Titles include Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas
Rochester, N.Y., December 17, 2009—The Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House shines a spotlight on the filmmaking relationship between powerhouse actor Robert DeNiro and celebrated director Martin Scorsese, with a film series in January and February titled Eight Portraits of the Obsessive: The films of Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese.
“Many fans would consider DeNiro to be Scorsese’s most important collaborator, having made eight movies together — all of which focus attention on obsessed characters who vainly try to adjust the world to their vision of how it should be, no matter what destruction it brings,” said Jim Healy, assistant curator of motion pictures for George Eastman House.
In DeNiro and Scorsese’s first collaboration, the semi-autobiographical Mean Streets, the film’s principal obsessive, Charlie, is played by Harvey Keitel. The religious and sensitive Charlie is a small-time hood who desperately tries to rein in his best friend (and id) Johnny Boy (DeNiro), an irrepressible and irresponsible prankster who could not care less about his debts to the mob. DeNiro was promoted to leading man for Taxi Driver, and his Travis Bickle, driven to violence he thinks will help purify a trash-filled New York City, is one of the most disturbing characters ever depicted on film.
Though prone to volatile moments, Jimmy Doyle, the jazz saxophonist in New York, New York, might be the most likeable character DeNiro ever assayed for Scorsese, but Jimmy’s search for a “major chord” keeps him from being happy in his marriage to singer Francine (Liza Minnelli). Likewise, it’s an all-consuming but groundless jealousy that destroys the marriage of boxer Jake La-Motta in Raging Bull, still the director and star’s most celebrated film together, marking its 30th anniversary this year.
Perhaps the most underrated of their combined efforts, The King of Comedy remains the most relevant for today’s audiences in its depiction of marginally talented comedian Rupert Pupkin’s unstoppable quest for fame through television. After a seven-year hiatus from Scorsese, DeNiro took a secondary role in the now-classic mob epic Goodfellas (celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2010). Though Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill provides the film with its comically uninhibited and amoral spirit, it’s DeNiro’s paranoid thug Jimmy Conway who raises the specter of death.
Cape Fear’s revenge-obsessed and Bible-quoting ex-con Max Cady just might literally be the Angel of Death, and DeNiro put himself through a punishing physical regimen that makes the sinewy and tattoo-covered Max all the more frighteningly real. Casino brought Scorsese back into gangster territory for his eighth and (to date) final pairing with DeNiro, whose Ace Rothstein is the classic control freak brought down by loyalty to his less-than-reputable friends and wife.
“These stories of obsession can also be viewed as allegories for the filmmaking process and the director’s difficult task of keeping everything under control,” Healy said. “Scorsese’s reliance on the spontaneous, unpredictable, and often improvisatory behavior of DeNiro offers an example to any single-minded director who might resist creative input from his cast. Scorsese, with his powerful editing, pulsating soundtracks, and constantly roving cameras, will always be a technically dazzling auteur, but he understands that it’s the actors’ performances that really bring his films to life.”
The Films of Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese will screen
at 8 p.m. every Wednesday in January and February:
January 6: Mean Streets
January 13: Taxi Driver
January 20: New York, New York
January 27: Raging Bull
February 3: The King of Comedy
February 10: 20th Anniversary of Goodfellas
February 17: Cape Fear
February 24: Casino
Admission to each film is $7 general admission/$5 students and members. For more information, please visit dryden.eastmanhouse.org or call (585) 271-3361.