Shadow and Light: Marty Scorsese

•  The Irishman and the Dalai Lama – the director’s dualism

•  Talking peace and love with the guy who brought us Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino

•  In 1997, Hollywood and China were engaged in a moral trade war

If you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s latest, The Irishman, you know he’s still at the top of his game . . . if the game is gritty, violent gangster films, especially. But who recalls Kundun, his 1997 biopic about the 14th Dalai Lama?

It had a lot going for it, in addition to its venerated director: cinematographer Roger Deakins . . composer Phillip Glass . . a screenplay by Melissa Mathison (ET), who attained the permission and cooperation of the Dalai Lama.

But China was against it, because, well, they’ve occupied and oppressed Tibet, the exiled Dalai Lama’s home, since 1950.

The film story of Kundun did not have anyone “popping a cap” in someone, stuffing a body in a trunk, or going on a murderous rampage (except China, off-screen). So, it didn’t seem the sort of film Scorsese would be interested in making. But, he told me, the duality embraced in the concept of Yin and Yang, attracted him.

“I’m interested in violence, because of the other side of it, you see? And ultimately, they both reside in us.”
You talkin’ to me?

Yin and Yang, it’s said, translates to “shadow and light”, which, if you think about it, are the raw materials at the core of moviemaking. In my CNN Showbiz Today interview, Scorsese and I didn’t really get all that metaphysical, but we did have quite a conversation about Hollywood and China and the geopolitical storm stirred up by Disney’s decision to distribute Kundun after Universal Pictures ran away from it.

After the film’s release, Scorsese and Mathison were banned from visiting China. Further, Beijing banned Disney films and cartoons. A year later, Disney apologized to China for Kundun. In 2016, Shanghai Disneyland opened.

Around the 2019 release of The Irishman, Scorcese generated another storm by telling an interviewer he thought that the films of the comic book movie franchise Marvel “are not cinema.” He explained later, “I said that I’ve tried to watch a few of them, and that they’re not for me, that they seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies as I’ve known and loved them throughout my life.”

I’m with you, Marty. I’ll go to the mattresses with Marvel Universe. I’ll also point out, in fairness, that Kundun was a flop. It made only $6 million at the box office; might as well have been in the witness protection program. And frankly, it wasn’t my idea of a couple of hours well spent. I found Kundun to be more like an educational film strip than fine entertainment.

That said, I’d sit through Kundun three more times before I’d see the next Avengers movie.



The Irishman‘s Joe Pesci threatens to bash my head in, here.

One thought on “Shadow and Light: Marty Scorsese

Leave a Reply