Since the dawn of filmmaking, directors have used their personal experiences to influence their films. They try to evoke some form of emotion out of the viewer based off of something that they find very familiar to them. Martin Scorsese’s Italian heritage helped to shape his directorial style in films.
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Martin Scorsese was constantly surrounded by all things Italian. He was born on November 17, 1942 in Corona, Queens, New York (LoBrutto, 11). He lived in Corona, an Italian dominated suburb of New York. His parents decided to move there because they wanted their children to escape “the constant exposure to life’s realities on the Lower East Side” (LoBrutto, 11). Corona seemed like a little Sicily in New York to Scorsese.
Scorsese lived near many of his aunts and uncles, which he enjoyed because he loved having his family around. Some of his family members have made cameos in a few of his films. Scorsese had developed asthma at the age of three. At the time, doctors knew little information about asthma and how to treat it. People in the Italian-American community had the belief that asthma sufferers brought it upon themselves psychologically, and saw people who had it as “weak, sensitive, and sickly” (LoBrutto, 13).
Martin Scorsese’s doctor advised his parents to keep him indoors and to have him avoid anything that would get him too excited. In Vincent LoBrutto’s book Martin Scorsese: A Biography, He quotes that Scorsese’s doctor said “Keep them quiet and calm. They are emotionally charged, ‘high strung’ and any exposure to extreme situations could trigger an attack. They must be protected from the dangers in the air they breathe and the uncertainties outside of the controlled environment of their home” (LoBrutto, 13). His parents were very reliant on the doctor’s words. Scorsese was stuck inside the walls of his house for most of his childhood, rather than outside playing in his backyard.
He felt isolated and under constant watch. Because of his disposition, Scorsese began to develop a growing interest in art and movies (Lipton). Instead of playing sports,
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Martin would be taken to the movie theatres by his parents or brother. Because of his growing fascination for films, young Scorsese started making his own storyboards, shot by shot illustrations similar to that of a comic strip (Lipton). From that time in his life, he knew he had a passion for cinema. “Martin Scorsese’s view from his room onto the world of the street was so limited that the height and width of the open window became the aspect ratio for the films he would make, even before he knew he was going to be a filmmaker” (Lobrutto, 25). Today, he sees what a large role his asthma had on putting him in the path that lead to the successful career he has now.
Martin Scorsese went to New York University, where he studied film. Some of his early works include Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Who’s That Knocking at My Door? and Mean Streets. Mean Streets, the most critically acclaimed of the three, is considered an autobiographical movie about Scorsese. It recreates life on the streets where Scorsese grew up. This film was about his home, the kinds of people he knew and the music he listened to (Lipton). The movie addresses his life in “Little Sicily”, New York, and the Roman Catholic religion. Charlie, the main character, seems like a mirror image of Scorsese. Charlie is a very religious person who is content with Little Sicily and all that is in it. He simply wants to get ahead in life and help people like his best friend Johnny Boy, which he believes might act as a sort of penance for the sins he commits in his daily life (Ebert).
Scorsese’s exposure to gangsters and priests, and how everybody respected the priests most in the town have had a great influence on the films he creates. His stern belief that priests could attain “the quickest route to salvation from original and accumulated sins” (Lobrutto, 33), led him to pursue priesthood; but after a failed attempt at giving up movies for Lent, and getting kicked out of a seminary, this aspiration quickly died.
His films, however, often address the issue of religion and God, and his protagonists frequently find themselves at the point of “redemption”. Taxi Driver one of Martin’s biggest early success, displays this struggle between goodness and sin, and is considered Martin’s first big success as a professional director. He considers this film as “a film that came from the heart” (Scorsese).See More on Film