The Montclair Film Festival held its annual “An Evening With Stephen Colbert” on October 27 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The event honored the legendary director Martin Scorsese with a Filmmaker Tribute.
At the start of the evening, Colbert mentioned he had interviewed various filmmakers and celebrities in the past for the Montclair Film Festival, but this was a special evening. He said, “I don’t think it’s ever been a greater honor than it is tonight with Martin Scorsese.” He then joked, “Please don’t tell Meryl Streep I said that!”
In a captivating conversation with Colbert, the director opened up about his personal and professional journey, providing fascinating insights into his life and career.
Here are 10 things we learned about Martin Scorsese:
- It’s not a job: When Colbert asked, “As a director, what’s your job?” Scorsese said he couldn’t use the word ‘job’ to describe his career because, for him, it’s a role. He referenced the saying that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life and said, “I’ve never worked a day.”
- His first Western: Scorsese’s latest film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” stars Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in a three-and-a-half-hour epic adapted from David Grann’s 2017 novel about the Osage nation’s land and the mysterious murders in the early 1920s. When Colbert asked about making his first Western, Scorsese hesitated to categorize it that way but eventually acquiesced. He explained that the 1920s setting made it easier for him to tackle. “They have cars, so I felt comfortable with that,” he joked and added, “To me, the 1920s is like 30 years ago. It’s like how young people now think of the ’90s.”
- Friendship and collaborations with De Niro: “Killers of the Flower Moon” is the 10th film Scorsese has made with De Niro. He talked about growing up in the same neighborhood, a feeling of deep trust they have for each other, and how—following the failure of “New York, New York,” and falling into a deep depression—De Niro played a crucial role in helping him recover. It was De Niro who also introduced Scorsese to Leonardo DiCaprio after working with the actor in “This Boy’s Life” in 1993. “Killers of a Flower Moon” is now the sixth film DiCaprio has made with Scorsese.
- Why “Raging Bull” was filmed in black and white: Scorsese said the decision to shoot “Raging Bull” in black and white was partly due to concerns about color film stock fading. “In filmmaking, if you use color, it’s part of the narrative; you’re telling a story. If the color fades, you lose your narrative.” There was also concern about the color of blood in the ring being too overwhelming for audiences.
- Violence: Too much violence in “Goodfellas” didn’t go over too well with the audience during the film’s preview. The scene of the murder of Billy Batts originally had 10 stabbing blows that sent people fleeing the theater. “It was like the Exodus from Egypt,” Scorsese said. He realized that even though he knew that it was a retractable knife, the audience didn’t, and it was too much. He and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker went back in and cut it down to three stabbings.
- Faith and the Catholic Church: Scorsese revealed his relationship with the Catholic Church hadn’t always been easy. “I had problems with the institution. I wanted to get past the rules and dogma.” But his search for deeper meaning and the possibility of change remains. “Sin is easy, but forgiveness is hard,” he said. On the topic of faith, he compared it to “trying to find your way in a dark room, feeling your way around. And then, you hit that light switch.”
- Unfulfilled collaborations: When asked if there was anyone he wished he had worked with, Scorsese listed Barbara Streisand, Spencer Tracy, Barbara Stanwyck and Marlon Brando.
- Unfinished film: Scorsese revealed that “Gangs of New York” is the one film he has made that still feels unfinished to him. He said he felt there were so many more stories to be told.
- Music: Colbert mentioned music’s significance in Scorsese’s films. “For me, all the stories become visualized in music,” explained Scorsese. He reminisced about his childhood, listening to 78s from his father’s collection, which included Bing Crosby and swing bands. Scorsese talked about making mixtape playlists with music from Roy Acuff, Elvis Costello and Hank Williams. When asked what he listens to these days, Scorsese said, “Classical music in the morning and rock in the evenings.”
- Best pizza in NYC: Scorsese says it’s Angelo’s on 117 West 57th Street.
The evening ended with Tom Hall, the co-head and artistic director of Montclair Film, presenting Scorsese with the 2023 Filmmakers Tribute Award. “The Palm d’Or, the Academy Award — it’s all been leading to this moment.”
And oh, what a moment it was.
The 12th annual Montclair Film Festival closes tonight, October 29, with a screening of William Oldroyd’s “Eileen.”