When I was in highschool I spent like a year and a half working on a 5-minute short film. The movie was silly, starred my dad. I made it in my backyard. But somehow it went on to win a national contest called YoungArts, and soon found myself at an award ceremony in NYC, being told I had an appointment with Martin Scorsese. Uhhh… yes! Okay, awesome?
The unfortunate thing was, they gave me no more than a couple hours’ notice. At the time, I had not even seen Taxi Driver, or Goodfellas. Yet Scorsese, I was told, had watched my film already.
I was thoroughly unprepared.
Thelma Schoonmaker greeted me at the door. The woman who had edited practically every Scorsese film since Raging Bull. But I had no idea who she was. Nice lady, I thought. She gave me a little tour of his studio, his screening rooms, his [their] editing rooms. His impressive archive of films on laser disk. And then we stepped into his office.
Martin Scorsese was intimidating, to say the least. But very jovial, very talkative, and he took me seriously. (Or convinced me, at least.) I pretty much kept my mouth shut. Every 30 seconds he would mention an actor, producer, director or film title I had never heard of before. I was stunned just to be in his presence. He liked my film, he said. “How did you do the little creatures?” I tried to explain how I figured out the basics of 3D animation. His eyes lit up and he started talking about the digital effects in The Aviator.
The juxtaposition of scales was overpowering. I felt like I was in a movie. Why he spent so much time with me I do not know, but it was amazing just to be in his presence. A few weeks afterwards I labored over a thank-you card, in which I expressed the overwhelming impression I had gotten that I don’t know enough about anything. I specially don’t know enough about film history and foreign cinema. I asked if he had any suggestions for where to start.
A few weeks later, I got a reply — he had his assistant send me several books and DVDs (including “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies“)… and also the list of 39 Foreign Films to watch!
In the following months and years I wanted to be able to write Scorsese back and be able to say, “Yes sir, I’ve gone out and watched every film on your list. They’ve changed my life, they’ve made me a better filmmaker, thank you so much.” But this was nearly six years ago, and I’m more than a little ashamed to admit that I have only seen a few of those films on his list.
I have done a piss-poor job of educating myself, and I wanted to do something about it. Starting three months ago, I began going through the list. Methodically. From the top-down. I had see a few films already, but I was going to make a point to watch them all — in order, to finally rid myself of the guilt.
When it came time to see NAPOLEON, the six-hour-long silent black-and-white Epic of 1927, directed by Abel Gance, I decided to share a quick version of this story, in 5 tweets:
Well, within 3 hours it was on the front page of reddit, and since then it has popped up on a dozen other websites. The image itself has gone viral, with over 250,000 views in the first day:
And it’s nearly twice that now!
This morning a story was posted on The Huffington Post about the list.
I’ve been pretty blown away by the exposure! Anyway, meeting with Martin Scorsese was pretty much the highlight of my life, and thought I’d at least share the full story here on my rarely-updated blog.