Tim Burton was set to direct After Hours when, in early discussions, producer/star Griffin Dunne and producer Amy Robinson told him that Martin Scorsese, who had earlier turned the script down, wanted to do the film. According to a documentary on the new DVD release of the black comedy, Burton was unwilling to stand in the way of a Scorsese picture and resigned from the project. Such is the level of regard that Scorsese has earned over the course of his career.
Scorsese became known as one of—if not the—best working American filmmakers the simple way: He made one of the best films of each of the last three decades. His first round of extreme acclaim came for 1976’s Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro as the alienated Travis Bickle, who drives New York City’s corrupt streets while coping with his inability to understand the world. In 1980, he reinvented the biopic with Raging Bull, starring De Niro in a dark portrayal of middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta. And he made the artistic and pop culture landmark of 1990, Goodfellas, a dizzying, violent depiction of Mafia foot-soldier Henry Hill’s life. While these are the essentials, they’re only the beginning of Scorsese’s rich filmography.
With their quality presentation and features, DVDs are an ideal way to get to know an auteur director like Scorsese, especially if you can’t wait or need to prepare for his new film, The Aviator, due in theaters Dec. 17. While lesser-known films made before the rise of DVDs don’t usually have many special features, Warner Bros. has released three of Scorsese’s films with cast, crew and director commentary and interviews: Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967), Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) and After Hours (1985). Warner also released new editions of Mean Streets and Goodfellas with better transfers and actual features, including a second Goodfellas disc with three short documentaries. All five films are available as a boxed set called The Martin Scorsese Collection. Last February, MGM released its own boxed set, The Martin Scorsese Film Collection, including the two-disc Raging Bull, Boxcar Bertha (1972), New York, New York (1977) and The Last Waltz (1978).
Since Scorsese has worked with various studios, he’s made many other films whose discs must be bought individually, and those who aren’t hardcore collectors will do best to mix and match. No one should be without the “Collector’s Edition” of Taxi Driver, which includes scans of the entire screenplay with Scorsese’s notation and a 70-minute documentary. Other worthwhile discs include the Criterion Collection’s edition of the 1988 masterpiece The Last Temptation of Christ, Bringing Out the Dead, The Age of Innocence, Cape Fear and Kundun. (Casino is currently out of print.)
Part of what makes Scorsese such an effective filmmaker is his far-reaching knowledge of cinema and technique. On commentary tracks, he talks about directors who inspired him, and rattles off obscure titles that influence his work. On the After Hours commentary, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus says that sometimes in his shot lists, Scorsese mentions shots from specific moments in films—not necessarily the most famous ones, just ones that could be useful for the dramatic moment.
Scorsese loves to talk almost as much as he loves film, and has made two four-hour documentaries, both available, in which he offers his opinions of films that have moved him. A Personal Voyage With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies features discussion on both renowned classics and forgotten B movies; the 1999 follow-up focusing on Italian cinema, My Voyage to Italy, came out in July, and focuses on directors like Fellini, Antonioni and De Sica. Scorsese isn’t afraid to spend 10 minutes or more discussing a movie. The length and dedication to details won’t appeal to those who aren’t already film and/or Scorsese buffs, but the dedicated will eat it up. And once you get a taste of Scorsese, it’s hard not to be dedicated.