed 11 July 2005):
Martin Scorsese, for better or worse, is a Catholic filmmaker. "I'm a lapsed Catholic. But I am Roman Catholic -- there's no way out of it" (quoted in After Image: The Incredible Catholic Imagination of Six Catholic American Filmmakers, Robert A. Blake, Loyola Press, 2000, p. 25). Robert A. Blake, SJ, of Boston College describes Scorsese's dominant ideology thus: "As a filmmaker, he is less interested in the world of concept and language, the realm of the theologian, than with the world of senses, feelings, and photographic images" (op cit. page 27). Of these, Bringing Out the Dead is full.
While the film [Bringing out the Dead] visuals are Scorsese's, the words belong to Paul Schrader... a lapsed Calvinist (or former member of the Dutch Reformed Church). Here he once again (Taxi Driver, Last Temptation of Christ) collaborates with Scorsese and we get a glimpse of mankind's complete depravity, along with a hint of the irresistibility of grace; it's like a struggle with predestination or inevitability. Like Scorsese, Schrader seems unable to escape the mark of his formative faith.
...I would like to return to the idea of religious 'after image' that Richard A. Blake, SJ takes as his theme in his 2000 book of the same title. Blake, like Robert K. Johnston in Reel Spirituality, also published last year (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids) both engage with Scorsese's and Schrader's approach to religion and film. Scorsese is a lapsed Catholic and Schrader is a fallen away Calvinist (or former Dutch Reformed)...
After discovering something of Schrader as an individual and his religious biography I began to look at him as a collaborator with Martin Scorsese. How did these two come together, first on Taxi Driver, then The Last Temptation of Christ, and Bringing Out the Dead? Blake deals extensively with the Scorsese-Schrader partnership (and I recommend Blake's book to you) but Jim Wall summed it up well when he wrote to me:
"I think Schrader and Scorsese meshed artistically because both were raised in strict religious traditions, rebelled, but have never lost that early mark."
From: Richard A. Blake, "Playing God, Bring Out the Dead" (review of Bringing Out the Dead) in America: The National Catholic Weekly, 1 January 2000, Vol. 182 No. 1, (http://www.americamagazine.org/MovieReview.cfm?articleTypeID=41&textID=479&issueID=261; viewed 11 July 2005):
Paul Schrader, who also wrote the screenplays for "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" (1980), created the script from the novel by Joe Connelly. He and Scorsese form a fascinating partnership. Schrader grew up in the Dutch Reformed tradition and even studied in a Calvinist seminary, while Scorsese put in a year in a Catholic minor seminary. Schrader's theological world does not pamper the fainthearted, and his scripts for Scorsese unflinchingly re-create a world corrupted by sin. While Schrader's Calvinist words suggest a universe beyond redemption without extraordinary intervention, Scorsese's Catholic images show sacred and sordid intermingled in the human condition. While the city streets teem with horrific victims and victimizers, Scorsese is still able to find a terrible beauty in the lights and shadows. While the police try to free a drug dealer impaled on a wrought iron fence, the sparks of their acetylene torches scatter into the night sky and blend with a lovely display of fireworks. For Scorsese's camera, terror and beauty become one. With cinematographer Robert Richardson, he literally turns this world upside down and sideways, as though suggesting that one must fight off moral vertigo while making the journey through highly ambiguous and uncharted terrain.
From: Richard A. Blake, S.J. (a Jesuit), "Finding God at the Movies ... And why Catholic churches produce Catholic Filmmakers", website: Woodstock Theological Center (http://www.georgetown.edu/centers/woodstock/report/r-fea79a.htm):
I'd like to limit our reflection tonight to Catholics. Most of them would never consider themselves religious filmmakers, nor do they think of themselves as self-consciously Catholic. They are "Catholic" filmmakers almost despite themselves. Martin Scorsese, the ex-seminarian who failed to gain admission to Fordham, put it most succinctly and yet most profoundly and in a most Catholic formulation when he opens Mean Streets in Old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street in Lower Manhattan. The hero has just come from confession, and he concludes his penance with the prayer: "You don't make up for your sins in church; you do it on the streets." He leaves church and spends the rest of the film trying to save his irresponsible friend from loan sharks, even to the shedding of his blood. Scorsese does not need ecclesiastical trappings to reenact this Catholic story of redemption; he does it on the streets, which for him are a violent and messy arena of grace...
To an astounding extent that I had never suspected until I started to look into the matter, the movies are really a Catholic medium... Catholics have been... over-represented in the creative side. Think of some of the key filmmakers that even casual film audiences know by name: Hitchcock, John Ford, Frank Capra, Scorsese and Coppola...
From an early age, Catholics learn to tame the mysteries of life and death with the hardware of the material universe. By dealing with the here-and-now rather than fleeing it, Catholic filmmakers allow their characters to seek a form of redemption in their day-to-day struggles... Coppola and Scorsese have their heroes wrestle with the conflict between tribal loyalties to the family or the mob and their own personal integrity, but they too find redemption... All their characters seek personal integrity and redemption in the midst of a community. Their struggles are rarely couched in spiritual terms, but they are invariably religious quests with milestones along the way marked by Catholic images. The Catholic imagination is more than catholic, more than sacramental - it is profligate. It sees the workings of grace everywhere.
From: Andy Dougan, Untouchable: A Biography of Robert De Niro, Thunder's Mouth Press: New York (1996), page 93:
America in the mid-seventies was at the heart of yet another debate on the place of the cinema as a guardian of the nation's morals. Taxi Driver [starring Robert De Niro] was seized by both sides. Those who argued for greater censorhip saw it as little more than an abomination, with the former seminarian Scorsese [who directed it] the nearest thing to the Antichrist in human form. Those who argued for greater liberalism hailed the film... as a masterpiece that proved what could be done when artists were allowed the freedom to create great work.
From: Sean Smith, "Fr. Blake Explores Lives, Work of Six Catholic Filmmakers" in The Boston College Chronicle, 13 April 2000, Vol. 8, No. 15 (http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/rvp/pubaf/chronicle/v8/a13/blake.html):
Capra is one of six prominent American directors whose use of Catholic symbolism and imagery Fr. Blake explores in his new book AfterImage. Sub-titled The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers, the book also examines the films of Martin Scorsese, John Ford, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock...
Fr. Blake selected the six not only for their stature in film history but because they represent different kinds of Catholics, from Scorsese and De Palma's contrasting experiences as Italian-Americans to Ford's upbringing in a Maine Irish-Catholic setting, as well as the English-born Hitchcock's eventual metamorphosis as an American Catholic.
"For all these differences, their films show an unmistakable and identifiable spiritual kinship," Fr. Blake said. "Almost without exception, they display a Catholic sense of sin, guilt, atonement and redemption. Their most virtuous heroes struggle with grace as members of a communion of sinners. They seek redemption within a community rather than as individuals, and often salvation is mediated by a loving, self-sacrificing savior."
...Fr. Blake... devotes a chapter to each filmmaker, offering a brief biographical sketch with particular attention to the director's Catholic background.
From Christopher Garbowski, "The Catholic Imagination in Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz", in Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 5, No. 2 October 2001 (http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/catholic.htm):
A number of authors stress that the work of Scorsese is imbued with the sensibility of his Catholic upbringing. [Footnote: See Richard A. Blake, AfterImage: The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers. Loyola Press, 2000; Lee Lourdeaux, Italian and Irish Filmmakers in America: Ford, Capra, Coppola and Scorsese. Temple University Press, 1990; Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Imagination. University of California Press, 2000] For instance, Andrew Greeley feels that although Scorsese is rather a lapsed Catholic, his imagination gravitates toward Catholic concerns, such as "an intense family life, intricate extended family relations, and a close-knit neighborhood community."
...If the Catholic imagination informs Scorsese's fiction films, The Last Waltz provides evidence that it also seems to influence how he sees the mission of the filmmaker. Through his individualistic approach, this in part religiously inspired work reaches out to the marginalized, i.e. those disaffected by institutional religion, and provides, if not grace, a sense of enchantment, an embodiment of something sacred, in vivid dialogue with the religious imagination.
From: Lynn Haney, Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life, Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, NY (2003), pages 50-51:
Producer Martin Scorsese, a friend of Greg's, has drawn heavily on his Catholic boyhood for film inspiration. He notes: 'The church and the movie house both are places for people to come together and share a common experience. I believe there is spirituality in films, even if it's not one that can supplant faith. I have found over the years that many films address themselves to the spiritual side of man's nature, from Griffith's Intolerance (1916) to John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) to Kubrick's 2001 (1968) and so many more . . . It's as if movies answer an ancient quest for the common unconscious. To fulfill a spiritual need that people have to share a common memory.'
Scorsese was not a Buddhist, but he was the director of the extremely pro-Buddhist feature film "Kundun." From: Terrance Gillum, "Hollywood heavyweight directors star in Buddhism documentary" (press release), 14 October 2004, on The Buddhist Channel website (http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=00000000012,00000000013,0,0,1,0; viewed 1 July 2005):
Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci, and the Dalai Lama star in the Refuge the John Halpern documentary that will compete in the inaugural Century City Film Festival, benefiting the Minorities In Broadcasting Training Program charity...
The Century City Film Festival will host the West Coast premiere screening of the John Halpern documentary Refuge, the true story about Buddhism today, as told by Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, the Dalai Lama, Bernardo Bertolucci and others.
Film makers Oliver Stone, (Alexander, Nixon, JFK), Martin Scorsese (The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Casino), Italian Director Bernardo Bertolucci (The Dreamers, Stealing Beauty, Little Buddha) and spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama discuss controversial issues concerning Buddhism in the West. "Refuge offers insight into Tibetan culture and Buddhism beyond Icons and Misconceptions," says Director, John Halpern.
Refuge includes controversial subjects like: the distinction between Buddhism and Tibetan culture, Exploitation in the West in the name of Buddhism, Spiritual voyeurism and Can Buddhism survive without Tibet? Refuge blends the humor and charm of its story tellers with the beauty of India, Tibet, Nepal and the United States.
Refuge is a refreshing and revitalizing experience of Buddhism and the spiritual developments in the West since the fall of Tibet in 1959. It is testimony to the vigor of spiritual pursuit and peace in times of religious turbulence and fear.
Dougan, pages 172-173:
For Scorsese, who had once harboured serious thoughts of being a Catholic priest, there were compelling religious and theological reasons for making The Last Temptation of Christ. Despite their common background, De Niro does not share Scorsese's strong religious convictions. The Catholicism in his family comes from his grandmother but it was not strictly enforced, and there appears to be little room for formal religion in his life. But even without any overriding religious considerations, there was always friendship.
'I was not interested in playing Christ. It's like playing Hamlet,' he explained. 'I just didn't want to do it. Marty and I talked about it. We do things with each other because we like to work together, but also for our separate reasons. I have mine as an actor, he has his as a director. That's the best way.
'Last Temptation was something I was never interested in doing. But I did tell him, "If you really have a problem, if you really want to do it, and you need me, I'll do it. If you're against the wall and have no other way, I'll do it as a friend."'
Scorsese appreciated the gesture, but he also points out that when it was made De Niro had had his head shaved for a prosthetic that was required in Once Upon a Time in America. Both me probably knew in their hearts that the world was not yet ready for a balding Christ... [Eventually] Willem Dafoe played Christ
From: Les Keyser, Martin Scorsese, Twayne Publishers: New York (1992), page xii:
Scorsese remains the New Yorker displaced in Hollywood, the Italian American Catholic in a land of WASPs, the urban street boy in a land of accountants and yuppies. "God's lonely eman" seeking an audience for his last testament.
Keyser, page xv:
1942 - Martin Scorsese born in Astoria, Queens, New York, on 17 November to Charles and Catherine Scorsese.
1950 - Transfers from public school to St. Patrick's Elementary School in New York's Little Italy, where his parents have moved because of financial problems.
1956 - Enters Cathedral College, the seminary of the Archdiocese of New York, on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
1957 - Transfers to Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx.
1960 - Enters New York University and meets Halg Manoogian, the professor who inspires him to be a filmmaker.
Keyser, pages 1-2:
From Little Italy to Seminary to New York University: Scorsese's Trinity
On 3 October 1974, in an auditorium filled tocapacity with urban sophisticates and film mavens, Catherine Scorsese, an elderly Italian garmentworker, shared her family's secrets with the world. The final credits of her son Martin's film Italianamerican carefully recorded the recipe for Mama's spaghetti "gravy" and for her preternaturally light meatballs... this was an authentic heirloom recipe, as real as the Scorsese family's obvious love for one another and as rich as the Sicilian tradition they had transplanted to New York's Little Italy...
Charles Scorsese [Martin Scorsese's father] eloquently remembers making extra money lighting the stoves for his Jewish immigrant neighbors on the Sabbath; rhapsodizes about the pleasures of listening to the brand-new Atwater Kent radio they bought; and laughts nostalgically about Irish bars
Keyser, pages 7-13:
If the film world and pop music stood as Scorsese's chosen "City of Man," the Roman Catholic church proved his introduction to the "City of God," and like Augustine, he would be torn between the two. While Italian immigrants were largely Roman Catholics, their creed was, in the words of sociologists "an amalgam of Christian doctrines, magic, and pagan beliefs" (Gambino, 15-16). Martin, the son sent to St. Patrick's School on Mulberry Street, was acutely aware of the distinction between his ancestors' faith and the Catholicism promulgated by his school's Irish clergy and nuns. Scorsese is most explicity on this dichotomy in a complex interview he did with Richard Corliss after the release of The Last Temptation of Christ. Scorsese obviously knew he had a sympathetic and knowledgeable listener in Corless, a writer who began his career with an infamous article analyzing the Catholic church's Legion of Decency, so the director plumbs this intricate question most candidly. Survival was such a problem for most Italian immigrants and for his parents, Scorsese argues, that "I don't think the church figured into their life that much." They were in essence, he maintains, "pagans" who put the church in "a certain perspective," never allowing it to effect their personal lives on issues like birth control. For them, he continues, and for his grandmother, the churchhad more to do with icons and rituals, with statues and sacramentals, with feast days and festivals: "My grandmother was the one who had the portrait of the Sacred Heart. Also the niche with the statue of the Virgin Mary grinding the snake under her foot. Also, the beautiful, gigantic crucifix over the bed, with Jesus in brass and the palms from Palm Sunday draped over the crossbar." Scorsese's sensuous recollections of these pious artifacts suggests his own involvement with them, even as it confirms Gambino's observation that the "Old World contadini regarded religious observances, churcgoing, and other sacred habits as cose femminile, women's things" (Gambino, 232). Although many critics have commented on Scorsese's preoccupation with the visible signs of sanctity and worship, the most original assessment of the impact of the external paraphernalia and liturgy of Catholicism on his art remains Scorsese's own off-the-cuff observation to Diane Jacobs: "I've never gotten over the ritual of Catholicism, but I guess it's the same type of feeling some might get from taking an acid trip."
Scorsese's flashbacks to Catholic imagery focus acutely on the Irish version of Catholicism hammered home at parochial school. In one of those ironies so common in New York City's history, the Irish had no sooner built their church and schoolhouse on Mott and Mulberry streets than the Civil War intervened, and a new wave of immigration followed, leaving a student body that was primarily Italian. The church was slow to respond to the change, so year after year nuns from Ireland arrived at St. Patrick's school to tutor Italian children. Describing this mixup, Scorsese jokingly observed, "You had a little enclave of Irish mafia religious thinking in the school which conflicted with the home lives of the Italian kids."
Still another conflict was brewing with the Puerto Ricans who were beginning to attend St. Patrick's school. The mantle of the church did little to quiet ethnic combat between the old Italian immigrants and the new Latin immigrants. Scorsese recalls seeing a street fight where a Puerto Rican kissed his knife, and the image recurs in many transformations in his films.
Scorsese attended St. Patrick's in the 1950s, and the nun's apocalyptic visions of hell and nuclear holocaust, of damnation and the Communist threat shaped his nightmares. In a 1987 interview with James Truman, Scorsese recalls the terrors of Cold War air-raid drills: "They'd take us all out of the classroom and lead us to the catacombs under the church, and we'd have to pray the rosary under the church, echoing among the graves. That was pretty grim. We were told that this was what the fire of Hell would be like." These hours in hell, Scorsese realizes, helped shape both his temperment and his visual style. As he recognizes now, he was so sensitive then that he has never "been able to get past a lot of that stuff" and freely admits the aftermath of his early indoctrination: "Images from then are always coming back to me. The camera movement in a lot of my films certainly comes from creeping around those catacombs, with the sound effects of the echoing rosary" (Truman 79-81).
Despite all its strict sanctions and stern commandments, Catholicism did offer Scorsese a vision of eventual salvation and heavenly bliss, a community of fellow worshipers, and the drama of august [page 9] rituals. In an essay assessing religion's imapct on his art, Scorsese assigns much importance to the serenity and beauty he found in church: "And the nuns liked me. I needed to be accepted somewhere. I couldn't do it in the streets--the kids were really rough . . . so I guess the acceptance I went for was in the church. I started going to Mass, and those Masses were kind of theatrical. The church itself, St. Patrick's Old Church, was enormous to an eight-year-old--and it still is, it's quite a beautiful church. As a result of all that, I began to take it much more seriously than anybody in the family did" ("Streets", 91-92). Years later, Scorsese would convince his friend Francis Ford Coppola to use St. Patrick' Old Church as the setting for the baptism scene in The Godfather. The youthful Scorsese avoided meat on Friday, fasted during Lent, observed his Easter obligation, and followed the Stations of the Cross frequently. The only chink in his sacerdotal armor was his inability to give up his "guilty pleasures" for Lent; he never allowed his churchgoing to get in the way of his moviegoing or to limit his obsession with the "Million Dollar Movie" on New York Television.
Scorsese became the altar boy whose specialty was the 10:30 A.M. funeral mass on Saturday. As an altar boy of 11 or 12, Scorsese idealized a young parish priest, who shared the boy's penchant for movies. The mentoring relationship proved so important that Scorsese decided he had a calling to be a parish priest himself. Recalling these yearss in a Newsday interview in 1987, the filmmaker hypothesizes that the vocation was his attempt to find joy in a dreary world: "I guess being that young and having experienced some traumatic things . . . I maybe was looking for some peace or an answer of some sort, an idea of how one achieves any kind of happiness. And I started to say 'Well, at least with a religious vocatoin, a priest or a nun might have more of an inside line to heaven.'" Two critical concens expressed here, the problem of "how one achieves any kind of happiness" and the concept of "an inside line to heaven," could both be subtitles for virtually all Scorsese films. The angel-headed hipsters of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, the entertainers in New York, New York, The King of Comedy, and The last Waltz; the athletes of Raging Bull and The Color of Money; and the Messiah of The Last Temptation of Christ--all seek the solace of "any kind of happiness" and the security of "an inside line to heaven." The deeply personal nature of Scorsese's cinema has its wellsprings in his own endless quest for the joy of Christian agape and the wonder of the Parousia.
[page 10] Charles and Catherine Scorsese frowned on the idea of their son as a priest, mirroring an attitude common in Sicilian culture. As sociologists Nathan Glazer and Patrick Moynihan have observed, immigrant mores dictated that "a man is supposed to be a man, and celibacy has always been something of a problem for the South Italian culture, which tends to see sexual needs as imperative and almost incapable of suppression or moderation." Nevertheless, in September 1956 young Scorsese enrolled at Cathedral College, the seminary for the New York archdiocese, and began preparations for the priesthood. The journey from Little Italy to the Bronx, from city streets to secluded seminary, proved trying for this conscientious adolescent, and his doubts and fears intensified daily. Scorsese movingly described his spiritual angst to Gene Siskel in 1988: "I took the Gospel very seriously. I wondered then and I still wonder whether I should quit everything and help the poor. But I wasn't, and I'm still not, strong enough." Scorsese's ministry and witness boundhim to outcasts and the despairing, just as his cinematic vision embraces exiles and misfits, the lost and the damned. If Scorsese left behind the Roman collar, he has never lost his fircely Christian vision, or his feelings of inadequacy and guilt for not being "strong enough." Diane Jacobs recalls that when he asked Scorsese about the "strongest legacy" of his Catholic upbringing, he replied most "unequivocally" that his inheritance was "a major helping of guilt, like a lot of garlic."
Some of the guilt may have been generated by Scorsese's expulsion from the seminary. Various reasons have been offered for his sudden departure including tales of his roughhousing and brandishing fake guns and of monsignors screaming at this strutting Italian pseudo-toughguy that he wouldn't learn anything until his head was hit on a brick wall. The most realistic assessment might be Scorsese's own admission, "I discovered girls and started dreaming and I let out the energy by becoming a class clown." The erotic energy of the would-be-celibate-priest Scorsese could be neither contained by cold showers and devotional readings nor sublimated in the gulity pleasures of cinema. Like the adolescent Catholic protagonist of his film scenario "Jerusalem, Jerusalem," an as-yet-unrealized section of the Mean Streets film cycle, Scorsese agonized over his habitual... a mortal sin in Irish Catholic rubrics, enough to damn a boy to everlasting flame. The muddle in his mind was tortuous, director Scorsese explained to writer Maureen Orth, because his obsession with women and their bodies overwhelmed his good intentions. His solitary attempts [page 11] at religious meditation quicky gave way to unwelcome "images of women's ankles" which inevitably led him to sinful acts. His moral scrupulosity compouned the problem. Developing these ideas, Scorsese offered Orth a catch-22-like visionof his moral universe: "it's the old concept of mortal sin: you're in the wrong if you're tempted. And if you give in, it is a mortal sin. That's what they taught us, right?" While Catholic ethicists might answer no and attempt to refine Scorsese's statement of canon law, his interpretation of temptation and guilt provides a backdrop for his The Last Temptation of Christ. Like Jesus in that film, Scorsese the seminarian was beset by voices, overcome by urges, and bedeviled by desires. Dreams of bliss in a woman's arms made it impossible for Scorsese himself to accept the cross of celibacy.
Upbeat, sensual secular music was also drowning out the Gregorian chant of the seminary for Scorsese. Scorsese could blame it all--his alientation from Italian culture, his constant distraction from studies, and even his crisis of faith--on rock-and-roll, on Elvis, Fats Domino, Bill Haley, and Little Richard. Scorsese listened to the radio constantly and bought all the latest records. His collection became so extensive that frequently he uses his own records in his films because he "couldn't find new copies." Rock-and-roll rhythms would merge with Scorsese's movie memories as he pioneered the movement to merge popular music, avante-garde film techniques, political revolution, and personal liberation in a new youth culture. The music was driving him out of the seminary and into the streets in his black leather jacket.
Poor grades at Cathedral sealed Scrosese's fate, so he soon made the arduous journey from Little Italy to a different Catholic institution in the Bronx. Cardinal Hayes High School, training ground for the Catholic laity. Scorsese loathed the doctrinaire, regimented education here, but he struggled to eerase his academic shortcomings to qualify for college. Clinging to his ethnicity and his faith, Scorsese hoped to attend the mecca of upwardly mobile Italian immigrants: Fordham University, a Catholic school whose student body was almost 50 percent Italian. At Fordham he planned to study theology and merit another chance at the priesthood.
But Fordham would not have him. The only college open to Scorsese was the university right around the corner from Little Italy. New York University, where he enrolled in 1960, majoring in literature. Scorsese's fortuitous entry into this Greenwich Vilage-based university at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and the following turbulent decade he spent at New York University's School of the Arts--studying, pursuing a graduate degree, scrambling for work in film, and teaching--would eventually tranform American cinema...
No one individual would have a greater influence on Scorsese's art, however, than Haig Manoogian, an unassuming professor of film at New York University who helped shape the philosophy of the whole 1960s generation of that university's film school students... Scorsese realized that his Italian heritage, his Catholic faith, his rock-and-roll music, and his inner turmoil could all by synthesized on screen; cinema could make him whole. Manoogian's vision of filmmaking shaped Scorsese's new calling. Scorsese thought, he later wrote, that all his religious passion could be the wellspring for his films: "But once [Manoogian] started talking about film, I realized that I could put that passion into movies, and then I realizeed that the Catholic vocation was, in a sense, through the screen for me" ("Streets" 93). A measure of how deeply Scorsese had been influenced by Manoogian's theory of filmmaking and how much of his religious passion Scorsese was ble to release into film can be found in Pauline Kael's poetically negative appraisal of Raging Bull, which charges that Scorsese has "got moviemaking and the church mixed up together; he's trying to be the saint of cineam." Martin Scorsese, the son of Little Italy, the altar boy from St. Patrick's church, and the graduate of New York University, does indeed struggle mightily to be "the saint of cinema," and more often than not he succeeds.
Keyser, page 17:
For It's Not Just You, Murray!, what came "out of the wash" ensured that the young director [Martin Scorsese] would have more opportunities to make films. Murray proved such a success that the Fourth New York Film Festival featured in on 13 September 1966, and Don Rugoff played it commercially at his Cinema One theaters after having the 16 mm print blown up to 35 mm. The Hollywood Producers' Guild honored It's Not Just You, Murray! as the best student film of 1964, so the starstruck Scorsese flew to the West Coast and found himself seated at the podium with Alfred Hitchcock, who was receiving a Milestone Award. Scorsese and Hitchcock, directors linked by their Catholicism and their mutual interest in the dark side of humanity, in violence, guilt, and psychological terror, never spoke, yet their presence together mirrors the transition between young and old, the transition from the studio system to a new, freewheeling, deal-oriented Hollywood.
Keyser, page 18:
All accounts of Scorsese's youth agree on one particular: he was not popular with local girls, because he wa short, sickly, shy, and devoted to the church. For all his feverish nights in the seminary, Scorsese had little real experience with women. At NYU Scorsese found dating much easier and began forays into obsessive love. Scorsese's whole life evidences his initial frenzied involvement with his lovers and his eventual disenchantment and boredom.
Keyser, page 19:
Joey Morale... reminisced about Scorsese's four-year "steady" relationship with a Sicilian girl from the neighborhood, Phyllis, who remains a close friend of Scorsese's parents. Everyone assumed a marriage was in the offing until Scorsese brough hom a cultured Irish-Jewish girl from NYU, Laraine Marie Brennan, whose voluptuous beauty inspired the character Teresa in Mean Streets...
Scorsese has been reticent about discussing his marriage to Laraine Brennan; it led him to face crises in his life, raising questions about religion, about career versus domesticity, and about severing connections to his past. When Scorsese does mention Laraine, it's in the context of rebellion against his parents' values, against church teachings on sexuality, and against the war in Vietnam. Yet Laraine Brennan and her virgin bridegroom Martin Scorsese were married in the most traditional of ceremonies in New York's august cathedral, St. Patrick's, soon after his graduation. They then moved to Jersey City, where on 7 December 1965 their first child, Catherine--named for her paternal grandmother--was born.
Keyser, pages 21-22:
[Mardik] Martin and Scorsese envisioned Season of the Witch as part of a messianic trilogy, beginning with Jerusalem, Jerusalem, continuing with Who's That Knocking at My Door?, and concluding in Sason of the Witch. The concept of this religious trilogy preoccupied them; their vision was epic and tragic, and they wanted to make a theological cinematic masterpeice...
The treatment for the trilogy's first installment, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, was completed on 29 March 1966... an unabashedly candid confession, [it] represents a transparent roman a clef, with Scorsese as J.R., a young boy tortured by guilt over his habit of [pleasuring himself], trying to regain his spirituality in a three-day retreat at a Jesuit monastery. The retreat master, Father McMahon, offers little solace for J.R., dismissing him at the retreat's end with an injunction to see a good Catholic psychiatrist. In the three days, however, J.R., whose readings include The Lives of the Saints and The Screwtape Letters, participates in an outdoor procession through the Stations of the Cross as he fantasizes about a contemporary crucifixion in New York city, hears a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon on the evils of permarital sex, and experiences his own religious vision.
Scorsese made an identical retreat to a Jesuit seminary as a teenager, where his retreat master also suggested psychoanalysis, a recommendation that launched Scorsese into his first therapy, which extended over seven years. The highlight of Scorsese's retreat followed a sex sermon that centered on Christ's suffering as recorded in the Shroud of Turin. The terrified youth experienced a disorienting epiphany: "I was also a city boy, so anything in the country, a noise, seemed scary. It became like an auditory hallucination where I heard crickets that got louder and louder and louder until they made me feel like I was going to burst. And then I saw the smudges on the window become like the face on the Shroud. That happened about three times during the night. I walked around the halls trying to get out of it" ("Streets," 98). Scorsese remains so obsessed with the sermon, his vision, and the concept of premarital sex as a damning offense that Mean Streets still includes a key scene where his friends mock Charlie for believing a retreat master's parable about illicit lovers trapped in a burning car.
On element of Jerusalem, Jerusalem deserves special comment. The dramatic intercutting of J.R.'s journey through the Stations of the Cross and his vision of an urban crucifixion foreshadows Scorsese's frequent use of scenes from the Passion and references to the crucifixion in his films, as well as suggesting the wellspring for his project The Last Temptation of Christ. There is a connection between J.R.'s guilty prayers and the suffering of the urban Christ figure: the key concept of the atonement as construed in Catholic dogma. For Catholics, the crucifixion is more than a historic martyrdom; expiation and atonement constitute eternal processes, so the nails are always being driven in by sin, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. For Scorsese's tortured protagonists, the suffering on Golgotha exists as their past, their present, and their future. Jerusalem, Jerusalem provides the eternal perspective against which the rest of the Mean Streets narrative functions. The headnote for Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which Scorsese borrowed from Robert Bresson's film Diary of a Country Priest, could serve as an introduction to all three film projects: "God is not a torturer. . . . He only wants us to be merciful with ourselves."
About Scorsese's semi-autobiographical film Who's That Knocking, from: Keyser, pages 27-28:
...it's not just the girl and J.R.'s cronies war inside his head for his affection; in his worldview they are also warring over his immortal soul. His "salvation" lies in his allegiance to church and family, not in his love for a blond or in his pleasure with his male friends. Each element in J.R.'s bizarre trinity excludes the other; he cannot integrate girl, friends, and God in one life. His choices are limiting rather than liberating, self-destructive rather than nurturing. Yet J.R.'s dilemma obviously parallels the choices Scorsese himself was facing between the world of movie, his love for his first wife, his roots in Little Italy, and his Catholic faith.
Some critics, such as Michael Bliss, identify the church as the villain in Who's That Knocking, arguing melodramatically that the film centers on Scorsese's repudiation of J.R.'s doctrinaire faith. In Bliss's view there is a clear answer to the question the title, borrowed from a rock song, poses: "It is the Catholic-corrupted, Catholic-appropriated Jesus, the God of pain and destruction . . . who is knocking at the door; it is the God of morbidity who demands entrance" (Bliss, 47). Bliss's argument in its hyperbole mistakes Scorsese's resevations for rejection. Undoubtedly, J.R. suffers from the guilt his faith generates and longs for a purification that never comes, but Who's That Knocking? also suggests the security and nurturing to be found in a bosom of the church and the eucharist of Italian family life.
The film opens in a flashback to J.R.'s youth, and we see him as a boy with four other siblings receiving, the Brenner summary expostulates, "the warmth and love of his mother and the heavy influence of the uncompromising teachings of the Roman Catholic Faith" (Brenner, 2)... Scorsese accentuates the family ties in Who's That Knocking by casting his own mother as the bread giver and by returning compulsively to J.R.'s rejection of the bread of Italian life.
Similarly, Scorsese underscores the tangible symbols of Catholicism by loading his frame with crucifixes, holy-water fonts, plater-of-paris statues, and votive candles. Many reviewers lambasted the panoply of Roman Catholic symbols surrounding Harvey Keitel as directorial overkill, but Scorsese actually shot the key scenes of J.R.'s religious indoctrination in his family's apartment, specifically in his mother's bedroom using her statues and sacramentals.
There are extensive references to Scorsese's Catholicism and the Catholic themes in his films throughout the rest of Les Keyser's book Martin Scorsese, which from this point (roughly page 33) focuses not on simply providing a biography of the filmmaker, but on analyzing each of his films. Virtually any legitimate book-length treatment of Scorsese and his films contains similar content. Only a few additional passages from Keyser's book have been excerpted below.
Keyser, page 32:
Scorsese puts little trust in a rational universe progressing in orderly ways to a preordained goal. His fictional universe fequently lacks causality and structure, and his characters depend more on the final mercy of God than any day-to-day evidence of divine Providence. In Scorsese's world everyone is unwittingly destined to fulfill God's plan.
Keyser, page 35:
Interestingly, the crucifixion in Boxcar Bertha came from the original script [which was not written by Scorsese, but which Roger Corman assigned Scorsese to direct], but the stylish presentation of it is pure Scorsese. Scorsese considered this sequence the "most important" element in Boxcar Bertha and "figured I might as well get it out of my system once." (Kelly 1980, 20). Driven by his belief that the inclusion of a crucifixion scene in his first Hollywood project was "a sign from God," Scorsese worked full throttle on this scene and was pleased with the results: "I liked the way we shot it, the angles we used, and in particular the way you saw the nails coming through the wood, though they were never seen piercing flesh" (Scorsese 1989, 36).
Crucifixions and purgation through violence never drop out of Scorsese's system, and on the set of Boxcar Bertha [Barbara] Hershey, when she discovered Scorsese's Catholic fixation on atonement, gave the young director a book she thought he might like, Nikos Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ, requesting that if Scorsese ever filmed the novel, she be cast as Mary Magdalene. [When Scorsese actually made a film adaptation of this book, Barbara Hershey was indeed cast as Mary Magdalene.] The Last Temptation of Christ became Scorsese's albatross; he constantly declared that filming the Kazantzakis novel was his ultimate objective.
Keyser, pages 40-41:
While critics have seen the ending of Mean Streets as an apocalyptic and despairing vision of God's terrible wrath, Scorsese intended a more hopeful lesson. In his vision Charlie's wound, a shot in the hand, is his "stigmata," Johnny Boy's neck wound is not fatal, and Teresa survives--for, as Scorsese envisions the narrative, "they all learn something at the end of Mean Streets, only they have to get it from, again, the hand of God." Scorsese's major films are grounded in Catholic teleology; the assassin's bullet can convey the judgment of God, a taxi driver can unleash divine retribution, and a boxer can bear witness to Christ's suffering.
Keyser, page 44:
In a scintillating analysis of Scorsese's religious dimension, "The Sacraments of Genre: Coppola, De Palma, and Scorsese," Leo Braudy demonstrates how the gap between Catholic visions of salvation and capitalism's images of success defines these Italian American directors' content and technique.
Keyser, page 65:
Ironically, this superhot screenwriting talent [Paul Schrader, who was Martin Scorsese's frequent collaborator, on films such as Taxi Driver] had not seen a single film until his late teens. His youth had been spent in the austere bosom of the Christian Reformed church, a dour Calvinist sect that frowned on alcohol, dance, movies, and art as worldly distractions. Schrader enrolled in Calvin College, a seminary for the pious faithful in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but went AWOL to enroll in film courses at Columbia University in New York City. There, at an Upper West Side bar, the apostate Schrader quaffed beers with film critic Robert Washow's son Paul, who, in sodden bonhomie, introduced the wayward backslider to his mentor, Pauline Kael. Kael recognized Schrader's abilities and used her influence to have him admitted to UCLA's film program.
Keyser, page 70:
...the existential dimension was never eliminated from the film. In fact, one of the few scenes written for Taxi Driver during its production provides the most heavy-handed example of European existentialism in the film. As it happened, Peter Boyle, the ex-Christian Brother [i.e., a member of the order of Brothers of the Christian Schools, a Catholic order] who plays Wizard, an elder statesman cab driver whom Travis turns to for advice, had been part of the rat pack in the Phillipses' salon One afternoon he mesmerized the sandal set with an improvisation as Jesus Christ, the standup comedian in a tawdry Las Vegas piano bar. [Paul] Schrader and [Martin] Scorsese, two altar boys at heart, never forgot this semi-blasphemous display and wanted Boyle to work on Taxi Driver. Boyle chaffed at Wizard's limited lines, however, so Schrader wrote a new shtick especially for Boyle, a cut-rate philosophical rap positing that existence precedes essence.
Keyser, page 110:
When shooting began on 16 August 1979... Scorsese was convinced Raging Bull would be his "swan song for Hollywood" and that he would spend the next decade "living in New York and Rome" making "documentaries and educational films on the [Catholic] saints . . . films for television, that sort of thing" (Holdenfield 1989, 49).
Keyser, pages 111-112:
Most critical reactions to Raging Bull reflect the reviewer's willingness to appreciate Scorsese's religious vision and to value the mystical approach to salvation he promulgates. Those who could suspend disbelief and see Jake as a contemporary martyr lavished praise on Raging Bull, while others, more skeptical about Jake's rebirth and beautific visions, attacked the picture's endless violence and bloody excesses.
Boston Phoenix critic Stephen Schiff, attuned to the manifest religiosity of the movie, argued that Scorsese transformed La Motta into "a holy vessel, a martyr who suffers for our sins, is tempted by the Devil (in the form of the Mob) and sacrificed on the altar of our bloodlust; and who finally, when he's imprisoned in Florida, undergoes a conversion, giving up his violence and turning into what Scorsese deems a good end, entertainment. This is a peculiarly Catholic conception--the redemption of blood by spirit and spirit by blood--and th emovie abounds in Catholic religious imagery." Schiff recognizes all the mystical touches but bridles at the idea of Scorsese "tranforming an icon of violence into a religious icon" (Schiff, 3). Reviewer Veronica Geng of the New York Soho News felt no such reservatinos, proclaiming Raging Bull "a tremendously powerful biography of the soul--a story of violent spiritual desire told in terms of physical violence." Geng is especially cogent discussing the Catholic concept of a prelapsarian universe, the Fall in the Garden of Eden, and the need for atonement and rebirth in Raging Bull: "The whole human race tooka dive with Original Sin, and La Motta's fall is just a version of the Fall..."
Predictably, the Variety reviewer proved less sympathetic to Scorsese's religious trappings, complaining that "what seems to be on the minds of Scorsese and his screenwriters is an exploration of an extreme form of Catholic sadomasochism"... Boston critic David Rosenbaum echoed the Variety reservations and went on to denounced Raging Bull as "a masochist's delight," a laborious opus on which Scorsese confuses pain "with Christian martyrdom." For Rosenbaum, "Martin Scorsese's Christmas present to hs audience is an empty cross and an invitation to climb on. It's not Christianity; it's the Ramrod room."
The chasm between opposing critical camps evaluating Raging Bull mirrors the debate that surrounds Scorsese's career: Is he a religious mystic or an apostle of violence? Do his films lead to Calvary and redemption or to the Ramrod room and perdition? Is this ex-seminarian uniquely pious or outrageously blasphemous? For Scorsese's acolytes, his excesses lead audiences back to the eternal light, allowing them to see though they once were blind. For his detractors, Scorsese extinguishes all the bright with his guilt-ridden, dark vision.
Keyser, pages 121-122:
The title cards with which Scorsese chooses to end Raging Bull suggest that he did not feel equivocal about La Motta's salvation. The original script ended with images of Jake shadowboxing, a description of Jake as "still alive, still a condender, a forty-two year old man fighting for a shot," and a citation from St. John's Gospel, chapter 3, beginning with verse 3: "Verily, verily I saw unto thee except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." By the time Raging Bull was completed, Scorsese decided to change the citation to later lines in St. John's Gospel, chapter 9, beginning with verse 24: "So, for the second time, the Pharisees summoned the man who had been blind and said: 'Speak the truth before God, We know this fellow is a sinner.' Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know,' the man replied. 'All I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see'."
Scorsese was totally responsible for the new text. His collaborator [screenwriter] Paul Schrader maintains that it does not fit the film: "I had no idea it was going to be there, and when I saw it I was absolutely baffled. I don't think it's true of La Motta either in real life or in the movie; I think he's the same dumb lug at the end as at the beginning, and I think Marty is just imposing salvation on his subject by fiat. I've never really got from him a terribly credible reason for why he did it; he just seemed to feel that it was right" (Schrader 1990, 133).
In this new "now I can see" citation, Scorsese was commemorating Jakes' new understanding and peace, but as his title card went on to note, he was also "Remembering Haig P. Manoogian, teacher, May 23, 1916-May 26, 1980, with love and resolution, Marty." Those who knew Manoogian would recall that he challenged all his New Yyork University students to see and linked the idea of seeing with the essence of art and religion. As a headnote, for example, to his text The Filmmaker's Art, Scorsese's mentor had cited the Victorian critic John Ruskin: "The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plan way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, all in one" (Manoogian, vii). Scorsese found poetry, prophecy, and religion in La Motta's life and struggled in Raging Bull to make audiences share his vision.
Keyser, pages 140-141:
[Scorsese's] next picture was the dream project of his life, his adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's 1954 novel The Last Temptation of Christ. Kazantzakis, a nonbeliever, had created controversy in Greece by limning an untraditional story of the Messiah in demotic Greek. Scorsese wanted to bring this populist existential Christ to the American people in his modern guise, not as a comforting Hallmark-card Jesus, sure of his powers, but as an unsettling, tortured Jesus, unsure whether his inner voices are divine or demonic, and torn between his love of the flesh and his need for the divine.
Kazantzakis, his translator Peter Bien admits, did not believe in any traditional God; nor did he believe in a spiritual afterlife. Kazantzakis, Bien observes, felt that this world would "somehow, through its own dematerialization, produce its own materialistic renewal in another cycle"; in his sotry of the Messiah, Bien argues, Kazantzakis attempted to assist our inevitable evolutionary transformation. Kazantzakis, like the Catholic philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, envisions a God-who-is-to-be, born of humanity's ascent to the divine, and in his prologue to The Last Temptation of Christ identifies his Messiah's struggles with the mystic destiny of civilization: "Struggle between the flesh and the spirit, rebellion and resistance, reconciliation and submission, and finally--the supreme purpose of the struggle--union with God: this was the ascent taken by Christ, the ascent which he invites us to take as well, following in his bloody tracks."
Kazantzakis's themes, the needs for salvation and transformation, the struggle between flesh and spirit, and the choice between rebellion and reconciliation, parallel Scorsese's interests from Mean Streets through Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
Keyser, pages 142-143:
Paul Schrader, unlike [Robert] De Niro, found himself more committed to Last Temptation with each revision of the script. Schrader and Scorsese saw this version of Christ's life as the culmination of their trilogy of works together; falst saints like Travis Bickle and mystic heroes like Jake La Motta, they were sure, pointed the treacherous path to Golgotha...
Like Pasolini, Schrader focuses on the literal level of Christ's miracles. His drafts for Last Temptation contains one overpowering scene of Christ and his sacred heart, a motif much adored by pious and evangelical Catholics. As envisioned by Schrader, his Christ "reaches into his chest and pulls out his own bloody heart. He offers it at arm's length to his disciples..." (Schrader 1982, 45). The blood symbolism prepare saudiences for Schrader's literal presentation of the transubstantiation of Christ's body and blood at the Last Supper. In Schrader's conception the Eucharistic Offering was physically real. Christ offers his apostles actual flesh and blood in Schrader's version of the first Communion: "As they do [eat the bread], the bread and wine transubstantiate into flesh and blood in their mouths. Peter is the first to cough up the bloody flesh. The others, sickened, follow. They wipe their bloody mouths" (Schrader 1982, 73). Agape here is as real as it is symbolic; charity and the body of Christ are commingled.
Keyser, page 162:
Scorsese's secondary theme in The Color of Money, the seductiveness of wealth and the allure of the hustle, in pool halls, Hollywood, and corporate America, reflected, he told David Ansen, his concern with America's yuppie mania. His "mini-morality play," the director pontificated, "really reflects our values: money and success and especially this yuppie thing. Who would have thought in the late '60s that someday we'd see a generation that was interestd in making money on the stock market? Not that that's necessarily bad, but if that becomes the golden idol in your life--it's putting false gods. That is the Second Commandment isn't it? Don't put false gods in my place" (Ansen 1987, 51). As usual, Scorsese's hold on dogma is weak--ne never gets the numbering of commandments right or outlines theology correctly; he deserved expulsion from the seminary on purely scholarly grounds. But he does masterfully explore morality and ethics. His heart is stronger than his head, his conscience more developed than his creed. Winners and losers in The Color of Money are never clear and Fast Eddie shares more wisdom than he knows when he cautions that "sometimes you have to lose in order to win."
Keyser, page 167-168:
Universal recognized that The Last Temptation [of Christ] could generate controversy. To defuse the tensions, the studio insisted that the project have a new working title--"The Passion." And Universal hired two conservative religious opinionmakers, Tim Penland and Reverend Larry Poland, as consultants on the marketing of the project. Penland and Poland would inadvertantly play a larger role in the film's promotion than anywone could have foreseen. Asked to make suggestions about the script's acceptability to born-again audiences, the pair called for revising almost two-thirds of the text, and resigned when Universal did not respond to their pleas. Then they spearheaded the assault on The Last Temptation, condemning it as an "insult to Christians."
At the outset of the project, however, Scorsese deflected worries about religious controversy by assuring Universal's executives that he wanted to make the film so he could "get to know Jesus better" (Scorsese 1989, 120), by accepting a budget less than half that of the average Hollywood film, by agreeing to "a long term multi-picture arrangement under which the filmmaker will produce, direct, and develop projects" exclusively for Universal, and by reiterating his constant refrain that The Last Temptation of Christ was based not on the Bible but on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis.
Keyser, pages 170-171:
Before undertaking his Jesus project [The Last Temptation of Christ], Scorsese reviewed the image of the Savior on film and was most impressed by Roberto Rosselini's epics, The Acts of the Apostles (1968) and The Messiah (1975), which Scorsese subseuently attempted to distribute in the United States. From Rosselini, Scorsese confessed, he discovered the importance of the primitive setting to Christ's mission: "Rossellini's historical films opened up my mind to the point that, of course, if Jesus is in Nazareth, it's going to look very poor. Therefore, you don't need big art direction. When you film in places like North Africa, people are still living in the same conditions they have been for thousands of years."
...The inspiration for Scorsese's visuals came from a recondite source, the scholarly journal Biblical Archaeology Review. Scorsese wanted his images of the redeemer to be authentic. All his life Scorsese had clipped articles about Christ and saved them for future reference, but after the failure of the Paramount project, he became a committed researcher, pouring over erudite tomes, assiduously cribbing ideas. During theyears Scorsese did his extensive reading, revisionist historie were redrawing the portrait of Christ's ministry. The Dead Sea Scrolls were being evaluated, artifacts were being uncovered, and modern research methodologies were creating new visions. Christ's ministry, passion, and crucifixion took place, commentators were beginning to agree, in a society as unsettled as today's Middle East: "Judaism in Jesus's time was wracked by sectarian rivalry. The Pharisees, a lay reform movement strong in the vilalge synagogues but not in Jerusalem were at odds with the Sadducees, the priests who dominated the temple. In the countryside were the Essenes, a radical monastic sect that rejected the Temple establishment, and the insurrectionist Zealots, whose main objective was throwing off Roman rule. Each had different expectations of the Messiah: a military deliverer, a priestly king who would restore Israel's religious fervor, a mystical figure who would usher in a new age." Scorsese found in this divided society the model for the conflicted Christ. Merging his research with his reading of Kazantzakis, Scorsese envisioned a human Christ, unsure whether he was merely an ordinary mortal or a divinity incarnated, and equally uncertain whether his mission was to engender a family, save a nation, reform a religion, or forge a new path to salvation. Scorsese's Christ is buffeted by Romans and Zealots, attracted by Essenese and Pharisees, and reviled by both Sadducees and reformers. His path to Golgotha is rocky and uneven, and his time on the cross is unsettled and confused. [Much more detail in Keyser's book about this film directed by Scorsese.]
Keyser, page 176-179:
An individual's reaction to [Martin Scorsese's film] The Last Temptation of Christ depends on more than the normal problem of literary faith--Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief." Th film, by choosing a fictional Christ as its protagonist and an imaginary "last temptation" as its crisis, constantly challenges a viewer's belief in the biblical Christ and in mysteries like the incarnation and the redemption. For all Scorsese's rejoinders that he is only interpreting Nikos Kazantzakis's vision of the Messiah in one controversial novel, Scorsese and his film ineveitably run directly into the mythology of Christ, established theologies, dogmatic moralities, and inflexible orthodoxies. Scorsese's Christ never bears his cross alone, for he walks the via doloroso with two millennia of companions, all the images of the Messiah conjured up by the faithful everywhere. When Scorsese's Christ climbs down from the cross to contemplate another fate, a different Gospel, he drags with him the New Testament and centuries of sermons, scholarship and exegesis.
Critic Andrew Sarris eloquently makes the crucial distinction central to any just evaluation of The Last Temptation of Christ when he asserts that audiences "should be able to accept Scorsese's eminently serious and toweringly ambitious effort as a meditation on a Christ and not the Christ." The image of Jesus Scorsese presents emphasizes the duality of his nature, fully realizing both his humanity and his divinity. This complex Jesus stands in marked distinction to the Monophysite Jesus Scorsese recalls as central to his Catholic school indoctrination--a Jesus so ethereally divine that he glowed in the dark and carried his celestial choir everywhere with him. Scorsese's Christ resists spirituality at the outset, only gradually yielding to his divine mission. The process of his salvation and his redemption of all sinners is the grist of Scorsese's film. In that gradual process of Christ's evolution, Scorsese told Gene Siskel, this film mirrors the rest of the works in his cannon: "Most of my flims have been circling around the theme of how a flawed man can become saved. Now I've tackled the same subject head on."
In The Last Temptation of Christ Scorsese echoes traditional Christian dogma as he develops the themes of incarnation, atonement, and redemption. Scorsese, however, explores the concept of Christ's humanity more fully than most Christians, trying to fathom the essence of incarnation and to explore the psychological and theological implications of a deity made flesh, of a God in a man's body. These qustions of Christ's humanity and divinity, screenwriter Schrader declares, cut to the heart of Christianity and haunted the early church: "The two major heresies which emerged in the early Christian Church were the Arian heresy, from Arius, which essentially said that Jesus was a man who pretended to be God [ed: This is a completely inaccurate description of Arianism, which was, in fact, only considered a heresy by Athanasians who disagreed with it], and the other was the Docetan heresy, which said Jesus was really a God who, like a very clever actor, pretended to be a man. . . . The Last Temptation of Christ may err on the side of Arianism, but it does little to counteract the 2,000 years of erring on the other side, and it was pleasant to see this debate from the early Church splashed all over the front pages" (Schrader 1990, 139).
Defending his foray into theology, Scorsese told the "NBC Evening News" audience that he was "trying to push the concept of Jesus into the 21st century" and to understand what "temptations" could have meant to Christ. For him, he told television viewers, there had always been the paradox that "If he's God, when he had temptation brought in front of him, it was easy--he was God, it was easy to reject" On the other hand, Scorsese continued, "If he has the human foibles, if he has all the parts of human nature that wwe have, then it was just as tough for him as it was for us." The human Arian Christ fascinated Scorsese, and his struggles and foibles are the essence of Scorsese's film.
Willem Dafoe, who plays the troubled Christ in Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, acknowledged that Scorsese's conception was the wellspring of his portrayal... The Last Temptation of Christ remains, its star certifies, "a deeply religious movie for Marty. It's not a debunking. It's not a riff. It's a way to [page 179] articulate his deep feelings. Sure part of the idea was to humanize Christ. It's short on Heavenly angels. But, in the end, it's triumphant in the way people who subscribe to the Jesus story want it to be."
Keyser, page 184-186:
The original plans for The Last Temptation of Christ envisioned a European premiere at the 1988 Venice Film Festival and then an American premiere on 23 September 1988 at the New York Film Festival. Then fate intervened. In June 1988 Universal's consultant Tim Penland resigned, returning to his evangelical roots to mastermind a fierce fundamentalist attack on the film, the studio, and Scorsese. The tone for the ensuing controversy was set by director Franco Zeffirelli, who was widely quoted as assailing "the Jewish cultural scum of Los Angeles which is always spoiling for a chance to attack the Christian world" for commissioning The Last Temptation of Christ. Zeffireli later denied he had made these remarks, yet he redoubled his attacks on the film and the filmmakers, causing a brouhaha at the Venice festival.
The film community hadn't, in the words of the old cliche, "seen nothing yet." The summer of 1988 witnessed the most intense religious controversy in the history of Hollywood. American fundamentalists, [page 185] stung by the scandals involving televangelists [such as Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and Oral Roberts], turned their ire on Universal, Scorsese, and The Last Temptation of Christ. Emotions ran so high that all rationality and restraint soon evaporated. By 27 July 1988 Variety could accurately report that the "Scorsese Pic" was the "Center of a Holy War." For months thereafter Variety was forced to feature special sections on the controversy, as legal tests, riots, and other sordid reactions greeted the openings of the film around the world.
The most influential attack in America came from former White House aide Patrick Buchanan, whose nationally syndicated column appeared on op-ed pages everywhere decrying "Hollywood's Sleazy Image of Christ" and labeling the film "an act of cinematic vandalism against the beliefs that Christians hold sacred . . . a deliberate profanation of the faith." Driven to a frenzy by a propaganda blitz, the Moral Majority jammed the phones at Universal. By August 1988 almost 8,000 pickets had formed around the studio offices, security measures were instituted, and bodyguards were accompanying even minor Universal executives. The level of heat as rising as the level of light and reason declined precipitously. A measure of the controversy's effect on Scorsese may be found in the fact that his autobiography, Scorsese on Scorsese, contains the best summaries of the madness engulfing the film. Scorsese was at the center of a firestorm and was badly burned.
A few examples may indicate the sad direction the fray took. Reverend Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, which garnered 60,000 new members during its campaign against The Last Temptation of Christ, picketed Lew Wasserman's home, preaching loudly on the doorstep of the Jewish chairman of MCA, Universal's parent corporation. Wildmon then wrote Sid Sheinberg, the Jewish president of MCA, demanding to know "How many Christians are there in the top positions of MCA/Universal? How many Christians sit on the board of directors of MCA?" (Gabler, 108). Reverend R.L. Hymes joined in this anti-Semitic onslaught, staging Passion plays outside Wasserman's home as pickets carried signs charging that "Wasserman fans Jew-hatred with Temptation."
Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ eschewed the stick in favor of the carrot in his crusade against The Last Temptation. He calmly offered Universal $10 million for the master print of the unreleased film so he could destroy it. [The film cost $7,000,000 to produce, and eventually grossed $8,373,585 in U.S. theaters, of which about half went to the theater, so in the short, run, this actually would have been the wise investment, from a strictly financial perspective.] Meanwhile Catholic Jack Valenti, chairman of the MPAA, appeared on CNN declaring that he supported [page 186] Scorsese's right to free speech because "I stand first as an American citizen"; the beaming Mother Angelica, founder of the Christian Eternal Word network and Valenti's adversary in the debate, jovially reminded him, "You're a child of God first, sweetheart," as she further opined that this "movie will destroy Christianity."
Shaken by such apocalyptic rhetoric and by an escalation in protests and threats, Universal blinked. On 9 August 1988 Universal sent Scorsese to debate Reverend Donald Wildmon on ABC's "Nightline," but the director's reasoned disclaimers and continued assertions that this was "a religious picture" cleebrating Christ's victory could not redeem his project. On 9 August 1988 the U.S. Catholic Conference called for a nationwide boycott of the film, the first such boycott the conference had ever recommnded. Urging the 53 million Catholics in America not to see the film, spokesperson Richard Hirsch called Last Temptation "a b-grade, muddle-headed movie."
Universal could not endure the intense controversy and decided to release the film six weeks prematurely. Thomas Pollock, chairman of Universal, offered a practical justification, arguing that "we have no way of defending the movie by what we say. This isn't rhetoric about the First Amendment. It doesn't mean anything for me to say that Martin Scorsese believes in this movie or feels it's a religious movie. The movie has to talk for itself." Universal released The Last Temptation of Christ on 12 August 1988, just as Time magazine's 15 August 1988 issue, the top seller on the newsstand that year, hit the racks with its cover story, inquiring "Who Was Jesus?"
Scorsese had brought Christ, his agony and his temptations, to the attention of the American public in the summer of 1988. Paradoxically, he had been so successful in creating a controversy that he made it impossible for Universal to market his film effectively. Initially Scorsese bitterly described the early release as a film being "thrown into the streets," and then he became uncharacteristically silent, allowing his autobiography to do his arguing. Ed Hulse, astute analyst for Video Review, argued that Last Temptation became a "hot potato" for everyone: "Few people risk talking about it--in print or in public--for fear they'll get burned." Even Scorsese, Hulse asserted, "[has] scrupulously avoided trading verbal jabs with his detractors in hopes that, once the furor dies down, his movie will reach a hopefully more tolerant video audience" (Hulse, 36). It had taken Scorsese almost 30 years to bring his Jesus to the screen. Now it threatened to be another 30 years before his efforts would be adequately recognized.
Keyser, page 188:
Domenica Scorsese's aspirations to a film career were nourished by Scorsese's ex-wife and film-journalist-turned-screenwriter, Julia Cameron, who featured Domenica Cameron-Scorsese as Victoria Potter in her well-received first feature, God's Will, which premiered as the opening-night selection in San Francisco's "On Screen" women's film festival. The comedy, based on the Cameron-Scorsese marriage and divorce, lampoons a divorced, self-centered show business couple who die unexpectedly and end up fighting in heaven over what will happen to their daughter. Their appeals go to a female God, who consistently spouts feminist rhetoric and renders feminist judgments. No doubt God's Will embodied wish fulfillment for many lingering injuries Cameron felt. Her acrimonious divorce from Scorsese had divided their many friends into warring camps, as Cameron publicly assailed Scorsese for his blatantly adulterous liason with Liza Minneli, for his self-indulgent and ludicrously expensive drug habit, and for his using "every opportunity to make me beg and plead for money to support our child."
Keyser, pages 214-215:
The project Scorsese chose for his next feature was Thomas Keneally's true story of Oscar Schindler, a German Catholic industrialist who saved over a thousand people from the gas chambers, Schindler's List, an acclaimed best seller based on the testimony of Schindlerjuden, "Schindler's Jews." This holocaust epic, replete with large moral questions and monumental guilt and retribution, was to be produced by Scorsese's friend, the West Coast's wealthiest director, Steven Spielberg. Spielberg, meanwhile, was planning to direct a remake of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 thriller Cape Fear, a classic Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck confrontation based on John D. MacDonald's novel, The Executioners.
Fate intervened, however, when Spielberg decided he'd rather direct Schindler's List and when Robert De Niro committed himself to the role of the villain Max Cady in Cape Fear. Scorsese, who had no desire to do a re-make... found himself beset on all sides by friends. Spielberg was implacable, demonstrating a tenacity legendary even for Hollywood, and De Niro ardently argued that the two old friends could put a new twist on Max Cady and Cape Fear.
[Scorsese ended up directing Cape Fear, which garnered Academy Award nominations for actors De Niro and Juliette Lewis. Spielberg ended up directing Schindler's List, which was produced by Latter-day Saint film producer Gerald R. Molen and Croatian film producer Branko Lustig, along with Spielberg.]
From: Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith, Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Michigan (2004), page 10:
The well-known director Martin Scorsese said, "My whole life has been movies and religion. That's it. Nothing else."
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