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Casino - from art to entertainment 
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Post Casino - from art to entertainment
I re-watched Casino last night for the first time in few years, and it occurred to me that despite still really liking the film, this is was perhaps the film where Scorsese made art subservient to entertainment.

One of the first things I notice when a band, film-maker, even sometimes sports star begins to amble past their prime is that they (consciously or not) begin to become caricatures of themselves. I'm not sure whether this is partly owed to a person recognising their decline on some level, and thus trying to amplify their strengths in a deliberate and artificial way to compensate or not.

I really like Casino, but it's hard to get past the notion that the above is exactly what Scorsese is doing. In a way a great film maker is like a chef cooking food for a clientele less cultured than he or she is. In the early, inspired years the chef can "wow" his audience with exotic delicacies the likes of which they won’t have tasted before, but as the years pass they begin to run out of new ideas and instead pander to the perceived tastes of the consumers.

Casino is a burger. A nice, juicy, beefy, artery-clogging delight. But a burger nonetheless. Casino gives us the cast of Goodfellas and moves city. Reusing actors is nothing new in a Scorsese film, but reusing characters is. Nicky is Tommy. There isn’t even pretence at saying otherwise. What it does say is “remember Tommy from Goodfellas, well Nicky is him, so get on with it”. And what follows could quite easily be a popular-demanded sequel to Goodfellas with a fanbase of teenagers voting and texting what city they’d like the cast of characters to move into to carry on with their chaotic gangster ways.

I can’t think of a Scorsese film that panders to popular taste, pre-Casino. All of his previous efforts seemed to be him making statements about the things he sees and thinks about. Even The Colour of Money (Newman’s Oscar vehicle) didn’t seem to be as reactive in its creation.

Since Casino we’ve had Scorsese-pop, rather than Scorsese-art (with the possible exception of Bringing Out the Dead which I view as a kind of remake or sequel of Taxi Driver).

Gangs of New York
Despite a few highlights, a pretty bad film truth be told.

The Aviator
It raises a smile with me. But it feels like second-rate Spielberg rather than Scorsese.

The Departed
The best film of his “entertainment era”

Shutter Island
An utterly predictable and conventional twist-thriller that is simply beneath him.

Whether his post-Casino days are calculated to reflect simple film economics, or whether the raw inspiration that dragged him up off the street simply dried up remains to be revealed. Probably a bit of both. Noel Gallagher – songwriting chief for “Oasis” - said that he can’t write music like before because his best songs were written when he was 21 years old, angry, and living on welfare. And none of those things apply anymore. Certain street-level artists who write and dwell on the unseen side of life can’t be as angry (or inspired?) to write when they're very, very rich middle-aged men, with a beautiful wife and kids.

Anyway, Casino… more mayonnaise for your burger sir?

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Fri Feb 22, 2013 7:15 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
I've not seen Casino, but I am going to go by your line of thought here.

To take the Noel Gallagher example, he obviously cannot write the same kind of songs anymore because, as he put it, he isn't 21 years old, angry, and living on welfare. That hasn't stopped him from writing songs, he just writes different songs now, whether we like them or not.

Scorsese once said that you should make movies only if you feel like you'll die if you don't. With him, it actually feels like that, you know he simply "has" to make films to survive.

For the first 20 years of his career, he was - again to use the Gallagher example - someone right off the streets of Little Italy and focused all his efforts on bringing to screen his angst. He made films about the grittiness of the streets of Little Italy in Mean Streets, about someone who's frustrated with society in Taxi Driver; he made Raging Bull and Goodfellas. The common thread in them all was their intensity, brutality and rawness; not to mention Catholicism, rock and roll amongst others.

It is obvious that modern-day Scorsese is not that angst-filled man off the streets of Little Italy anymore. He's made enough films to showcase that side of him on the silver screen. But he still wants to make films, and as a filmmaker, he's constantly looking to do something different. Hence you have genre films like Cape Fear or The Departed (which was to a certain extent a genre film) or Shutter Island, period films like Gangs of New York and The Aviator, or even light-hearted films like Hugo.

But I think it is doing Scorsese a great disservice to say that he's made art subservient to entertainment. One look at the attention to detail in something like The Departed or even Hugo, which probably gets less credit than it deserves, shows that Scorsese is still the same master of his craft he used to be. In fact, the former is a great, modern-day cousin to his previous three masterpieces - Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas - and one that kept his streak continuing into a fourth decade. You can see in The Departed all the commonalities that form the Scorsese oeuvre: the violence and brutality, the Catholicism, rock and roll. That film showed he's lost none of his touch from his first 20 years and is still going strong.

He's probably not inspired by the same things he was in the 1970s and the 1980s, and why should he be. It is unfair to expect him to be and to make the same kind of films he used to in that era. But wherever he finds his inspiration nowadays, the end product still have a lot of craft in them. Craft that you sense only he can provide. That is my general feeling. Although I will grant you that Shutter Island is definitely lesser-Scorsese, although I liked that as well.

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Fri Feb 22, 2013 7:44 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
Quote:
I've not seen Casino..


You should. And not just to agree with me, but because it's a very entertaining film.

Quote:
To take the Noel Gallagher example, he obviously cannot write the same kind of songs anymore because, as he put it, he isn't 21 years old, angry, and living on welfare. That hasn't stopped him from writing songs, he just writes different songs now, whether we like them or not.


Yeah but their "not being as good" does matter. It tells its own story. And I like to think kind of backs up what I say.

Quote:
For the first 20 years of his career, he was - again to use the Gallagher example - someone right off the streets of Little Italy and focused all his efforts on bringing to screen his angst. He made films about the grittiness of the streets of Little Italy in Mean Streets, about someone who's frustrated with society in Taxi Driver; he made Raging Bull and Goodfellas. The common thread in them all was their intensity, brutality and rawness; not to mention Catholicism, rock and roll amongst others.

It is obvious that modern-day Scorsese is not that angst-filled man off the streets of Little Italy anymore. He's made enough films to showcase that side of him on the silver screen. But he still wants to make films, and as a filmmaker, he's constantly looking to do something different. Hence you have genre films like Cape Fear or The Departed (which was to a certain extent a genre film) or Shutter Island, period films like Gangs of New York and The Aviator, or even light-hearted films like Hugo.But I think it is doing Scorsese a great disservice to say that he's made art subservient to entertainment. One look at the attention to detail in something like The Departed or even Hugo, which probably gets less credit than it deserves, shows that Scorsese is still the same master of his craft he used to be. In fact, the former is a great, modern-day cousin to his previous three masterpieces - Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas - and one that kept his streak continuing into a fourth decade. You can see in The Departed all the commonalities that form the Scorsese oeuvre: the violence and brutality, the Catholicism, rock and roll. That film showed he's lost none of his touch from his first 20 years and is still going strong.


I'm not saying he should retire, or even attempt to reinflate his 70s and 80s methods. But I am saying that for certain kinds of artist, the descent begins when the angst is gone. Looking at Scorsese's resume seems to support my theory that he is said kind of artist. That isn't to say there isn't real craft and good films since and to come in the future, but again...I think the point stands.

And I love The Departed for what it is. A superior shoot-em up, cop thriller.

Quote:
He's probably not inspired by the same things he was in the 1970s and the 1980s, and why should he be. It is unfair to expect him to be and to make the same kind of films he used to in that era. But wherever he finds his inspiration nowadays, the end product still have a lot of craft in them. Craft that you sense only he can provide.


I don't expect him to. That is the point I'm making about artists who lean on a certain kind of angsty inspiration will decline. It's sad and in someways univeral, and not meant as a critisism of Scorsese specifically.

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Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:03 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
NotHughGrant wrote:
You should. And not just to agree with me, but because it's a very entertaining film.
I will... Soon.
NotHughGrant wrote:
Yeah but their "not being as good" does matter. It tells its own story. And I like to think kind of backs up what I say.

I'm not saying he should retire, or even attempt to reinflate his 70s and 80s methods. But I am saying that for certain kinds of artist, the descent begins when the angst is gone. Looking at Scorsese's resume seems to support my theory that he is said kind of artist. That isn't to say there isn't real craft and good films since and to come in the future, but again...I think the point stands.

And I love The Departed for what it is. A superior shoot-em up, cop thriller.

I don't expect him to. That is the point I'm making about artists who lean on a certain kind of angsty inspiration will decline. It's sad and in someways univeral, and not meant as a critisism of Scorsese specifically.
I can't speak for Noel Gallagher, but I don't think Scorsese has shown any decline in his craft. He's lost the angsty inspiration and found other things to make films about - an Adapted Screenplay from a Hong-Kong crime thriller here, a genre piece there, a straightforward thriller and so on. But he's not shown any decline per se as a filmmaker. That was the point of my original post. I personally don't look at The Departed just as a superior shoot-em up, cop thriller. I look at it as something in the grand tradition of older Scorsese films. Let me cite a couple of paragraphs from an Indian critic's review of the film which perfectly sums up my thoughts on it, and why I think it should be as heralded as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or Goodfellas.

"But subsequent viewings reveal how connected in spirit, and in flesh and blood, The Departed is to Scorsese's earlier work. This isn't some quirky one-off in a vacuum; it's very much part of the oeuvre. There's the sickening violence (the exploding cars, the blood-spurting bodies), the religious anchors (Costello's girlfriend coaches a church choir even as he mocks his neighbourhood priests as pederasts), the twinning, joined-at-the-hip male figures (in the tradition of Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets, De Niro and Joe Pesci in Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino, De Niro and Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy, even Tom Cruise and Paul Newman in The Color of Money)… And the on-screen balance between Costigan and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is so skillfully attained; one moves to a new house, the other moves into prison; one has an encounter with a woman while on a date, the other has an encounter with a woman as he glumly watches her, a nurse, bandage his hand; that only when you stand back and look at the film with screenwriting eyes do you see the one-for-you-one-for-me rationing in the mirror-image structure, perhaps best reflected in the poster art that splits the title and shows us that it begins with "DE"? and ends with "ED"?.

Then there's the way the music - Scorsese's familiar playlist of pop/rock classics - has been used, right from the very beginning when the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter grabs you by the collar and leads you to the scene where Costello takes the young Sullivan under his wing. (The dialogue here is redundant, what with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards having already described the kid's situation: "If I don't get some shelter / Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away.") A little after, the Allman Brothers' One Way Out plays as Costigan, looking for an in (One Way In?) into Costello's gang, takes an attention-getting swing at someone who mocks him in a bar. But the real beauty of a defining number is the one Costigan gets much later. He's seeing a therapist and spilling about how his "heart rate is jacked" thanks to the killers he works with. He's popping narcotic pills a bunch at a time. He's having panic attacks, causing a showdown with his shrink when she refuses to prescribe Valium for him. After all this, when he falls into the arms of the woman who anesthetises his agony, the track we get is a live version of Comfortably Numb. We've heard these words a thousand times: "There is no pain, you are receding / A distant ship's smoke on the horizon." And yet it's as if we're listening to them for the first time."

This is Martin Scorsese taking familiar subject matter and imparting his unique vision to them. The content of The Departed may have been done to death, but it had not been done like this before and has not been since. And I think the same applies to something like Hugo as well which, though not as good as the former, is still worthy of its merits. That is the point I am trying to make, not very properly by the looks of it. Martin Scorsese's a different filmmaker now, but no less interesting or crafty as he was in the 70s and 80s.

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Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:36 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
I do really like The Departed, so you were quite cunning in picking that as an example of his modern day achievements ;)

But ask yourself this - would 70s and 80s Scorsese have dared vomit The Gangs of New York into the public's lap? If the answer is "no", then Houston, we have a problem!

Or for that matter, would he have pandered to contemporary, low-browish tastes and formula like he did in Shutter Island?

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Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:44 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
Here's a fill-in-the-blank:

The worst 5 films from Scorcese are better than the best 5 films of ___________.


Having just watched and enjoyed Hugo, I guess I'm good with the trash he's throwing out. I believe he makes what he wants to make, and whether that scratches the public's itch or not, well, I like burgers too. I've just added Gangs to my list.

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Fri Feb 22, 2013 9:28 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
NotHughGrant wrote:
But ask yourself this - would 70s and 80s Scorsese have dared vomit The Gangs of New York into the public's lap? If the answer is "no", then Houston, we have a problem!


That doesn't actually back up your point, though. The problem is that it's an ambitious, yet very flawed film. That isn't evidence that he's lost his inspiration as an artist. I think Balaji is 100% correct here in that his inspiration as progressed into the pure craft of cinema. It's more a sign of growth as an artist than anything, to me. I personally wouldn't still be looking forward to every Scorcese film is he was still making the cynical, angry movies his younger self would have made.

Take something like Hugo, which is interested in time and how the past influences and is useful to the present. Basically, it argues that just because something is old, it isn't automatically obsolete. He uses clocks throughout the film as a motif, and makes great use of 3D technology to accentuate his point. The film isn't perfect - it makes the point a little too obtusely with all the film history lessons - but it's a movie that doubles as light entertainment and a valid artistic expression of an idea. It's obviously not concerned with anything as heavy as his earlier masterpieces, but it is a movie interested in taking a stance, and, to me, that qualifies it as art.

You may not like it as much as Taxi Driver or Raging Bull, but it's no less interested in making a point than either of those movies.


Fri Feb 22, 2013 1:05 pm
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
I find this reductive. Scorsese may be known as a great artist, but he's always been a superior craftsman as well. His work on Woodstock and his earlier (pre-'90s) entertainments like Boxcar Bertha and After Hours would bear this out.

It is most likely true that the reason he hasn't been churning out movies with the same bald personal honesty as his most acknowledged masterpieces is that those masterpieces were clearly a product of something that was chewing him up mentally and emotionally. These days he's a happier, more fulfilled person.

But I don't think there's any point where he crossed the line from artist to entertainer. He's always been an entertainer. In fact, I'd argue that both the artistic projects and the entertaining projects are necessary for him. He has more than one itch to scratch.

It's kind of like the Beatles doing The White Album, which was a pretty hard turn after Sgt. Pepper. Sometimes you drain yourself of one thing and the only option is to express something completely different--not because you want to, but because you have to.

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Fri Feb 22, 2013 3:58 pm
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
It's definately reductive. I boiled 45 years down into about 200 words. But I think the gist of the argument stands up.

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Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:52 pm
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
NotHughGrant wrote:
It's definately reductive. I boiled 45 years down into about 200 words. But I think the gist of the argument stands up.


The reduction I care about is which films will be re-watched and discussed in the years to come. For me, it's always a question of which films I'd like to return to myself. Taxi Driver remains forever fascinating and unique; it retains its intrigue for me no matter how many times I see it. The Departed, on the other hand, is what it is. Entertaining the first time, but no mystery, not much depth, far too long, and the feeling that it's all a lot sillier than it pretends to be. I dont' see how anyone can think the ending of Departed is more sophisticated than that of Bullet to the Head. Anthony Anderson...wtf

Anyway it was fun at the time, but I wouldn't return to it eagerly for those reasons. Gangs of New York I doubt I'll ever sit all the way through again, though snippets of it are cool. Same with Aviator, one of the most unweildy movies this side of LOTR. Shutter Island is bottom of the barrel, I walked out the second time and never looked back. Hugo is interesting the first time in certain respects - but it's one of the silliest ideas for a movie ever. Like if the Hitchcock movie had 10 babies with Me and Orson Welles and those babies morphed into a giant monster baby. Very few laypeople who saw that movie understood what the hell it was trying to do. I know many who couldn't get through it.

Scorsese was once a great expressionist, but he's not a good storyteller, and arguably never was that. He simply isn't good at giving the audience its bearings.


Sat Feb 23, 2013 2:44 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
I admit I had the same thought with the OT when the first Hugo trailer was released. I read the book long before the movie, and when I heard he was attached to direct it, I thought that he was the perfect choice for the material. But then the trailer came out, all noises and silly gimmicks, and I was afraid Scorsese had royally f*cked up both his own craft and the perfect material for him. Then the movie came out and I watched it (in 3D) and all fear was put to rest.

I was indifferent towards Gangs of New York. It alternated between brilliant moments and mundane mess (whenever Daniel Day-Lewis was off-screen).

I also thought Scorsese's pedigree hurted Shutter Island's chance. I read the book and thought there was no way any filmmaker could adapt such a book-specific story (not for the usual reason that it is complicated, but for that it will neccessarily look simplified somewhat when it becomes a movie) satisfyingly, especially the ending. But Scorsese did a supreme job with direction and atmosphere, but he simply just couldn't change the book's content, so it still remained just a very good and very fun pot-boiler of a movie. The director's name turned it against him when the critics dismissed it as another "sub-par" Scorsese. I choose to see it as a "fun" Scorsese where he exercised other areas of his craft.

However, I love, love The Departed. It was one of the movies that pulled me into loving movies, only to try to capture or exceed the feelings it gave me the first time I watched it. It is still the fastest 2.5-hour movie I've ever watched. I couldn't believe when the credit rolled that more than 150 minutes have passed; rarely was I so immersed in a film.


Sat Feb 23, 2013 6:19 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
Another thing: One of my proudest movie moments comes with Hugo. I dragged a friend to see it with me in 3D. He liked it well enough, but said that it was like a kid's movie with some intriguing and deeper things to say about movie, things that he didn't quite get all of it. So I explained briefly about the correlation between people's reactions when movies first came out, and the effects the 3D tried to recapture that. When I mentioned about the scene where the train clashed spectacularly through the station, and how the 3D of that was the attempt to replicate when people first saw the footage of a train arriving at a station, his eyes lit up and said about how neat that was, and that he almost ducked from it. Indeed, back in theater when that scene came, I felt he had an involuntary refelx at the train and made a noise.

And then my friend, a jock who loves clubbing more than life and is still a very non movie savvy person to this day, rambled on for a few minutes about the 3D, the effects, and the movie, connecting it all together, sounding pretty much like a Reelviews film club discussion. It strangely warmed my moving-loving heart to the core.


Sat Feb 23, 2013 6:43 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
I like your post a lot and agree most of your thoughts. I would've thought Cape Fear was the first time he made a film for entertainment value more than art with De Niro playing another version of Travis Bickle. (Brilliantly of course.)

The "problem" I have with Scorsese is that his last genuine classic, Goodfellas, I consider to be the one of the greatest films ever made. It's as close to perfection as anything I've ever seen. If he hadn't made Goodfellas, Casino would be regarded as one of the best mafia films ever made, if it isn't already. (Although Sharon Stone is completely out of her depth and overplays her role so much she nearly ruins the third act for me.)

Does the sick boy theory apply to Scorsese? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnAR2qB24yQ

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Sun Feb 24, 2013 4:36 am
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Post Re: Casino - from art to entertainment
This list made me laugh, particularly the one for Hugo:http://www.theshiznit.co.uk/feature/if-2012s-oscar-nominated-movie-posters-told-the-truth.php


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