I just wrote about the early documentaries of Stanley Kubrick, and now, in an embarrassment of riches, we have three early student films by Martin Scorsese to look at. Unlike Kubrick, whose first efforts were commercial news reels and industrials, Martin Scorsese was a member of the so-called "film school generation," attending NYU in the 60s. Filmmaker IQ has posted three of Scorsese's early student films, and they are instructive viewing for any fan of Scorsese, or student of cinema. Click below to check out these three early works from a master!
According to Open Culture, both Scorsese and Kubrick were born and bred New Yorkers, but where Kubrick (from the Bronx) was a professional photographer at the age of 17, with grades that would have precluded him going to college, Scorsese (who grew up in Little Italy) went to NYU, ending up in the film program almost by accident:
He went to an NYU orientation session, where the various department heads took turns describing their programs to a room filled with prospective students. When the head of the Department of Television, Motion Pictures and Radio stood up -- a man named Haig Manoogian -- the young Scorsese was instantly impressed. “He had such energy, such passion,” Scorsese tells Richard Schickel in Conversations with Scorsese. “I said to myself, That’s where I want to be, with this person.”
More than anything, what is evident is Scorsese's love of cinema: the sights, images and movement that make up movies. Scorsese's short films, shot on 16mm and edited by hand, give an insight into the future of the great director. What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing In a Place Like This? was his first student short, made in 1963.
The film's premise concerns a writer named Algernon, or Harry to his friends (Zeph Michelis) who becomes obsessed with a photograph, and it moves along at a fast clip with lots of cutaways, some stop-motion, and a real momentum, something that would be a hallmark of his later work.
The second film, It's Not Just You, Murray! is more of a harbinger of things to come: a mockumentary about two gangsters, Murray and Joe, Murray's narration tells us how Joe is his best friend while the camera work and editing continually undercut this, with scenes of Joe constantly hanging Murray out to dry:
That's Scorsese's primary technique here, developing a disjunction between the voiceover and the images that illustrate it. It's especially satisfying to witness the contrast between the smug, self-satisfied Murray, who loves to show off his wealth and success, and the actuality of his pathetic life.
The film is comic in tone and a huge step-up from his previous short -- this is a short made by a director rapidly gaining confidence in his abilities.
The third film, The Big Shave, is the simplest of the three, and the first in color. Set to a jazz song from the 30s, ("I Just Can't Get Started"), we see a clean white bathroom in a series of brief, close-up shots. A young man enters and starts shaving. Simple enough. But the kicker comes when he has finished and continues dragging the razor over his skin, rendering his face and the bathroom a bloody mess.
The clue to the film's meaning is presented with the title card that reads, "Viet '67". The young man in the film is roughly draft-age, and the film was made at the height of the Vietnam war. The film seems to suggest an analogue between the war machine that is killing young men, and the casual way this young man destroys himself. It is disturbing, and a precursor for Scorsese's later use of blood and violence in his films. It's also the most "artsy" of the shorts.
What do you think? Can you see evidence of the later Scorsese in these films? What do you think the difference is in making "student" films the way they did in Scorsese's day, as opposed to now? Let us know!
[via Filmmaker IQ]