WORD LISTS

Martin Scorsese on Cinema

August 12, 2013
Martin Scorsese is one of the nation's most celebrated film directors. In this essay he talks about what drew him to the movies while also beginning to trace the history of cinema. Here are 35 words to help follow this amazing tour guide on an astonishing journey.
Drawn from The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema<\a> The New York Review of Books, August 15,2013
ignite
I believe this is what ignited in me the wonder of cinema, and the obsession—with watching movies, making them, inventing them.
pauper
Friese-Greene gives everything of himself to the movies, and he dies a pauper.
ironic
If you know the full story of his life and its end, the line in the film about the invention of the movies—“You must be a very happy man, Mr. Friese-Greene”—of course is ironic, but in some ways it’s also true because he’s followed his obsession all the way.
invocation
Of course it’s not life—it’s the invocation of life, it’s in an ongoing dialogue with life.
glimpse
You’d go through the doors, up the thick carpet, past the popcorn stand that had that wonderful smell—then to the ticket taker, and then in some of the old theaters there would be another set of doors with little windows and you’d get a glimpse of something magical happening up there on the screen, something special.
sanctuary
And as we entered, for me it was like entering a sacred space, a kind of sanctuary where the living world around me seemed to be recreated and played out.
metaphor
Metaphors—seeing one thing “in light of” something else.
mystical
I think this need to recreate movement is a mystical urge.
succession
He would set a number of still cameras side by side and then he’d trigger them to take photos in succession, of people and animals in motion.
unfathomable
The deeper we sound, the further down into the lower world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the earliest foundations of humanity, its history and culture, reveal themselves unfathomable.
astonishing
He created trick photography and astonishing handmade special effects, and in so doing he remade reality—the screen in his pictures is like a magic cabinet of curiosities and wonders.
essence
But in essence they were both heading in the same direction, just taking different roads—they were taking reality and interpreting it, reshaping it, and trying to find meaning in it.
vantage
Who made the first cut from one image to another—meaning a shift from one vantage point to another with the understanding that we’re still within one continuous action?
atonement
Griffith made a picture—an epic—called Intolerance, in part as an act of atonement for the racism in The Birth of a Nation.
climax
At the end of the picture, Griffith cut between the different climaxes of these different stories—he cross-cut through time, something that had never been done before.
thesis
He tied together images not for narrative purposes but to illustrate a thesis: in this case, the thesis was that intolerance has existed throughout the ages and that it is always destructive.
montage
Eisenstein later wrote about this kind of editing and gave it a name—he called it “intellectual montage.”
abstraction
That language has taken us in many directions, from the pure abstraction of the extraordinary avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage to a very well done commercial by the visual artist and filmmaker Mike Mills, made for an audience that’s seen thousands of commercials—the images come at you so fast that you have to make the connections after the fact.
avant-garde
That language has taken us in many directions, from the pure abstraction of the extraordinary avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage to a very well done commercial by the visual artist and filmmaker Mike Mills, made for an audience that’s seen thousands of commercials—the images come at you so fast that you have to make the connections after the fact.
monumental
Or consider the famous Stargate sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s monumental 2001: A Space Odyssey.
odyssey
Or consider the famous Stargate sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s monumental 2001: A Space Odyssey.
cultivate
In the dialogue with Phaedrus, Socrates worries that writing and reading will actually lead to the student not truly knowing—that once people stop memorizing and start writing and reading, they’re in danger of cultivating the mere appearance of wisdom rather than the real thing.
diverge
And at a certain point—exactly when is “unfathomable”—words and images diverged, like two rivers, or two different paths to understanding.
paranoia
It was made in 1951, in the early years of the cold war, and it has the tension, the paranoia, the fear of nuclear disaster and the end of life on planet earth, and a million other elements that are more difficult to put into words.
uninhibited
Someone born today will see the picture with completely different eyes and a whole other frame of reference, different values, uninhibited by the biases of the time when it was made.
articulate
Same film, same images, but in the case of a great film the power—a timeless power that really can’t be articulated—is there even when the context has completely changed.
expendable
Archaeologists have made many discoveries by studying what we throw away, the refuse of earlier civilizations, the things that people considered expendable and that accidentally survived.
transaction
For example, there’s a Sumerian tablet that is not a poem, not a legend, but actually a record of livestock—a balance sheet of business transactions.
celluloid
Until recently it was all made of celluloid—thin strips of nitrocellulose, the first plastic compound.
enshrine
We have to look beyond the officially honored, recognized, and enshrined, and preserve everything systematically.
innate
When the idea of film language started to be taken seriously, so did Hitchcock, who seemed to have an innate sense of visual storytelling.
scheme
The color scheme of Vertigo is extremely unusual, and this was a major disappointment.
refract
Vertigo is a matter of mood as much as it’s a matter of storytelling—the special mood of San Francisco where the past is eerily alive and around you at all times, the mist in the air from the Pacific that refracts the light, the unease of the hero played by James Stewart, Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score.
displace
Last year, it was displaced by a movie that came and went in 1958, and that came very, very close to being lost to us forever: Vertigo.
trivialize
It culturally trivializes film.

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