In DiCaprio’s memory, The Aviator was the film for which Scorsese screened the highest number of reference films out of any of their times working together. The actor recalls that this helped to emphasize Scorsese’s unique process in guiding the look of The Aviator across the distinct visual palettes of cinema in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s—a bold approach that helped earn editor Thelma Schoonmaker and cinematographer Robert Richardson Oscars for their work. With Howard Hughes having been a director himself, it’s no surprise to learn that Scorsese played some of his films as well. “I remember all our screenings of [Hughes’s] Hell’s Angels,” DiCaprio reflects. “All those insane World War I planes going through the clouds; his obsessions with being able to show perspective and realizing that there were no clouds in the background to show where these planes were flying or what was happening.”
The Aviator features a specific sequence in which Hughes has this realization and orders his entire crew back to set to shoot the death-defying flight sequences all over again. Ever the masterful conversationalist and storyteller, Scorsese takes this moment to share an anecdote about how this visual trickery follows him through in his daily life, even as recently as on a location scouting mission for Killers of the Flower Moon.
“They put me in an SUV of some kind. I’m sitting in the front and they said ‘We’re going to this ranch’. Hughes Ranch. We were driving and driving and driving and driving along a road… I mean, we’re going off for like 40 minutes. I look around, there’s still nothing. I said, ‘Why are we going so slowly?’ We’re going so slow. I looked at the speedometer, we’re doing 75 miles an hour.” The director lets out a hearty laugh and continues, “The reason why it appeared so slow is that there was nothing going by. It was all flat prairie. Hence, the airplanes against the clouds. I fell for it in Oklahoma! I still didn’t get it.”