Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies Essay

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Scorsese's Journey Through Film

Scorsese's Personal Journey in Film

The documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies is an impressive exploration of American cinematic history. It encompasses both recognized classics and lesser known works from many genres such as the silent film, the gangster film, the musical, the western, and the melodrama. This lends it depth. Scorsese's selection does not show the genesis of the genres so much as the important stages in their development. Since Scorsese is a notable director, his articulate interpretations of these films hold weight. Most valuable is his utilization of clips to suggest not so much a grand narrative as strands of different simultaneous narratives on film-making. This is where his categorization of directors into storyteller, illusionist, smuggler, and iconoclast is useful. It signifies key working methods, aims, artistic slants, and audience effects of the various genres of film that are discussed, as well as pointing out key moments in their historical progression. While not comprehensive, its sketch shows the dynamic changes within Hollywood over the decades, the forces that shaped the creation of films (such as the influence of producers or changing control factors), the roles and travails of directing, technological and aesthetic advances in the field, and the clash of morality and social critique within the broader work of creative film-making. All these perspectives are given significant time and consideration. Ultimately, this documentary's exploration satisfies.

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The most significant sequence was the chapter on "Director as Iconoclast." These directors were more overt than the smugglers in their challenge of the Production Code that determined morally what could and could not be shown on the screen. They pushed the envelope with different styles and subject matters considered taboo until they presented them. Scorsese says that the iconoclast "attacks conventions head-on and his defiance sends shock waves through the industry." It was these renegade, convention-smashing directors that paved the way for more contemporary cinema, allowing expressions that were formerly forbidden.

Essay on Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies Assignment

One way this happened was by inserting a glamour-defying reality into the films that rocked the predominant notion of film as escapism. For example, D.W. Griffiths did this in the silent era with his film Broken Blossoms (1919). Not normally associated with iconoclasm, Griffiths succeeded in portraying a story that was simultaneously anti-racist and sordid. Nothing is idealized. Suffering grips the protagonists, the stooped blossoms, until they merge joyfully. Then bigotry and patriarchal violence shatters their brief dream. The brutal and prejudiced father kills the battered heroine at the end, while her Buddhist lover is unable to save her in time. This is important because the film has no happy ending. It defies the stereotypical escapism prevalent in movies at that time. Yet Griffiths did not pay heavily for this film as other directors would.

Another way iconoclasm took place was in drawing from depressive reality. Scorsese says that Darryl Zanuck of Warner Brothers ordered his directors in the 1930s to take subjects from the newspaper headlines. One of the results was the film I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, which, along with Rowland Brown's Hell's Highway (1932), was a social critique of the chain gang system. Amazingly, films like these initiated a penal reformation in the South. This is important in showing the power of movies to impact actual social conditions in the real world. Iconoclastic films can assume a political force. They can spark social consciousness. It is significant as well that they were made before the Production Code (censorship) was introduced.

The case of Orson Welles illustrates a different aspect of iconoclasm. Working in Hollywood at the time, his Citizen Kane (1941) subverted as much political as aesthetic rules. It is about media baron W.R. Hearst's demagogic abuse of power and Kane's political ambition. This theme (which included shots of Hitler) angered some in Hollywood so much that they called, unsuccessfully, for the film's destruction. What is important is the latitude for creativity given to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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