Early Shorts from Famous Directors: Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver [1976], Raging Bull [1980], Goodfellas [1990]) is arguably one of the most famous living directors, yet influenced by his Italian-American, devout Catholic family roots, Scorsese initially chose to follow a life in the priesthood. A change in career was forced upon him only after he failed his first year at a seminary. Scorsese had frequented Queen's cinema's and video rental stores growing up, after bad asthma made playing outside and most sports difficult and thus after completing an English degree, Scorsese enrolled to study film at NYU.

It was at film school that Scorsese wrote and directed three short films. The first, What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963) is a surreal comedy about an author named Harry who develops a fixation with a picture hanging on his wall. The quick cuts, freeze frames and voice over were directly influenced by the European films, particularly the French New Wave films of directors like Truffaut, that Scorsese had grown up watching.

His second project, It's Not Just You, Murray! (1964), proved far more ambitious. The short follows the protagonists rise in the criminal underworld in a far more comedic way than Scorsese's later crime films, focusing on his misplaced faith in his supposed friend and supporter named Joe. The unreliable narration contradicts what we see on screen, with the breaking of the 'fourth wall' almost identical to Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).  

After graduating from NYU and struggling to secure funding for his first feature, Scorsese received a grant from the Cinémathèque de Belgique to make a short film. The Big Shave (1967), his first work in colour, proved far more experimental than anything Scorsese had, or would later, produce. Over 6 minutes, an anonymous man shaves with a razor until his face, and his gleaming white bathroom, are covered in blood. The film was intended to be an explicit condemnation of America's involvement in the ongoing Vietnam war, expressing Scorsese’s “sad feelings concerning the present general moral condition of my young country”. The film was originally a lot more direct in this message, with the script (a fascinating read) showing a working title of “Viet ’67” and a plan to end the film with archival newsreel of a firing squad executing a prisoner.

Similar Early Shorts:

Robert Zemeckis (1973) A Field of Honor

Christopher Nolan (1997) Doodlebug