Sat, 03 Feb 2001

Home movies

JAKARTA (JP): In a cultural environment in which American film imports have for decades dominated the market, the name of American filmmaker Martin Scorsese is assuredly among the most respected as far as the Indonesian moviegoing public is concerned.

And rightfully so. Tastes may differ and the often dark and moody feel that characterize Scorsese's films may not be to everyone's taste. Yet there is no denying the force which so many of his films exude.

It is perhaps not surprising that so many of Scorsese's films seem occupied with the city of New York and its darker side in particular. Scorsese, after all, was born in that city in 1942. Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), New York, New York (1977), Raging Bull (1980), The Color of Money (1986), Goodfellas (1990) and others take their inspiration from lives lived in New York, and in particular in the back streets of the city.

Yet there are other sides to the filmmaker's persona that often seems to escape viewers' attention. Take for example The Age of Innocence, which shows another, more beguiling side of society. In the final analysis though, this film too, exposes the darker and more savage aspect of "civilized" urban society.

Following are just two of Scorsese's earlier films that are at present readily available for rental or sale at some of the better DVD/VCD/Video shops to home viewers. Both, by the way, cast Robert De Niro, a long-time Scorsese associate, in the films' leading roles.

Taxi Driver: Drama. 112 minutes. Rated R. Starring: Robert De Niro (Travis Bickle), Cybill Shepherd (Betsy), Jodie Foster (Iris), Harvey Keitel (Sport), Peter Boyle (Wizard), Leonard Harris (Charles Pallantine), Albert Brooks (Tom) and Martin Scorsese (Passenger). Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by Paul Schrader. Director of Photography Michael Chapman. Editors: Marcia Lucas, Tom Rolf and Melvin Shapiro.

The film tells the story of Travis Bickle (De Niro), a paranoid ex-marine who suffers from insomnia and watches porn flicks in seedy moviehouses to relieve the boredom. He then takes a job as a night shift driver and meets Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) who works for the presidential campaign office of Charles Pallantine. The relationship abruptly ends when he offends Betty by taking her to see a porn movie. Bickle's growing paranoia prompts him to collect a whole arsenal of weapons.

Next Bickle meets a very young prostitute named Iris, played with admirable finesse by a still very young Jodie Foster and makes it his mission to save her from the savagery of New York's streets. Driven by a growing paranoia to collect weapons, Bickle first tries to shoot Charles Pallantine but fails. Then he shoots and kills Iris's pimp (Harvey Keitel) and several of his associates. Bickle himself is wounded in the shootout and tries to shoot himself but runs out of bullets. Bickle, by now a hero of the media for saving Iris, saves the girl and returns her to her parents. As for Bickle's fate, the whole incident seems to have done him no good at all. He still fails to win Betsy's attention and remains the same old insomniac he has been throughout the movie.

The strength of Taxi Driver lies for a good part, aside from Scorsese's deft direction, in the strength of De Niro's acting and the film's supporting actors, including Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel as her pimp -- and also not to be forgotten, Michael Chapman's black-and-white photography.

Raging Bull: Drama. 129 minutes. Rated R. Starring Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta, Cathy Moriarty (Vicky La Motta), Joe Pesci (Joey), Frank Vincent (Salvy), Nicholas Colasanto (Tommy Como), Theresa Saldana (Lenore), Frank Adonis (Patsy) and Mario Gallo (Mario). Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin based on the book by Jake La Motta together with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage. Director of Photography: Michael Chapman. Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker.

In a nutshell, Raging Bull follows the ups and downs of Jake La Motta, the New York Bronx-bred tough who, in 1948, saw his boxing career crowned with the world middleweight championship title, only to end up losing everything due mostly to his own personal, and human, weaknesses. More specifically the film covers La Motta's career beginning with his earliest attempts to get a title fight in 1941 to his defeat by Sugar Ray Robinson.

More than it being either a biographical film or a movie about boxing, Raging Bull has a tale to tell about the depths, frailties and contradictions of human existence. It is also a movie that often turns frightening in its intense depiction of violence, especially in its fight sequences, though at no point does it lose its humane touch. Raging Bull is considered by many to be among Scorsese's finest films yet. The same goes for De Niro, who plays his part with such terrific intensity. (Hartoyo Pratiknyo)