Scorsese Screens - Picks for November
In partnership with The Film Foundation, Turner Classic Movies is proud to bring you this exclusive monthly column by iconic film director and classic movie lover Martin Scorsese.
Twentieth Century (1934) (November 5 at 12:15am ET; part of The Essentials Book - Volume 2) and Rear Window (1954) (November 26 at 8pm ET; part of 24-Hour Hitchcock Marathon)--
What does it mean to “direct” a movie? It’s an interesting question, and at this point in my life I’m still asking it with each new movie I make. It’s a question that can’t really be answered as much as posed and contemplated. There are no rules, really. You learn as you go. And you learn what works for you. From time to time, I find myself acting out a moment or a gesture for an actor to demonstrate what I’m looking for, but Ernst Lubitsch apparently acted out and choreographed everything, and it worked beautifully for him. The essential thing is: you bring all of yourself to the film, you communicate it by any means necessary, you respond to everything and everyone constantly, you try to give yourself space to reflect and you protect the picture with everything you have. Of course, there are basic skills. A precision about what’s in the frame at all times. A sense of rhythm. Color. And…staging. It’s crucial to have an understanding of how and why people are moving in the frame, where they are in relation to each other at any moment in a scene. If it sounds theatrical, that’s because it is. Cinema comprises elements of many art forms and the theatre is one of them. There are many pictures I see today that appear to not have been staged, as if they just decided: okay, be natural. Of course, this is possible, because cameras are now so lightweight that you can cover everything that’s happening. And sometimes, it works. But you have to be clear about it. Movies are artifice, no matter how lifelike you want them to feel, so you need to be able to control and modify the artifice to create the effect of life. There are quite a few pictures showing on TCM this month, all of them made by directors now considered to be “old masters,” that have a lot to offer on the crucial importance of staging. In Howard Hawks’ hilarious Twentieth Century, showing on November 5th, the high energy is sustained throughout the whole picture because the frenetic movements of the characters—especially John Barrymore’s egomaniacal theatrical impresario and Carole Lombard’s egomaniacal actress character—are so ingeniously staged that they keep the action humming: there’s not a single moment in the movie where you don’t know why someone is moving. This was Hawks’ special genius. He knew that the way to create the effect of pandemonium was by orchestrating everything clearly. Rear Window, shown as part of a Hitchcock marathon on the 26th, offers a different kind of example in the famous scene where James Stewart and Thelma Ritter watch Grace Kelly break into Raymond Burr’s apartment followed by Burr walking in the door, his assault on her, the arrival of the cops and the always astonishing moment when she waves that wedding ring on her finger and they see Burr looking back at them. Yes, it’s camera placement and shifting point of view. Yes, it’s precise cutting. But they’re both coordinated with brilliant, exquisitely timed and executed staging.