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You might love Martin Scorsese, you might loathe him. As we approach his 74th birthday we have to ask - is he the best director of all time?
With undeniable all-time classics under his belt such as The Departed, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and the much more recent The Wolf of Wall Street, it's hard to argue that he's not a great director. Even sometimes criticised films such as Shutter Island and Gangs of New York were still smash-hits at the box office and, to be completely honest, I loved them both.
Some people believe that he's inconsistent. But to be completely fair, when you've captured lightning in a bottle, there's a chance you'll miss when you try to do it again.
His feature film directorial debut was 'Who's That Knocking At My Door' back in 1967. It had a budget of $75,000 and explored themes around Catholic guilt and romantic relationships. It starred his very own mother, which ultimately became a reoccurring theme in his movies until her death in 1997.
Despite its tiny budget, the film premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival and received fantastic reviews. In fact, American critic Roger Ebert said that it was: "a work that is absolutely genuine, artistically satisfying and technically comparable to the best films being made anywhere. I have no reservations in describing it as a great moment in American movies."
Since then, budgets have been more giving. Seven years after his directorial debut (and several movies later), he managed to direct his first $1 million+ movie - Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. The film brought in a staggering $21 million gross profit and cemented his career as an exceptional director.
But what makes his movies so great? Personally, I feel that the characters in his films generally bear heavily on tension. When things are going too well for people doing bad things... there has to be a comeuppance. This is especially prevalent in his earlier works, with deranged characters who seemed hell bent on destruction. It's great because you are fully engaged with the story and you generally like the characters despite their obvious flaws. He's the master of polarising.
But what you may not knows is Scorsese nearly died in the 1970s. After Taxi Driver, he got heavily into cocaine. In Peter Biskind's book, 'Easy Rider, Raging Bulls', Scorsese describes the effect cocaine had on him: "At first you felt like you could make five films at once. And then you wound up spending four days in bed every week because you were exhausted and your body couldn't take it."
He entered a downward spiral. He admitted he didn't think he'd live to the age of 40: "It was a matter of pushing the envelope, of being bad, seeing how much you can do.
"Embracing a way of life to its limit. I did a lot of drugs because I wanted to do a lot - I wanted to push it all the way to the very very end and see if I could die. That was the key thing, to see what it was like getting close to death."
Like a character out of one of his own films, his personality became very unpredictable. He began having paranoid hallucinations and flipping out at people. He said: "I was always angry, throwing glasses, provoking people, really unpleasant to be around. I always found, no matter what anybody said, something to take offence at. I'd be the host, but at some point during the evening I'd flip out."
Recently, Scorsese admitted that he drew on personal use of Quaaludes, also know as Methaqualone for The Wolf of Wall Street.
He managed to get off the drugs was after a potentially lethal dose caused him massive internal bleeding in the late seventies, which was something of an epiphany.
Only a man with all of this experience, passion, grit and talent can be crowned the best director of all time. And, upon reflection, I believe he deserves that accolade. Long live Martin Scorsese.
Featured image credit: PA Images
Topics: Martin Scorsese
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