When the new year rolls around I always make a big deal out of the first movie I watch. I don’t know exactly why except that it sit atop my list of movies watched for the year, and it seems like a way of setting the stage for my cinematic experiences in a given year. Like I don’t want to start the year watching a bad movie, or something depressing. I want a film to help me look forward to the following 365 days.
This year, I got a little weird.
Martin Scorsese is my favorite living filmmaker. He might be my favorite filmmaker ever, but he’d have to fight it out with Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa. He’s made some incredibly entertaining, interesting, and absolutely fascinating films. Not only is he a great director, but he has spent his life preserving films that are literally on the brink of destruction, and championing/producing films from a vast and diverse group of filmmakers.
The Criterion Channel currently has several short films made by the director at the beginning of his career and I decided to watch them today. The three films I watched were What’s a Nice Girl like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963), It’s Not Just You, Murray! (1964), and The Big Shave (1967).
None of these films are amazing, I can’t say that I’d recommend them to anyone who isn’t already a Scorsese fan, but they are interesting, and they already contain some of the themes the director would return to over and over again. They also contain plenty of the style Scorsese would become known for in his long career.
What’s a Nice Girl Doing In a Place Like This? is the first official film Scorsese ever made. I say official because there is another film credit listed on IMDB.com called Vesuvius VI which the director made in high school with his friends, but I don’t believe it has ever been shown publicly and has never been released in any formal fashion.
It is about a man who becomes obsessed with a photo to the point where he can’t function as a human being. It is notable for being the first time Thelma Schoonmaker helped edit a Scorsese film. They would go on to be lifelong collaborators. Scorsese is already showing his influences here with clear nods to Fellini and Truffaut. The story is slight but his use of editing – juxtaposing a variety of images against each other to create interesting, and often very funny – is already vibrant at this early stage.
It’s Not Just You, Murray! has a bootlegger looking back on his life, documentary style. Careful watchers will see its influences on later Scorsese films like Goodfellas and Casino.
The Big Shave is the shortest film of the bunch, clocking in at just over five minutes. It is literally just a man sharing his face, which gets increasingly bloody as it goes along. They say it is a metaphor for Vietnam, but I’ll let the scholars explain that one. It is edited to the sounds of an old song and the camerawork, along with the editing is really interesting considering the confined space and limited time frame.
You can probably find all of these films on Youtube if you don’t have the Criterion Channel. They are well worth watching if you are a fan of the director.
So, why did I choose these three early short films from Martin Scorsese as my first films of 2023? To be honest, they were partially chosen because they were short. My vertigo has been acting up this weekend and I wasn’t sure how well I could watch something long and involved. But also I really do love Martin Scorsese and I’ve been meaning to watch these films for a long time.
These films represent the beginnings of an artist who would continue to create interesting and influential films for the next 60 years and beyond. Scorsese is set to release a new film, Killers of the Flower Moon later this year, and he has numerous other projects in his upcoming pile. He has produced dozens of films from up-and-coming and marginalized filmmakers, for decades. He’s created film foundations to help perverse films that otherwise might be lost forever. He is my hero, and these films are his beginning.
There is something very new year about that. It gives me hope to watch these early films from Martin Scorsese, realizing that when he made them he had no idea who he would become. Just a few years before he made these films he planned to enter the Seminary, not become a filmmaker. Now he is considered one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. Maybe this year is the beginning of me becoming something amazing. Maybe you will too.