On the eve of the release of Martin Scorsese’s latest film Silence, a new exhibition traces the director’s career from its birth in Little Italy. Although Scorsese moved from his parents’ apartment on Elizabeth Street decades ago he has said, “A lot of what I learned about life came from there.” The exhibition at Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria tells the director’s story through approximately 600 artifacts, most drawn from Scorsese’s personal collection.
Little Italy looms large in the exhibit, organized by the Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin. It begins with the dining room table and chairs from the Elizabeth Street apartment where the imaginative 11-year-old created the storyboard for his Roman gladiator film, The Eternal City. Film clips and production material from his career include costumes, props, photographs and screenplays. The museum will also present a retrospective of Scorsese’s films.
Scorsese attended the opening of the exhibition, which runs through April 23, 2017. David Schwartz, Chief Curator of the Museum, shared some of the director’s thoughts about the retrospective.
Does Scorsese have any particular favorites in the collection?
The one that Scorsese and most people point out as a favorite is the storyboard that he did when he was 11 years old for a movie called The Eternal City, which of course is a film he never made. It was his very elaborate storyboard in color that he drew when he was just getting interested in movies. The first frame of the storyboard says “A Marsco Production.” He had a production company, it was going to be a Cinemascope film. The frames are actually drawn in the Cinemascope shape.
And then his box of 45 rpm records that he has had for many years, since he was a teenager. He collected 45s that are carefully indexed and annotated. He wound up using songs from that in his films.
Of course the other artifact that means a lot to him is the dining room table that was at his parents’ apartment in Little Italy. He had so many family meals and he would have friends over; filmmakers like John Cassavetes, Francis Ford Coppola and Sergio Leone all ate at that table.
What is the most valuable, irreplaceable item in the collection?
From my standpoint, it would be an object that he collected, that meant a lot to him, a bouquet of flowers that was a prop from the movie Vertigo. That was obviously one of his favorite films and he was able to get the flowers that we see Kim Novak with in that film.
The dining room table and chairs are irreplaceable. A lot of material drawn by him, his storyboards, of which we have the originals, those are one of a kind.
How is Scorsese’s upbringing in New York’s Little Italy reflected in the exhibition?
We established it right at the beginning. The dining room table is right as you come upstairs. We place him in Little Italy. We also have a clip from the documentary Italianamerican, which is a movie that he made about his parents and about his connection to Italy and Little Italy. That was a wonderful film that he did in the ’70s.
There’s a big section of the exhibition about New York. It’s divided into neighborhoods. And we single out Little Italy on the map. We have clips primarily from Who’s That Knocking on My Door? and Mean Streets; those were the main movies that were filmed on location there.
Mean Streets was such a seminal film for him. It was his first really personal feature film. He had done Boxcar Bertha before that but this was a film that was drawn from his upbringing in Little Italy. And it’s reflected in the movie – even though he actually filmed most of it in Los Angeles. But the atmosphere of the film is established with shots of Little Italy. He’s talked about this, the experience for him of living in this crowded, lively environment where you would hear all different types of music just filtering through the air, rock songs and old Italian songs and classical music, that cacophony of sound and music that he experienced in Little Italy is reflected in his movies’ soundtracks.
So even if he’s not filming in Little Italy, it’s in his films throughout. He only made a small number of films in that neighborhood but his experience there, I think you feel it.