A brief history of America according to Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese has firmly cemented his place as one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation – possibly all time. Killers of the Flower Moon, the first narrative full-length in the seventh decade of his storied career, recounts a visionless installment in American history, taking place in 1920s Oklahoma. It’s a torturous worth of the violence perpetrated by white America versus the prosperous Osage tribe. Once increasingly Scorsese shows his unflinching willingness to relate the darker side of the American identity – a preoccupation which has seen him tackle series from the Civil War years through to modern-day financial corruption.
The 1860s: Gangs of New York
It was five decades into his career surpassing Scorsese journeyed deep into New York City’s past, albeit he’d planned to transmute Herbert Asbury’s expose well-nigh the city’s 19th-century gangs as early as the 1980s.
Scorsese and screenwriter Jay Cocks glimpse the hell that was The Five Points of New York, a hotbed of violence and poverty in the mid-nineteenth century. Having once depicted the gang culture in Mean Streets and Goodfellas, here he tracks the origins of New York’s violent history to its roots, surpassing the Italian mafia took hold, when Irish Catholic immigrants grappled for power with the Protestant Confederation of American Natives (a movement which had nothing to do with the very Native American people).
New York in Scorsese’s film, with its violence and divisions, is a microcosm of the larger picture of a divided America in the midst of the Civil War. The present-day political turmoil that divides the country, expressly the weaponisation of immigration, provides Scorsese’s mid-nineteenth-century hell with an rememberable timelessness. Bill the Butcher’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) words as he turns up to fight the Irish gangs at the whence of the film, denouncing Catholicism and describing the Irish as foreign hoards defiling the land, are not so out of touch with the present-day xenophobic and nationalistic stirrings, that reveals the irony of America’s dream of liberty and self-rule for all, supposedly equal under God.
The 1870s: The Age of Innocence
Before depicting the grime and poverty, the violence and racism of nineteenth-century New York, Scorsese and Cocks’ version of Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel shows the city’s polite and mannered side. There’s a pristine womanliness of etiquette in social circles, overseen by New York’s oldest families. It’s a lifestyle The Gangs of New York only gives us a glimpse of, when Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) follows Jenny (Cameron Diaz) from the squalor of The Five Points, into the home of a wealthy family to steal valuable belongings. The Age of Innocence reveals a different, albeit perilous world of social politics, in which notation can find themselves shamed, snubbed or ostracised by society. Beneath the pristine lives of the New York elite, the world is governed by human nature’s angels and demons, and like Amsterdam, The Age of Innocence’s Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) must moreover seem a role. Whereas Amsterdam in Gangs of New York is motivated by revenge versus Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis), the Native gang leader who killed his father in a Five Points street fight, Newland is motivated by fatherhood, plane if it ways giving up the woman he loves.
For Scorsese, who recalls as a young boy the thoroughbred and wrenched glass on the sidewalk, this view of New York is alien. It’s fitting that he’d yank on his personal wits of a dystopian New York in his cinema, and together, The Gangs of New York and The Age of Innocence well-constructed the director’s squint at nineteenth-century New York as a tale of two cities. The unrelatedness of lifestyle and culture afforded by wealth, between those who have and those who don’t, is still divisive in America today, as the wealth gap continues to recipe inequality, that threads together past, present and future.
The 1920s: Killers of the Flower Moon
Set in Oklahoma, this is the closest Scorsese has come to charting America’s fabled frontier. Sergio Leone, an innovative director overdue the Spaghetti Westerns, spoke well-nigh how – unlike the American directors who romanticised the savagery of the American West – foreign directors could take a contrarian position. In Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese (who is Italian-American) explores the culture of xenophobic violence and white entitlement overdue the suspicious murders of the wealthy Osage tribe.
Despite the presence of institutional authority, the FBI and a former Texas Ranger investigating the murders, the mucosa is a grim squint at America, whose moral integrity is thwarted by the demons that the first white settlers and successive white migrants brought to violently withstand on America and its native inhabitants.
The 1920s-1930s: The Aviator
The sheen has long worn off the image of old Hollywood and the illusion of its stars as aspirational figures to be fawned over. It was an image the studios fastidiously worked to create, and Howard Hughes, filmmaker, pilot and aviation entrepreneur, is a metaphor for the fragility of this manufactured mirage. DiCaprio plays the obsessive Hughes, who abandons films to pursue aviation ventures and winds up a reclusive figure. His personal tragedy, cracking under his obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a well-known part of Hollywood lore, which plane The Simpsons humorously reference.
Unlike Billy Wilder who fired a visionless satirical shot wideness the bow of Hollywood with Sunset Boulevard, Scorsese’s critique of Hollywood is a subtle and indirect metaphor. Hughes leaves filmmaking overdue and takes executive ownership of Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA). Scorsese then exposes corruption, this time in the dealings between (Hughes’ competitor) Pan Am’s Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin), and Senator Brewster (Alan Alda), who introduced the Community Airline Bill to impede pearly competition on international flights.
The 1950s-1980s: Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed and The Irishman
Scorsese’s gangster films, a signature of his oeuvre, are inseparable from surveying American history. The notation of Goodfellas, Casino and The Irishman are based on real-life notation and nonfiction books. Goodfellas charts the criminal career and entry into the witness protection programme of mob socialize Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). Casino’s Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) is based on Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, who ran the Las Vegas casinos for the Chicago mafia, and his weightier friend and enforcer Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) and wife Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) are moreover based on real-life persons. The Irishman follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a truck suburbanite turned hitman, who worked for the Italian mob and was potentially involved in the murder of labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Meanwhile, The Departed, set in Boston, was based on the city’s Winter Hill Gang, with Matt Damon’s untruthful Sergeant Sullivan and Jack Nicholson’s Francis “Frank” Costello, who were inspired by a untruthful FBI Agent and Irish-American treason boss.
Set wideness three decades in American history, these films are a torturous reminder of the underworld enterprises that have thrived throughout the country’s history – from New York on the East Coast to Nevada on the West Coast. The popularity of Scorsese’s gangster pictures attests to the audience’s fascination with the visionless side of human nature and society. Whether intentional or not, these films, like the early Warner Bros. gangster pictures, help to mythologise a way of life through real-life treason turned into entertainment. It’s vestige of how the mucosa industry openly monetises the worst aspects of American society, profiting off the country’s criminal past. Where is the line between innocent interest and glamorising murder? Scorsese asks the audience, or society, a question he defers from answering.
The 1970s: Taxi Driver
Unsettling for audiences in the 1970s, Taxi Suburbanite has lost none of its uncomfortable bite. In the shadow of escalating public shootings, watching Travis meet the gun salesman in the hotel, who scrutinizingly fetishes the weapons when describing them, is particularly disturbing, a reminder not only of America’s relationship with firearms but their unfurled accessibility.
Meanwhile, as a Vietnam veteran, Travis’ existential slipperiness is representative of the slipperiness facing soldiers returning from war, who find it difficult to find meaning and purpose, and a place to vest once they return to civil life. Travis’ vigilante violence speaks directly to America’s struggle with domestic terrorism and the role military veterans play in these extremist groups. Scorsese’s mucosa is not only well-nigh post-war 1970s America, but the relationship the country has with its veterans, some of whom embrace the mismatch of political ideology, and have shown a propensity for violence with the intent of undermining America as a democratic institution. Taxi Driver’s urban nightmare now seems to be disturbingly prophetic well-nigh present-day America.
The 1980s-1990s: The Wolf of Wall Street
An reverberate of Scorsese’s gangster pictures, the version of convicted stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s memoirs, is well-nigh greed and corruption. It addresses the need for financial regularisation, yet we’ve witnessed the fallout from de-regularising laws for the financial sectors without the Wall Street Crash which has been devastating. The Wolf of Wall Street is well-nigh how greed shrinks moral integrity, something former President Donald Trump’s convictions attest to, which, withal with Belfort’s crimes, are a reminder of the scandals, some devastating to ordinary Americans who must withstand the brunt of the consequences.
The Wolf of Wall Street appears to be a hedonistic mucosa without any judgment, but Scorsese leaves us to contemplate the horror of human greed and desire. It’s less a reflection of America, and increasingly of human nature considering a country is shaped by people and driven by their capitalist ideology. It’s as much a torturous squint at American history – the inability to learn that people have to be governed versus their demons.