Scorsese then put on his film historian hat (which is never actually off) and said, “People might scoff, ‘Oh, they had rules then? In 1940?’ Yeah, it was a factory. They were making films on studio lots. Movie stars had the most power and movie stars represented certain things to the public.”
Welles, he said, “was a guy who came in and changed it all with his very first movie. It’s the foundation of modern cinema. The comma is part of the ground of literature, you need it to build. Well, in film, a pan is part of the ground, it’s the comma, it’s how you film a story. A flash-pan would then be a dash.” Scorsese’s focus on the camera being the ground floor of cinema is because linking shots together is what differentiated film from theater.
“So Edwin S. Porter, Cecil B. DeMille and Raoul Walsh gave filmmakers the language and the grammar and Orson and Gregg redid it,” Scorsese afforded DiCaprio, “but then the French completely reinvented it with the French New Wave; suddenly, there’s no inherent need for continuity. Jean-Luc Godard very famously said, ‘Every story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It doesn’t have to be in that order.’ Break the rules. As long as you’re still communicating to the audience.”
Among the many film movements, Scorsese was always drawn more to the gritty humanism in the Italian neorealism movement and Britain’s “angry young man” movement, but he greatly respects and sees how the French New Wave continues to influence younger filmmakers the most because “the French focused the most on technique, style, and political content.”
How three minutes of Jules and Jim influenced GoodFellas
I want to hone in on one aspect of the French New Wave discussion, because it brings up a specific film, and a specific aspect of Scorsese’s career: his vital collaboration with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker. In particular, their groundbreakingly frenetic work on GoodFellas. “One shot to the other is film choreography. It’s poetry putting words together on a page in a certain way. String them together in a film a certain way, it’s poetry,” Scorsese said of the editing process.