A life in pictures: Martin Scorsese

Eva Mackevic 

One of the most important cinema auteurs working today, Martin Scorsese is the mastermind behind iconic classics, such as Goodfellas and Taxi Driver. His impressive career spans more than half a century, during which he has proven himself as a talented director, producer, screenwriter, actor and film historian.  

1. A young Martin Scorsese 

Martin Scorsese was born on 17 November 1942 in Queens, New York. He had asthma as a child and, as a result, wasn’t able to play much with other children. Instead, his parents and older brother would frequently take him to the cinema, nurturing in him a passion for the movies. The film that's had the biggest influence on him was Duel in the Sun (1946) which he saw in the cinema as a four-year-old. 


2. With a baby photograph of his mother, Catherine Scorsese 

Scorsese’s Sicilian-American identity has always carried a massive importance in both his personal life as well as the fabric of his films. Both his maternal and paternal grandparents were from Palermo, Sicily.  His father, Charles Scorsese, and mother, Catherine Scorsese, both worked in New York's Garment District as a clothes presser and a seamstress. 

The family lived in the Little Italy section of Manhattan, where the experience of growing up among first- and second-generation Italian Americans had a profound influence on Martin, who revisited their way of life in his 1974 documentary, Italianamerican

He was really attached to his parents, especially his mother.  A kind-hearted, charming Italian-American mamma, Catherine Scorsese was an actress herself and appeared in several of her son’s films, including Goodfellas, Mean Streets and Casino.


3. Having a good time with Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola

In the 1970s, Scorsese became friends with the influential filmmakers Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. 

Yet it was De Palma whom Scorsese formed a special bond with. De Palma was the one who introduced him to his future muse Robert De Niro and gave him the script to Taxi Driver. Their friendship extended beyond the realm of film as well: “I once had very bad asthma, and Brian visited me in the hospital, took me home and took care of me until I got better. He is a warm, passionate, compassionate person who, I think, puts on a tough front,” Scorsese recalls.


4. Having a laugh with Jodie Foster and Robert De Niro on the set of Taxi Driver 

Taxi Driver was Scorsese’s first breakthrough film that earned four Oscar nominations and a Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. It has since become a cult classic, having been frequently referred to as “one of the greatest films of all time”. The iconic line “You talkin’ to me?” is a solid pop culture mainstay.

The film was not without its controversies: John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, claimed that Taxi Driver inspired the act. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. 


5. Posing with Robert De Niro and Jake LaMotta on the set of Raging Bull 

Raging Bull was another film milestone for Scorsese. Based on the real-life story of the “raging bull”, Jake LaMotta, the film earned two Oscars for Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Film Editing, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of the 1980s. It was after this film that Scorsese’s movies started being labelled as "A Martin Scorsese Picture" on promotional material. 


6. Walking with Isabella Rossellini 

Scorsese was married five times. In 1979, he married Isabella Rossellini—the daughter of his favourite film director, the Italian neorealist auteur Roberto Rossellini.  They met when Isabella was 25—ten years his junior— and working as a reporter.  She was sent to interview Scorsese who was promoting his film New York, New York at the time and they hit it off right away. 

The relationship was a turbulent one, as Scorsese was using cocaine at the time and in 1978 he collapsed at a film festival from drugs and chronic asthma. They divorced three years later. 


7. With Wesley Snipes and Michael Jackson on the set of the music video for "Bad"


Being a big music fan, Scorsese worked on numerous music documentaries about blues music, Elvis Presley, The Band, The Rolling Stones and many others.

He also directed Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video. While MTV mostly played the shorter version of the video in which Jackson dances in an empty parking lot, the full video is 17 minutes long and features a young Wesley Snipes. Jackson plays Darryl—a young man who returns from an expensive private school, whose friends are still involved in petty crime. 


8. Posing with "goodfellas" Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino and Joe Pesci

Goodfellas is probably Scorsese’s most famous, iconic film. It’s frequently considered to be one of the best mob films of all time and it inspired numerous subsequent gangster films and series, including The Sopranos.

Scorsese first came across Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, which the film was based on, when he was handed the proofs. Although he had sworn off making another gangster film, he immediately cold-called the writer saying "I've been waiting for this book my entire life." To which Pileggi replied, "I've been waiting for this phone call my entire life."


9. Chatting to De Niro 

The personal and professional partnership between Scorsese and Robert De Niro is legendary. De Niro has always been somewhat of a muse to Scorsese and appeared in a total of eight feature films and one short made by the director. Apparently, they can often understand each other without even talking.

Their personal relationship is just as tight: De Niro practically saved Scorsese's life when he persuaded him to kick his cocaine addiction to make Raging Bull in the late 1970s.


10. Directing Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of The Aviator 

In fact, Robert De Niro was the one who first told Scorsese about Leonardo DiCaprio—an event that kick-started a string of powerful collaborations between the two. DiCaprio appeared in a total of five feature films and one short made by Scorsese. When he won his Best Actor Oscar for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant, DiCaprio thanked Scorsese for “teaching him so much about the cinematic art form”.  Curiously, Scorsese himself considers De Niro and DiCaprio “interchangeable”.


11. Getting turned into Vincent van Gogh on the set of Dreams 

Even though Scorsese dislikes appearing in front of the camera himself, he has done so on numerous occasions, including a role as Vincent van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s film Dreams, a cameo in Curb Your Enthusiasm and a particularly amusing part in an American Express ad. 


12. Meeting Pope Francis

Scorsese met Pope Francis 28 years after the release of the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ to accompany him at a private screening of his latest film Silence—a religious epic about two priests travelling to Japan to propagate Catholicism.

Scorsese was accompanied by his wife Helen Morris, his two daughters and the film’s producer, and he brought two paintings as a gift to the Pope.