Film Unlike some directors, and actors, Martin Scorsese is unafraid to give interviews. The IMDb lists three hundred and fifteen appearances by the man as "self" and that probably barely scratches the surface of how many time his opinion's been sought on a range of film related subjects which doesn't include the occasions when he's publicising his latest picture. Search for him on YouTube and you could spend the next month just watching him talk about this and that and you'd probably come out the other end having had as decent a film education as those of us who went to college to do the same.
All of which is pre-amble to explain that although I have a snatch of an interview with him in my head, I can't remember where he said it. My guess is it was either during an episode of Mark Cousins's Scene By Scene series or a South Bank Show from roughly the same time, either publicising the release of Kundun or Casino. Or both. In other words, I'm paraphrasing a memory which has been lodged in my braincells for a couple of decade but which had a profound effect on my attitude to film going forward. Yet I can't remember the details of how it happened. Was he sitting opposing Bragg or Cousins? Nope, don't know.
He was talking about directing Sharon Stone in Casino and how she was having difficulty getting to grips with her role as hustler and former prostitute who marries Robert De Nero's Casino manager and how his strategy was to ask her to watch La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc and specifically the famous close up of lead actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti in the moment when Joan recants her testimony, which is one of the great masterpiece of silent acting. Stone's performance is equally extraordinary in different ways and is one of the reason I prefer Casino to Goodfellas (although it's worth adding that I much prefer Martin's non-gangster pictures in general anyway).
But Scorsese's delivery service was more interesting. Apparently at around that time he was amassing an archive of films for just this occasion, the main plank of which was on VHS, his methodology being to task his assistants with recording as many films as he could from television. There wasn't much detail about this, that I could remember, but it was so that, if he did want to screen some segment or a whole film for a cast or crew member to prove his point he could just pull it from the shelf. Note this was just before the advent of DVD and as is still the case now when there's still plenty of material which isn't purchasable.
Many things struck when I heard this. Firstly how big an archive he must have. Having collected lots of television on VHS even at that stage and knowing how much room all of those tapes filled in my room, just how did he have the space to put them all? What about the cataloguing process? If he's on set and decides that he wants to show Joe Pesci a scene from a William Wyler directed poverty row drama like Dead End, he's going to want that sharpish is everything simply stored in alphabetical order or was there a card catalogue. How did he know what had been recorded? Did the interns send him a weekly report? Did he send them his picks from the newspaper.
But above all it was "that's so cool" and so began my collecting obsession and for the next twenty years as I set about amassing films. Lots and lots of films. Certainly more than I'll ever get around to watching. If you're a long term reader and I mean really long, you'll have read about this when explaining how they're catalogued in 2009 (and yes, I'm still using chronological by year in which they're set) and when there was a near catastrophic disaster, which I explained in the review for the opening of Liverpool Biennial 2010.
Notice this was before I had home broadband and although Lovefilm existed and I was latterly receiving discs from them, like I said, not everything is available for rental plus purchasing can be very expensive. But charity shops are charity shops and sales are sales and PVRs exist so it's actually relatively easy to amass a collection especially if you're diligent about it and prepared to the put the hours in. Which I was and have. It's possible to become very obsessive about collecting.
How often did watch? Well ... like I said there's only so many hours available in every human life. Although for a while I'd check the BFI's monthly listing for suggestions as to watch to watch next, utilising the Lovefilm subscription and the collection to simulate their seasons in my own home, obscurity and availability eventually led to this petering out. Plus I'd have runs of really quite depressing films.
Plus then we did get broadband. Which begat Lovefilm Instant, what's now Amazon Prime. And Netflix. And NowTV. And mostly lately MUBI. Catalogues of streamable films mostly in HD, mostly with better sound and picture quality to dvd. Although there's some seepage, not everything is available all the tome, poor in some areas, there is still more than enough to keep anyone busy.
So lately I've stopped collecting as much. Been more specific in what I'm looking for. What's the point in buying all the blockbusters if they're available at the push of a button, especially if they're only going to be watched once?
Has Scorsese done the same? Does he simply subscribe to the dozens of streaming services available in the US now, which also includes TCM and HBO?
Mores to the point what's happened to all of his VHS tapes?