In the latest episode of The Substandard (subscribe here! Leave a review!), JVL, Vic Matus, and I discuss Silence and Martin Scorsese. I’ll be honest: I may or may not have lost my cool when JVL revealed that he thinks Martin Scorsese is overrated.
I have to applaud JVL’s trolling here; he does a masterful job of trying to have it both ways. On the one hand he admits that Martin Scorsese is a very good filmmaker, he just takes issue with the fact that he’s considered one of the all time greats—I believe he derisively refers to him as a vestige of Boomer entitlement or some such at one point. It’s a smart play, one that gives JVL credible deniability while enraging those of us with good taste and a modicum of judgment.
I’ll be honest, I’m not really the biggest fan of ranking directors; who I want to watch depends almost entirely upon what sort of mood I’m in on any given day. But it has its place! “Why rank directors at all?” asked Andrew Sarris in the intro to The American Cinema. “Why all the categories and lists and assorted drudgeries? One reason is to establish a system of priorities for the film student.” If you’re going to set priorities, it’s hard to imagine winnowing down an ocean of talent into a top ten list of American directors since 1960 or so that fails to include Scorsese.
After all, this is a guy who has made four star films in four decades—Taxi Driver in 1976; Raging Bull in 1980; Goodfellas in 1990; and The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013—to say nothing of consistently releasing five or six good-to-pretty-good flicks a decade for something like 45 years now. The only other director who can really match his tenure and his peaks is Steven Spielberg, another director who has made a four star flick at least once a decade or so since the mid-70s.* I don’t think Scorsese would top my own personal pantheon—he’s ahead of Mann and Lee and Fincher and the Andersons; he’s behind Kubrick and Spielberg and Tarantino and Nolan and Coppola**. But he’s certainly on the list.
Of course, JVL knows all this. He was trying to wind me up. Well, Mr. Last?
*For the record: Jaws and CE3K in the 1970s; Raiders in the 1980s; JP, Schindler, and Ryan in the 1990s; Minority Report and Munich in the 2000s; and Lincoln in the 2010s.
**Francis Ford Coppola’s work in the 1970s constitutes the single greatest decade any director has ever had. Fight me.
Update: I added Kubrick to the list above because, duh. I had actually specifically picked 1960 as the cutoff instead of 1970 so as to include Strangelove and 2001. The lesson, as always, is that I’m an idiot.