Carrying "Marty's" Water: Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island opens in U.S. theaters nationwide today; online, the discussion of the film can be seen to be in danger of being eclipsed by discussions about the discussions of the film. To wit: "I can see right now where the Shutter Island discussion will go," Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells wrote earlier in the week. "Hip, older urban critics like Marshall Fine will do the usual solidarity thing (i.e., their standard response whenever a reasonably decent film by a venerated director comes out) and pass out "Friends of Marty" buttons at screenings and so on. And that's fine." For a putative gadfly like Wells, such a declaration is a way to put himself ever-so-slightly above it all, to reinforce his supposed independence and tough-mindedness, to say that not only is he not carrying Scorsese's water, but that, in the common and vile parlance, he hasn't drank the "Marty" Kool-Aid either. It's good for the brand...and it helps that he means it. (And he's almost started a trend: The New York Times' A.O. Scott, who is more often than not merely content to be correct himself, cocks a snoot at Wells' "Friends of Marty" in his review, claiming that those who conclude differently from him do so at least partly out of "loyalty to Mr. Scorsese, a director to whom otherwise hard-headed critics are inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt.") The "civilian" complaints, some of them on Wells' thread, many of them on a thread following my own review of Shutter Island, are something different. Many of them practically seethe with resentment over Scorsese's critical rep, particularly with regard to his last three or four fiction features. It's made them trust critics less, they say. The critics who've said nice things about Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and The Departed are "dishonest," "deluded," looking through "rose-tinted" somethings. Do these people want their money back or something? Because, you know, it's not as if there were no negative reviews of those pictures, from "major" reviewers yet. Manohla Dargis was not only a definite Aviator disliker, she also came close to coming right out and saying that with that film Scorsese was pursuing something akin to a charity fuck Academy Award. Richard Corliss and Michael Atkinson were less than impressed as well. David Ansen and J. Hoberman, neither of whom anybody in their right mind would characterize as a hack, came down pretty hard on Gangs of New York. It is peculiar to go to Rotten Tomatoes and see The Departed's 92% "Fresh" rating—I mean, I liked that picture, but not really that much—but again, among the scant "anti" arguments are cogent perspectives from Hoberman and Stanley Kaufmann. So it isn't as if skeptics of the film are completely left out in the critical cold.
But rather than align themselves with those critics and be done with it, some observers are compelled to ask for more. Those who carry Marty's water, apparently, must be schooled. What they must be schooled in varies. In one class, we are instructed on Clint Eastwood's superiority as a filmmaker. In another, we learn that Scorsese's better off doing adaptations of other peoples' material, because it tends to focus him better. Marty's such a child, really, but you know, if you give him a definite goal, he'll really work hard at it!
Again, I think of Orson Welles saying to Peter Bogdanovich, "Why should I upset a strong Fellini man by telling him I think Satyricon was frightened at birth by Vogue magazine?" Was it permissible back in the day to be an unabashed "strong Fellini man?" Is it today? If I say that I actively try to find things to like in Scorsese's films, does that make me a strong Scorsese man, or his patsy, or his water-carrier? I responded very strongly to Shutter Island—but a lot of that had to do with my state of being when I saw the film twenty-two days ago. Is my reaction illegitimate?
P.S.: I attended the New York press junket for Shutter Island a couple of weeks ago (the fruits of my labors in this respect are here). Breakfasting with the cream of the television and online video critic crop, I have to say—in all honesty!—that I did detect a note of obligation in their words as I overheard many of them discuss the film. As if they didn't particularly like it, or "get" it beyond its plot machinations...but that they were going to give it a pass not just because Scorsese's a revered American filmmaker but because Leo's a movie star. I don't, however, detect much of the same thing going on in the print reviews.
And By The Way, What's With This "Marty" Business?: I remember my very first movie press junket like it was yesterday. It was for Married to the Mob. The two things about it I remember best are standing next to Dean Stockwell at the urinal wall of the hotel restroom during a break, and the roundtable with Michelle Pfeiffer in which some clod asked her if she was ever going to play an intelligent character rather than a sexy one and I blurted "The two qualities aren't mutually exclusive," and Pfeiffer looked at me and smiled sweetly and said "Thank you," and then we both climbed on the table and started shagging like feral cats. Okay, the part after "Thank you" I made up. Anyhow, the other thing that made me nearly projectile vomit at that session was the way all these obsequious junketeers kept calling Pfeiffer "MIchelle," and the fake-chummy tone in which they were doing so. I didn't do a whole lot of movie press junkets after that.
Anyway, I imagine you know where I'm going with this. As many times as I've interviewed Martin Scorsese, I've never felt either compelled to or even comfortable with the idea of calling him "Marty," and I don't understand people who don't know him who do. Yes, in interviews all of his collaborators call him "Marty," but the only film journalist I know of who's an active collaborator of Scorsese's is Jay Cocks. (Kent Jones I always think of as a critic rather than a journalist.) My general policy with movie people is to address them as "Mr." or "Ms." until explicitly instructed otherwise. I'm not trying to lord it over anybody with this etiquette tip. I'm just saying that my mother raised me with some fucking manners.
I've always loved the phrase "fucking manners," haven't you?