I love Marty’s films, as do many of you out there. His contribution to the medium of cinema via his own output is monumental as it is, but his involvement in the conservation and restoration of other people’s cinema is hugely magnanimous too.
From Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard to Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes to our very own Uday Shankar’s Kalpana. (I find it shameful that we being the largest film industry in the world cannot take care of our own cinematic heritage).
Throughout Scorsese’s films, one thing that is so blatantly notable is his use of music as a storytelling tool. And his love for music is such that he has gone beyond the realm of storytelling to make documentaries about music icons that have been an inspiration to him as well.
The Last Waltz, about the American band The Band and their farewell concert in 1976 (released 1978), the iconic Dylan documentary No Direction Home, the sensational Shine A Light with the Rolling Stones and not to mention producing a seven part series on The Blues and his upcoming documentary on George Harrison called Living In The Material Word (which he made while he was filming Shutter Island, whew!)
We always talk of the soundtracks of Quentin Tarantino’s films, but how often do we realise that before QT, Scorsese was doing it all along. Tarantino is a film cannibal (in a good way), always homaging and referencing cinema of the past in his own cool way, but above that, Scorsese is the King of cinematic reference, although his references are much more intrinsic and subtle to the average filmgoer.
But to come back to the music, lets take a look at all the soundtracks of some of the great Scorsese films, so you can read what I want to talk about. First up, Mean Streets, 1973, showed us a gritty underworld of gangster New York set to the tunes of the Rolling Stones’ Jumping Jack Flash, Motown hits, I Love You So by The Chantells; Please Mr. Postman by The Marvelettes; and Rubber Biscuit by The Chips with a little bit of the blues thrown in, from John Mayall (Stepping Out) and Eric Clapton (I Looked Away).
Then in 1974 the Kris Kristofferson, Ellen Burstyn starrer Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore had selections like Leon Russel’s Roll Away The Stone, Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and Elton John’s Daniel.
Genius of DeNiro
1980 saw the genius of DeNiro explode with Raging Bull, but along with that followed a soundtrack that had Nat King Cole doing Mona Lisa, Russ Columbo doing Prisoner of love and Marilyn Monroe doing Bye bye baby among 34 other selections on this superb film. DeNiro prevailed once again in Scorsese’s 1983 film King Of Comedy along with comic stalwart Jerry Lewis for company. And the music once again pulled out artists like The Pretenders (Back On the Chain Gang), Talking Heads (Swamp), Ray Charles (Come Rain Come Shine) and BB King (Ain’t Nobody’s Business) amongst others.
The double whammy of Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) saw Scorsese go ballistic with hits across the board. You know, on the Goodfellas official soundtrack, there are only 12 songs, but in the film no less than 46 songs are heard! And as for Casino, the official soundtrack was a double album that featured 31 songs, so you can imagine the additional music in the film. I will not list those songs here, I leave you to seek further. Bringing Out The Dead, 1999, saw quite a few hits like, REM’s What’s the frequency Kenneth and UB40’s Red red wine amongst rarities like Rivers of Babylon by the Melodians and Bell boy by The Who.
Scorsese did not always do compilation soundtracks, films like Taxi Driver (1976) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Cape Fear (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), Kundun (1997), Gangs of New York (2002) and Aviator (2004) all featured orchestral scores by stalwarts like Peter Gabriel, Elmer Bernstein, Bernard Hermann, Howard Shore and Phillip Glass, all of whom, as we know, brought great power to those already impactful films.
The Departed (2006) saw Scorsese return to the gangster genre, as we know it, and brought back the compilation soundtrack with hits like Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, The Beach Boys’ Sail On sailor and the Rolling Stones’ Let it loose.
Shutter Island (2010), on the other hand, sees Scorsese put together a classical compilation that is as eclectic as it comes, from composers like Philip Vandre, Brian Eno and Nam June Pail to orchestras like the Prazak Quartet, The Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and The New Professionals Orchestra amongst others; this ones a thundering best.
This has been my longest piece so far, and yet, still too short for a cinematic and musical (yes) genius like Martin Scorsese. I hope you watch these films in a new musical light as I always do and may you have a great time reading this… if I may say so.