The Director’s Studio

By Zachary Block '99 / March / April 2003
June 22nd, 2007
Martin Scorsese was an NYU film student in 1963 when he submitted his first short to a Brown Film Society contest. Not surprisingly, What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? won the grand prize—and $25. Encouraged, Scorsese submitted It’s Not Just You, Murray! the next year and again took the top prize, which had been sweetened to $100. Nearly forty years later, the University recognized Scorsese again, this time for the body of work that has made him one of the world’s most acclaimed directors.

“For some reason we stopped giving you awards,” Modern Culture and Media chair Michael Silverman told Scorsese in front of a capacity crowd in the Salomon Center on January 27. “We hope to rectify that today.” Silverman then presented the director of Gangs of New York an “in-the-midst-of-a-lifetime achievement award.”

The presentation followed a forty-minute montage of clips spanning Scor-sese’s career, prepared by the director himself, and a brief discussion that resembled an episode of Inside the Actors Studio, with controversial über-agent Michael Ovitz playing the role of James Lipton. (Ovitz’s daughter, Kimberly ’05, helped coordinate the event, which was sponsored by the Creative Arts Council, a multidepartmental faculty group dedicated to fostering the arts at Brown.)

Dressed in a dark suit with a matching, squared-off tie, Scorsese fidgeted with his shoes, hands, and a pair of wide, reddish-brown glasses as he displayed flashes of humor and an encyclopedic knowledge of film. While discussing the themes of family and religion that dominate his work, he recalled growing up in Manhattan’s Little Italy as an asthma-plagued youth seeking refuge in movies.

“Morality was being worked out at the table,” he said, “morality in a world that was a jungle. I saw religion really being worked out the way it should be, which is in daily life, not necessarily in church.” He added that he found the first seeds of Gangs of New York in his father’s stories of the ethnic gangs that once populated his neighborhood.

Asked by one student what fuels his work, Scorsese chuckled. “Hysteria, obsession, and anger,” he said. “But mainly anger. I’m mad all the time.”

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March / April 2003