Silence and the Marty Scorsese Scale Of Cinematic Adjustment


It’s January, which is a bi-polar month in the year for film.

On the one hand, you get all the garbage that wasn’t good enough for any of the big seasons from the year before being unceremoniously dumped into one six week stretch of the year. January dumping season really is the first six weeks of the year, as it takes to about the back half of February before film starts looking better on the year. Think of it like really bad diarrhea for the cinematic soul; it’s the price we pay for 10 months of the year where film has a much better chance of being better.

On the other hand, it’s the time of year when all of the films that completed their Oscar qualifying runs in LA/NY start expanding wide into the rest of the country. It’s the proving ground for many of the films being touted as the best of the year to find an audience and prove their wares. The hype train has officially ended now and it’s time to see where the rubber hits the road for so many films.

This week the big film about to expand is Silence, which is in a handful of major cities before it expands slowly nationwide on the 13th. I went down to the city of Chicago to see it as it quite hasn’t reached the expanses of the suburbs yet. After nearly three years of a massive commute I find myself working out of my home office all day; while I’ve gained all the time I lost commuting back the one thing I do is miss is a good drive in the car. After nearly a month of fairly limited driving I opted to get on the road and haul down to Chicago for a movie, if only to remember how fun it can be to just drive.

Plus it’s Scorsese, one of the few directors out there where it still feels like an obligation to see his work. Few directors have that pull and not liking Scorsese’s work marks you as one of the Unholy Trio of Film Fans:

— The Cinematic Hipster, i.e. that guy who thinks quality American cinema started with Tarantino.
— Someone without any real taste in film, i.e. the guy who refuses to watch anything with subtitles.
— The guy who paid to see the Entourage movie multiple times.

All three scenarios mark someone who’s opinion on cinema aren’t worth listening to.

As I’ve moved away from writing formal theatrical reviews I’ve found I like watching movies more. It’s not an obligation; it’s a love of the craft. Silence is a labor of love, something the Oscar winner has been working on for some time. It’s not Scorsese’s best, not by a long shot, but it’s still worth a view if only because it’s a passion project from a director of significance. When the guy who’s made arguably the best film of each of the past four decades decides to put all his chips in to get a film made it becomes immediately interesting to me.

Trying to make a film about a pair of priests in 17th century Japan contemplating belief in God if it causes the suffering the others is difficult but Scorsese managed to pull it off somewhat successfully. This isn’t the next great masterpiece from the man, I think, but something interesting happened when I texted Mike Noyes about it. Trying to classify a Scorsese film now, as his career is towards the end as opposed to the beginning, means classifying it among his own films as opposed to on any other scale.

I like to call it the “Marty Scale” … when someone wants to know whether or not they should see a film he’s made you have to classify it from how much you liked (or didn’t like) his prior work. I think there’s about four levels you can really have that make it meaningful.

1. Loved like your child

Think of a film like Goodfellas, The Departed, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and the like. This is your favorite Scorsese film, the one that might be on TBS (and have all the obscenities dubbed over) but you’ll start watching no matter where you are in the film because it’s on … and watch it to completion.

This is your go-to “I love Martin Scorsese” film.

2. Really liked but couldn’t quite love

That Scorsese film above is on TBS … but you watch to you hit that part you love and then change the channel. Think of a moment in the middle of The Age of Innocence or the alley fight in Cape Fear; you can watch it through to that particular moment but clicking away after for something else isn’t sacrilege either.

This is your “I’ve watched Goodfellas like 20 times this year, I need to watch something else” film. The correct answer to which this is would be Casino, of course.

3. Liked but couldn’t quite get over the hump

Think of The King of Comedy, which is the forgotten film in the Scorsese/De Niro collaborations. You can watch it, and like it, but saying this is your favorite Scorsese film is like saying Shemp is your favorite stooge. Same with The Color of Money, The Aviator, Shutter Island or The Wolf of Wall Street.

It’s the sort of film you can like because of who did it but, deep down inside, you know it’s not really that good. But because it’s Scorsese he gets a passing grade, like when the honors student just bombs a test but the teacher gives him a gentleman’s C because they don’t want to screw up their overall GPA.

It’d be like if anyone but Joss Whedon directed The Avengers. We’d admit that the film took about 90 minutes to accomplish something that could’ve been done in 20, that it featured a plot about as coherent as a Transformers film and pandered to geeks in the same way a Hollywood starlet claims to be a huge dork by being a fan of Star Wars.

4. Saw but didn’t need to see again

Did anyone see Kundun? It’s an alright film but not something people demand you search out. It’s kind of a forgotten film in the Scorsese cinematic lore; like After Hours it’s part of his cinematic library but when he dies, and the montage of clips of his work is released, this is the film that no one will object if it’s conveniently left out.

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Scott Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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