Scorsese talks films at Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Universally acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese visited the Bibliotheca Alexandrina on Wednesday for a lecture on his work, and the films that have inspired him throughout his career. The lecture, which took the form of an open dialogue between Scorsese and Bibliotheca director Ismail Serageldin, was attended by over 200 film-enthusiasts. as well as prominent figures from the Egyptian film industry.

As chairman of the World Cinema Foundation, Scorsese was responsible for the recent restoration of the 1969 Egyptian classic “The Mummy,” directed by Shadi Abdel Salam. The newly restored print of the film was screened at the 33rd Cairo International Film Festival last month to unanimous praise.

During the lecture, Scorsese entertained the audience with various childhood stories and on-set anecdotes, while simultaneously providing insight into the techniques and themes that have cemented his reputation as one of the world’s greatest living directors. Scorsese’s success is surprising, considering that film making was not necessarily what he had in mind for himself. Scorsese originally wanted to be a priest, and even went as far as to attend seminary.

“I quickly realized that one has to have a strong will to give himself entirely to that, as a priest should. And so I was expelled. Eventually I wound up at New York University. The passion that I thought I had for religion transferred over to cinema,” Scorcese said during the event.

Despite the false start, the director maintains that cinema has always captivated him. “When I was three years old, I contracted asthma and I wasn’t allowed to play sports,” Scorsese explained. “My parents didn’t know what to do with me, so they took me to the movie theater.”

Scorsese is still enamored with cinema so many years later. “I’m fascinated by it. Putting one image after another and seeing how they move together, how they connect. It’s an obsession.” 

The director admits to a time when his enthusiasm wasn’t as strong. “I didn’t want to make ‘Raging Bull,’" the director says of what is now one of the most highly-acclaimed films of all time. “Robert DeNiro talked me into it. At first, I wasn’t interested. I told him ‘I don’t know anything about boxing.’”

The director claims he also felt the similarly about another film he made with DeNiro, “Cape Fear,” which at the time of release in 1991 was his biggest financial success. “He said I’d be the right director for the film,” explained Scorsese, citing evidence of their strong bond, which has resulted in eight onscreen collaborations.

Scorsese will be the first to credit those, like DeNiro, who are responsible for influencing the path his career has taken. Another is iconic American director John Cassavetes, who, after seeing Scorsese’s first feature, the low budget “Boxcar Bertha” (produced by B-movie king Roger Corman), gave the young director some words of encouragement. Scorsese recalled, “[Cassavetes] said to me. ‘You just spent a year of your life making a piece of junk. You can do better than that. Make the movie you want to make.’"

Scorsese took the advice to heart and, a year later, exploded onto the film scene in 1973 with “Mean Streets,” an uncompromisingly gritty look at organized crime in Little Italy, partly inspired by the director’s own Italian-American upbringing in New York’s Lower East Side. Following “Mean Streets”, the director embarked on a filmmaking career that would include some of the most popular and highly-regarded movies ever made, including “Taxi Driver,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Goodfellas,”  “Casino,” and “The Aviator.”

In 2006, Scorsese finally won the Academy Award for Best Director, for “The Departed,” after being nominated five times. Many felt that the award was long overdue.  

Scorsese also briefly discussed his future plans, stating that he was recently in Japan casting for his next feature, “Silence.” The film, based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, will feature Benicio Del Toro and Gael Garcia Bernal in leading roles, and is scheduled for a 2011 release. The novel–like all of Scorsese’s best work–deals with themes of guilt, religion, and violence.

Scorsese’s latest film, “Shutter Island,” will be released worldwide in February 2010. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, and Ben Kingsley.

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