Martin Scorsese was famously headed towards priesthood before he made cinema his religion. His latest movie, Silence, is fittingly about the persecution of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan and has been 25 years in the making.
Like several renowned directors, Scorsese honed his skills by making short films. All of his early works, made when he was a student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, are online.
Scorsese made his debut with What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? in 1963, in which a writer becomes increasingly obsessed with a painting on his wall.
The surrealist short uses the frequent Scorsese technique of having the main character talk to the camera. Scorsese shot the film two weeks after watching Federico Fellini’s classic 8 1/2. The short film’s editing style was also influenced by Mel Brooks’s animated short The Critic (1963).
The ending of Scorsese’s second film, It’s Not Just You, Murray! (1964), is a direct homage to Fellini’s magnum opus. The film, in which an aging gangster talks to the camera about his highs and lows, also works as a rough template for Goodfellas (1990) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).
Scorsese’s most famous early work is The Big Shave, also known as Viet ‘67 (1967). According to the book-length interview Scorsese on Scorsese, the film was inspired by a spell of depression, during which the director found it difficult to shave.
Starring Peter Bernuth, the short film depicts a man in the bathroom in the middle of a shave, until things take a turn for the worse. The film, originally scheduled to be screened at a festival against the Vietnam war, works as an allegory for America’s futile and self-harming war in Vietnam between 1955 and 1975.
Scorsese’s early films are minor exercises in editing. They use pop songs to create a rhythm for the way in which the scenes are paced – something that has become a Scorsese signature. The cineaste filmmaker’s constant references to the history of cinema also begin at an early age.
Scorsese made his feature debut with Who’s That Knocking at My Door in 1967, cemented his status as an American icon with Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976), and is still showing no signs of slowing down, as Silence proves.