Brilliant, brazen, engaging, esoteric, reverent, irreverent, ironic — all are qualities that have forged the 68-year-old director into an unqualified master. Much revered, once reviled, Scorsese has created some of the most extraordinary work in modern cinema: the gangster leitmotif of “Mean Streets,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino” and “The Departed”; the awakening feminism of “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”; the brutal anger of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”; the unsettling treatise on fame in “The King of Comedy”; the respectful religious provocation of the much-maligned “The Last Temptation of Christ”; and on it goes.
The length and breadth of that work is the starting point for longtime film critic, author and documentarian Richard Schickel in “Conversations With Scorsese,” his intriguing, sometimes maddening but ultimately satisfying new book. Though billed as a conversation, it often reads more like a lecture series as the men discuss each of Scorsese’s feature films, a smattering of his documentaries, his views on editing, music, color, storyboarding and everything else in the filmmaking process.
As anyone who’s ever caught the filmmaker on TV or in person knows, everything about him seems irrepressible — his humor, his passion, that rubber-band grin, the Buddy Holly horn rims and those caterpillar brows. That nature is both the appeal and the conundrum of the book — when to rein him in and when to let him run. Schickel does a good deal of both, though the book would have benefited from more tightening.
I’m sure there is some good stuff in here and I’m not surprised that Scorsese is less than candid about his failures and his personal life.