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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…


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Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Artifice and truth: From Mean Streets to Shutter Island

No modern director is more in love with the artifice of filmmaking than Martin Scorsese, or more overt in his expression of it. From the "drunk-cam" in "Mean Streets" (1973) to the self-consciously stylized performances in films like "Raging Bull" and "The King of Comedy," the William Cameron Menzies opening of "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" to the ersatz two-strip Technicolor of "The Aviator" to the 1954 Hitchcock psychodrama look of the current "Shutter Island," Scorsese packs his frames with dense layers of Hollywood history.

Sometimes, as in "New York, New York" (my favorite of his films, along with "The King of Comedy," "After Hours" and "GoodFellas"), he contrasts '40s, '50s and '60s studio gloss with the no-less-mannered "naturalistic" improvisational acting favored by Kazan and Cassavetes from the same era. Likewise, in films like "Shutter Island" he immerses himself and his audience in a world that never existed outside of the movies. "Raging Bull," for example, isn't just a boxing picture and a showbiz biopic, it's a study of boxing pictures and showbiz biopics. "GoodFellas" isn't just a gangster film, it's a movie about gangster films. Has any other director offered a nearly four-hour "Personal Journey... Through American Film" (a 1995 guided tour beginning with clips from "The Bad and the Beautiful" and "Duel in the Sun"), followed by another four-hour personal essay on Italian cinema (1999's "My Voyage to Italy")?

To salute the surprise success of "Shutter Island" (top of the box-office for two weeks running), I took some excerpts from an introductory interview Scorsese did for the now out-of-print 2005 MGM DVD release of "New York, New York" and interpolated frame grabs from that movie and others. The result might serve as a primer on how to watch any Martin Scorsese picture.

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