Martin Scorsese's America
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For over four decades, Martin Scorsese has been the chronicler of an obsessive society, where material possessions and physical comfort are valued, where the pursuit of individual improvement is rewarded and where male prerogative is respected and preserved.
Scorsese has often described his films as sociology and he has a point: his storytelling condenses complex information into comprehensible narratives about society. In this sense, he has been a guide through a dark world of nineteenth century crypto-fascism to a fetishistic twentieth century in which goods, fame, money and power are held to have magical power.
Author of Tyson: Nurture of the Beast and Beckham, Ellis Cashmore turns his attention to arguably the most influential living film- maker to explore how Scorsese envisions America. Greed, manhood, the city and romantic love feature on Scorsese's landscape of secular materialism. They are among the themes Cashmore argues have driven and inform Scorsese's work. This is America, as seen through the eyes of Martin Scorsese and it is a deeply unpleasant place.
Cashmore's book discloses how, collectively, Scorsese's films present an image of America. It's an image assembled from the perspectives of obsessive people, whether burned-out paramedics, compulsive entrepreneurs, tortured lovers, or celebrity-fixated comedians. It's collected from pool halls, taxicabs, boxing rings and jazz clubs. It's an image that's specific, yet ubiquitous. It is Martin Scorsese's America.
along with his confederates, is imprisoned for four years after a routine debt collection in Tampa, Florida, goes wrong. By this time, Hill has enough business sense to turn circumstances to his advantage and prosecutes lucrative drug dealing in prison. At the time, drugs were taboo to the mob: proﬁting from dealing or couriering was against mob codes. On his release, Hill is told to desist. Perhaps sensing he is invulnerable, Hill continues what becomes a remunerative sideline and, in the
“It was a glorious time.” Later, things get more serious: some killings are willful and planned, while others are just impulsive. The former are what psychologists call instrumental: they serve as a means in pursuing a goal. Killing, in this sense, rarely poses a moral problem; its consequences are what matters. Clearing up, hiding evidence, avoiding retribution: these are the issues that concentrate the mind of the wiseguys, not the many acts of habitual violence they either observe or
way, Pupkin period of incarceration, is caught in a similar the Pupkin mystique paradox to Hughes’. grows, rather like Howard Hughes’ did while he slid toward personal oblivion. As a result, on his release, he’s able to capitalize on his fame. Far from denouncing his ﬂamboyant stunt, consumers appreciate it. There is, as David Bromwich puts it in his “How publicity makes people real,” “a curious shade of moral approval or fellow feeling that is elicited now by self-exposure of any but the most
the girls like him.” With barely contained rage, La Motta jokes, “Should I fuck him, or ﬁght him?” then widens his scope to include Salvy, “Maybe I should fuck you.” In this male subculture, symbolic emasculation is never far away: a humiliating put-down, a beating, even a rumor has the effect of depriving a man of his role or identity. The most withering assessment of a man is that he “takes it up the ass.” Is this bellicose homophobia, or disguised homoeroticism? Robin Wood is one of a number
contrast, the male realizes himself as a man outside the circle of his home and in the company of other men, the all-male subculture. He has his own circle of friends and associates, his own rights and aspirations, and his own life that is separate from that of his family. His wife does not: she is effectively his possession. Why does Vickie accept it all? The short answer is: it meets her expectations. Young women of the time were under social pressure, from parents, especially mothers, as well