With reviews piling in for The Wolf of Wall Street, the old argument of whether Martin Scorsese is an auteur or a sensationalist is sure to rear its ugly head.
Many see Scorsese as an auteur, a moviemaker of such influence they are considered the author of their movie, while others accuse him of using language and shocking stories as a way to provoke interest.
Perhaps he is a bit of both.
Shameless, disgusting, illuminating, style over substance, orgy of excess – are some of the words and expressions used by reviewers before they concluded that the movie was very entertaining. There are some that did not take to it, but the majority did, which illustrates part of Scorsese’s genius. He can slap the viewer in the face with his characters, sometimes in a repulsive way, with such force that one would assume the viewer would hate them, yet they do not.
Scorsese does it in a way that adds layers to the film, layers to the characters; layers that are so effective that the viewer can overlook singular actions as they combine to give a broader picture. It is done for the greater good.
Part of this comes from the fact most of Scorsese’s movies are character driven as opposed to story driven. His movies are about the central character, the story at times seems nothing more than a backdrop. It is where the main characters take viewers that give his movies such power. Some might say he is too excessive in their development, that he goes too far, that he sensationalizes them, perhaps he does, but they are interesting.
Back to the auteur. One has to look at his body of work and the time frame involved. It is hard to find a director alive today that has accumulated the body of work that Scorsese has. Though some of his movies have fared better at the box office then others, there is a continuity there. His style has remained true, yes, some are more lavish then others, but the underlying character development is always there. Take Mean Streets and throw it on the wall next to Casino. They have production values at opposite ends of the spectrum, yet they convey the story equally convincingly through strong characters with something to say.
He is also hard to pigeonhole. Many directors strike success in a genre and once they do, they stick with it. There is no doubt that Scorsese does wallow from time to time, he beat the gangster genre within an inch of its life, the flip side to that argument is? They were excellent films. He is not afraid to dabble either. From Travis Bickle, to Howard Hughes, to Jake LaMotta, Scorsese has taken the viewer into the streets, the air, and the boxing ring and just when it appeared he was incapable of a family film he brought Hugo to the screens. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards including best picture and best actor and walked away with five Oscars.
Is Martin Scorsese an auteur or is he a sensationalist. That argument will never die, for it is a purely subjective one. The fact his movies continue to provoke such reaction from moviegoers is a testament to his storytelling abilities and mastery of his medium. Any artist that can provoke discussion after the fact, positive or negative, has maintained the artist’s wish. The desire to be heard.
By Scott Wilson