Paul Nolan reports on the legendary filmmaker's Phil Soc encounter, during which Leonardo DiCaprio, the Rolling Stones, Taxi Driver and his upcoming reunion with Robert DeNiro, The Irishman, were all on the conversational agenda
There was a huge turnout in Trinity College, for the appearance of film legend Martin Scorsese, who accepted the Philosophical Society's gold medal award in the rarefied atmosphere of the historic Dublin city-centre college.
The first question during a fascinating interview quizzed the director on whether he felt Hollywood films had become too plot-driven, which prompted Scorsese to recall his experiences working on crime drama The Departed.
Despite the movie ultimately being one of his most acclaimed and financially successful works, Scorsese had fought regularly throughout production with the studio – who were uneasy, apparently, that the final cut had become more character than plot driven, as originally envisaged. There were also tonal concerns, with the studio worried about the fact that Vera Farmiga's character had affairs with those of both Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio.
However, there was even bigger bone of contention. "There was an argument over whether or not the Matt Damon character should get killed," said Scorsese. "I'm going, yes of course, that has to happen. But they're saying: ‘No, he has to say alive for the sequel. We want to do parts 2, 3 and 4'!"
The filmmaker said he found the experience of making The Departed so stressful, it convinced him he had to very carefully pick and choose his studio projects.
"Particularly as I was getting older, that was necessary," he reflected. "The industry was moving in a particular direction. Ultimately for my next picture, I made a very different kind of film – a concert film of the Rolling Stones, Shine A Light, which was a celebration of music."
Scorsese was also asked about his frequent collaborations with DeNiro and DiCaprio.
"Obviously with Bob, we struck up a relationship in the 70s and we understood each other," he reflected. "Then in the 90s, out of the blue, he calls me and says, 'I'm doing a film called This Boy's Life with a kid called Leonardo DiCaprio, and he's incredibly talented'. I was very surprised, because that was something he never did – he never, ever recommended actors to me. In fact, I would have to ask him about different people.
"So when he said that, obviously I had to pay attention to Leo. I kept track of him over the years, and then when it came time to do Gangs Of New York, Leo came onboard – and that helped get it made. Our working relationship developed from there."
Scorsese also reflected on making Taxi Driver with Robert DeNiro, and on the film’s fresh relevance in the contemporary political climate.
"It was a very strong coming together of me, DeNiro and the screenwriter Paul Schrader," he commented. "We were in the same place creatively and all of our voices came through very strongly. Taxi Driver was very influenced by Satre and Dostoevsky. It was really about alienation and God's lonely man, which we all are... When you look at American foreign policy since 9/11, and how it's affected the Middle East, really what we've done is created an army of Travis Bickles."
Scorsese also touched on the future of cinema, noting that he was recently shown a demonstration of 3D technology in Taipei. It included a short film called The Last Survivor, which – via a virtual reality headset – immersed the viewer in the world of a man journeying to Auschwitz, ending with a harrowing stop at the gates, where family members are separated.
He concluded by discussing his eagerly awaited reunion with Robert DeNiro, entitled The Irishman, recently given the green light by Netflix. "DeNiro and I had been talking about working together for a long time," he noted. "I'm also 75, so it's time. It's a crime picture, but it's very much from the perspective of a character who is also in his seventies, looking back. We're doing it with Netflix, which is a new form of film distribution. We tried a long-form style of storytelling with Vinyl, the HBO series I made with Mick Jagger – we'd been developing that on and off since 1996.
"Ultimately, it didn't really work out, we only got one series – I think HBO might have expected something different. But we're doing The Irishman with Netflix and we'll see how it works out."
Another notable moment during the interview came with Scorsese's reference to playwright Sean O'Casey, of whom he is a fan.
For the full lowdown on Scorsese's Trinity appearance, see an upcoming of Hot Press.
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