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Five Pieces of Homework to Do Before Sydney Film Festival's Scorsese Retrospective

Get watching, reading and cooking his mother's meatballs.
By Sarah Ward
May 24, 2016
By Sarah Ward
May 24, 2016

Martin Scorsese has given the world many things. He made Robert De Niro's film career, and also made sure Leonardo DiCaprio isn't just that guy from Growing Pains, Romeo + Juliet and Titanic. He's crafted some of the most influential movies of the last five decades, chronicled music over the same timespan and championed the history of cinema, too. There's a reason that you only need to refer to him by his last name. He's a creative force to be reckoned with — and, though many have tried, there's no one quite like him.

In addition to all of the above — or, more accurately, because of it — he's the focus of a whole strand of this year's Sydney Film Festival program, Essential Scorsese. Curated by none other than David Stratton, SFF will present a showcase of ten of Martin Scorsese's essential films. In Melbourne, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is also focusing on the legendary filmmaker in their latest four-month showcase, SCORSESE. So there's a lot of Scorsese going around at the moment.

Of course, that's not all there is to the Scorsese experience — and no, we're not just talking about watching his movies. Before you get tickets to the SFF retrospective, we have a few pieces of Scorsese homework to get you well and truly prepared. Visiting New York and becoming besties with De Niro and DiCaprio isn't on our list, but if you want to try and make that happen, we're not going to stop you.

Shine A Light


Scorsese has been quote as saying: "Music and film are inseparable. They always have been and always will be." And his career is a testament to that statement. From the moment 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' starts playing in Mean Streets to the way 'I'm Shipping Up to Boston' is used in The Departed, the soundtracks to Scorsese's movies have always proven as important as the narratives. The list goes on — and that's not even including references to his films in songs, as heard in the Arctic Monkeys' 'Knee Socks', for example. If you don't know where to start, try working through the back catalogues of The Band, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and George Harrison, all of whom have featured in Scorsese-directed documentaries and concert films. You'll also find more than one Scorsese playlist on Spotify.



Filmmakers don't just make films — they watch them, too. They've grown up watching them, as Scorsese did, starting as an asthma-afflicted child who would go to the cinema because he couldn't take part in more active pursuits. That could be why he has always been so eager to rattle off his favourite flicks, with the internet overflowing with lists of his horror, must-see and all-time picks. Working your way through his selections is a good way to brush up on your movie history in general, but why not take it a step further? Scorsese has also directed and hosted two documentaries — A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies and My Voyage to Italy — that step through his thoughts and feelings about the cinema both hailing from his US homeland and linked to his Italian heritage.



Back in 1974, Scorsese made a 49-minute documentary called Italianamerican. His parents, Charles and Catherine, feature heavily, chatting about their experiences as Italian migrants living in New York as they eat dinner. Catherine — who also pops up in Mean Streets, The King of Comedy, After Hours, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence and Casino — also talks through her meatballs recipe, which Scorsese then listed in the credits of the film. If you can't track down a copy of the movie, you can buy Italiamerican: The Scorsese Family Cookbook and then make it and 250 other Scorsese family dishes for yourself. Back in 1990, Catherine also shared the recipe for the pasta she cooks up in Goodfellas, where she played the mother of Joe Pesci's character.


Maybe Boardwalk Empire was your favourite TV show during its five-season run. Or perhaps you were counting down the days until Vinyl premiered back in February 2016, and then proceeded to devour every second of its '70s-set sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll fun, gratuitous name-checking and sometimes badly-cast nods to icons of the period. Whether you're an existing fan of either show, or you've been meaning to catch up with both, here's your chance to enjoy every single minute of each. Scorsese not only executive produced both series, but directed their first episodes (which explains why the Boardwalk Empire pilot reportedly cost $18 million). Yep, that's two extra pieces of Scorsese-made fare you mightn't have realised that you needed to watch.


Scorsese doesn't just make films, set up organisations to restore them and make lengthy programs dedicated to classics of years gone by, though he's done plenty of that. Once, back in 2000, he also guest hosted Roger Ebert & the Movies, the review television show Ebert made after the death of his former on-air partner Gene Siskel. The topic of conversation was the best movies of the '90s — and while we won't spoil Scorsese's picks, we will mention that Ebert chose Goodfellas as his number three film of the decade. Of course, Ebert and Scorsese weren't just linked on screen, with the film critic also writing Scorsese by Ebert, a book filled with essays about and interviews with the director.

Essential Scorsese: Selected by David Stratton runs as part of Sydney Film Festival from June 11-19 at the Art Gallery of NSW. See the full program of at the SFF website

Published on May 24, 2016 by Sarah Ward
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