From ‘Goodfellas’ to ‘Flower Moon’: how Scorsese has rethought violence | ET REALITY


Of all the haunting images and haunting sounds that permeate Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” none are more disturbing than Mollie Burkhart’s (Lily Gladstone) guttural scream, a tortured wail of rage and pain that escapes her reserved face. when a tragedy occurs. strikes. And it often does: “Killers” tells the true story, adapted from David Grann’s book, of how Mollie’s Osage community was decimated by murderous white men, who killed dozens of her tribe members for rights to their land. rich in oil.

Mollie’s howl of pain is unlike any sound heard before in a Scorsese film. But in many ways, Scorsese is emulating his discordant scream in the sinister aesthetic of “Killers of the Flower Moon” and his 2019 feature, “The Irishman.”

The films have a lot in common: their creative teams, expansive runtimes, period settings, narrative density, and epic scope. But what most differentiates them from the rest of Scorsese’s work is the element by which the filmmaker could be said to be most easily identified: his violence. In these films, the deaths, which are frequent, are hard, fast and forceful, a marked departure from the intricately stylized and elaborately edited scenes of his previous works.

“The violence is different now, in these later films,” said Thelma Schoonmaker, its editor since 1980. recently noticed. “And often it is on a broad plane. It’s almost never a close-up, which is very different from your previous films, right?”

It certainly is. Long shots, for those unfamiliar with film jargon, are spacious, open compositions, often full-body views of characters and their surroundings (frequently used for large-scale action or establishing shots). The medium widths are a little closer, but still allow us to observe multiple characters and their surroundings. The “close shots” that Schoonmaker refers to as most typical of Scorsese’s earlier work are medium shots, close-ups, and extreme close-ups that place the camera (and therefore the viewer) right in the middle of the melee.

Take, for example, one of Scorsese’s most effective sequences, the murder of Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) in his 1990 crime drama, “Goodfellas.” When Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) kill Batts, it’s dramatized in a flurry of montages and quick edits: from three shots of Tommy’s initial punch to an overhead shot of Batts hitting the ground. , a low-angle composition (from Batts’ point of view) of Tommy punching him with his fists, then an already moving camera follows Henry (Ray Liotta) as he goes to close the bar’s front door. Scorsese cuts back to Tommy delivering more punches, then cuts to Jimmy contributing a series of kicks, with a quick insertion of a particularly nasty one landing on Batts’ brutalized face. We then see, briefly, Tommy holding a gun, Henry reacting to all of this in shock, more kicks from Jimmy and more punches from Tommy, while blood spurts from Batts’ face.

It’s a signature Scorsese scene, combining unflinching brutality, dark humor and incongruous music (the jukebox blasts Donovan’s midtempo ballad, “Atlantis”). It is a difficult and ugly matter… and also pleasant. In this sequence and in much of Scorsese’s crime filmography there is an emotion in its staging and editing that is often infectious.

He is such an electrifying filmmaker that even as we dramatize difficult and disturbing events, we find ourselves swept away by the visceral virtuosity of his staging. It is this duality, the discomfort of enjoying the actions of criminals, murderers or vigilantes, that makes his films so powerful: the beating of Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull,” the high-speed execution of Johnny Boy in “Mean Streets” and particularly the armed commotion of Travis Bickle at the end of “Taxi Driver” they are all the more disturbing because of the spell Scorsese casts.

This is not how violence works in “The Irishman” and “The Flower Moon Killers.” When people die in these movies, it’s grim, unpleasant, divergent in every way from the dirty kicks of “Goodfellas” or “Casino” (1995). In “The Irishman” sally insects (Louis Cancelmi) ships in two configurations, one wide and one medium, bang bang bang; the deaths of DiTullio Whispers (Paul Herman) and Crazy Joe Rooster (Sebastián Maniscalco) are also framed broadly, hard and fast: simple, bloody, done. One of the film’s most disturbing scenes, when Frank (De Niro) drags his young daughter to the corner store so she can watch him beat up a shopkeeper, is staged with similar simplicity: Scorsese keeps the scene in a single shot. general as Frank enters, drags the man over the counter, slams him against the door, kicks him, punches him, and stomps on his hand. Scorsese cuts only once, to the girl’s horrified reaction.

Scorsese brings this scarcity to “Killers of the Flower Moon.” An early montage of the Osage people on their deathbed concludes with the murder of Charlie Whitehorn (Anthony J. Harvey), who dies in two cold, complementary environments. Another character is hooded in the street, dragged to an alley and stabbed to death, with all the action in two long shots; a third is felled in a wide shot and then beaten to death at a medium low angle. The chaos is over before it even begins.

“As a kid, I was in situations where everything was fine and then all of a sudden violence broke out,” Scorsese told film critic Richard Schickel in 2011. “You had no idea where it was coming from.” , It was going to happen. You knew the atmosphere was charged and, bang, it happened.”

That feeling, that “bang, it happened,” is what makes the violence in “Killers” so disturbing. The most jarring and terrifying death comes early, with the murder of Sara Butler (Jennifer Rader) while she was caring for her baby in a stroller; It’s all done in a wide medium shot, a bang and a burst of blood. A flashback from the last film in a courtroom about a murder he incites is even more heartbreaking because we know it’s coming, so when the characters enter the long shot and arrange themselves, it’s more tense than it could be. be any of Scorsese’s breathless montages.

In contrast to the constant needle drops of “Goodfellas” or “Casino,” the murders in “Killers” and “The Irishman” often occur without musical accompaniment, with nothing to soften or drown out the cold blast of a single gunshot. This is most disturbing in the final stretch of “The Irishman,” when Frank makes the long, sad journey to kill his friend Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). It’s an order from above, and Frank is simply a foot soldier, so he can’t do anything about the fate of his friend but stand there. Scorsese makes us live with him, stopping at every detail, filling the soundtrack with the thick, heavy silence of surrender. And when the time comes, Scorsese stages one of the most famous unsolved murders of our time with a grim, doomed inevitability, as Frank stands behind Hoffa, gets two on him, drags him to the center of the newly laid rug and he goes.

In these films, Scorsese has stripped his violence of its flourishes and flourishes, reducing it to its essence. Of the comparatively restrained violence of his “Gangs of New York” (2002), Scorsese told Schickel: “I really don’t want to do it again, after I’ve done it.” the murder of Joe Pesci and his brother in ‘Casino’ in the cornfield If you look at it, it’s not filmed in any special way. It doesn’t have any choreography. It doesn’t have any style, it’s just flat. Its not cute. There was nothing more to do than show what that way of life leads to.”

Perhaps Scorsese was willing to dramatize the violence as he remembered it, rather than as he had seen it in the movies. Or perhaps, at 80, he is acutely aware of his own mortality, and that awareness is affecting the way he views and presents death in his own work. Scorsese ends “The Irishman” with Frank literally choosing his own coffin and crypt; All secondary characters are introduced with on-screen text detailing their eventual deaths (“Frank Sindone, shot three times in an alley, 1980”). It comes for everyone, the director seems to insist, not in a dazzling scene, but in a sudden moment of brutality, enveloped in a cold, endless silence.

Leave a Comment