Schickel Lit

Conversations With Scorsese
By Richard Schickel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011; 423 pages)

Well, you can’t catch him out for false advertising—these are indeed conversations between the mainstreamy movie critic and documentarian Richard Schickel and the eminent filmmaker Martin Scorsese—or, as Schickel knows him, Marty.
There’s a casual air to the dozens of themed interviews here that brings a lightness to the often overwrought analysis that’s found in most Scorsese interviews and biographies.
At the same time, there’s such a thing as too loose. Only eight and a half pages on New York, New York, when what does get discussed hints at myriad other fascinating topics regarding what appears to be a major transitional period in Scorsese’s professional career? Only three pages on After Hours, that underrated black comedy with the amazing cast and an interesting back story (it began as a project in one of the film courses Scorsese taught) that is completely ignored here?

There’s a detailed filmography at the end of the book, but such careful scholarship is avoided in the main text. Here’s one of the many exchanges that’s just screaming to be footnoted, part of a rambling story about the financing of The Last Temptation of Christ:

Scorsese: Garth Drabinsky was a very unique character. Do you know him?
Schickel: I never met him, but I heard a lot about him. Didn’t he go to jail?
Scorsese: I think he might have. I don’t know.

Readers should’ve have to resort to Google to find out that Drabinsky was, in fact, convicted for fraud and forgery in Canada in 2009, though the case is on appeal and he has not yet served time. Schickel should have annotated or filled in the gaps in some of the most open-ended anecdotes. Or he should have taken a more professional and research-intensive approach to the interviews, as Mel Gussow did in his extraordinary series of sit-downs with influential playwrights: Conversations With and About Beckett, Conversations With Stoppard, Conversations with Pinter and Conversations With Miller.
Gussow raised the standard for the word “conversation.” Schickel lowers it again. As interesting as it can be to hear Scorsese reminiscing, Schickel’s constant “Oh, I know him too” and “I didn’t like that one so much” interruptions can be pretty irritating, and after a while the reader feels left out of the conversation altogether.

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