I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am sick unto death of feeling guilty about Martin Scorsese.
Here are the names of five great directors: Charlie Chaplin, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles. What do they have in common? For all their fame and brilliance, none has won the Oscar for best direction.
Neither has Scorsese.
Should the five have won? Absolutely. But it’s not a mortal sin they didn’t. Should Scorsese? You bet. A couple of times. (“Taxi Driver,” obviously, “Raging Bull,” obviously. But I fell in love with his talent earlier on, with “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”)
This year, more than ever, it’s like there’s a Byzantine plot to get Scorsese the honor. As if the phonier critics all dropped to their knees and looked up at the Hollywood Gods, going in unison, “Oh pwease, we twied so hard wif ‘Kundun,’ we even twied wif ‘Bwing Out the Dead,’ so pwease pwease wet Marty win this year, he wants it sooooo bad.”
That he does. The Hollywood parties he is attending must make him want to barf, but there is, glad-handing anyone in the vicinity who is an Academy member who might throw him a vote.
Miramax, the greatest movie company of the era (and the most brutal — and maybe they have to go together) is so all-out for Scorsese it’s heart-stopping. They do a brilliant job and I honor that — but I will never forgive them for hyping the Oscar to Roberto Benigni, the scummiest award in the Academy’s history. And I suspect Scorsese will win, too.
But he sure doesn’t deserve it, not this year — “Gangs of New York” is a mess.
Please do not sputter on about some of the visuals — my God, bring Ed Wood back from the dead, give him a hundred mil-plus to play with, he’d give you some visuals, too.
No, the problem with “Gangs of New York” is nothing new in Scorsese’s work — he has never been secure with a story. No one’s much better with actors or look or camera placement. It’s that most crucial director’s tool that haunts him. The reason his movies do not make much, if any, money is not because he is dealing with esoteric subjects that are above the average moviegoer’s head. It’s the clumsy storytelling that frustrates us, sending us out of the theater dissatisfied.
“Gangs” is in trouble from the outset. In the opening scene Leo, at about age 10, is watching his daddy shave. There is a cut. The razor is given to the kid and then the father intones the following: “The blood stays on the blade.”
I have a friend who is so giddy with the sheer pretentiousness of that line that he says it to everyone. You say “Good morning.” He answers, “Yes, and the blood stays on the blade.”
And please do not blame the screenwriter for that. Because when you are dealing with a giant ape director, they get what they want. And Scorsese chose to open the story that way.
What story though? The lack of an answer is what demolishes the movie. Is it about gang warfare? Family revenge? Irish immigration? The Civil War? The draft? Political corruption? Prejudice? These subjects and more, all of them valid enough alone, flicker in and out, never accumulating or connecting one to the other.
One example to indicate the problem: Two hours and seven minutes into the film, folks, there is a scene between Leo and the political boss of New York — and they are discussing a subject never mentioned before in the movie and which you could not guess if I gave you the rest of my lifetime: who is going to run for Sheriff.
For 10 minutes, an amazing wasted length of movie time, and especially damaging this late into a pic, we deal with the election of the sheriff and his subsequent murder and Leo eventually challenging Daniel Day-Lewis to combat.
But we knew from the first sequence that this would happen because Day-Lewis killed Leo’s pop.
So now the fight, yes? Nope. Not in this baby. Ten additional minutes drudge on before they get to it.
OK, a word about fights in the 2002 films: It’s the worst year ever. I thought nothing would ever beat “Insomnia” with Pacino in climactic combat vs. that tower of power, Robin Williams,. Eleven feet tall, the two of them together, tops.
But this fight was worse — because you couldn’t see it. Scorsese has hidden it behind the smoke of cannon fire. Nothing to make John Wayne worry.
But the battle is still better than the way the movie ends, with a disgraceful shot of the World Trade Center.
I guess if you can’t move people legitimately, you do what you have to do…