Coursework 2- What makes a filmmaker an Auteur?

The auteurship theory praises the director for being the personal creative and artistic vision behind a film. Etherington-Wright and Doughty (2011 p 3) also explain that an auteur’s films shall be regarded collectively ‘as a body of work sharing common themes or techniques’ which express a particular style and perspective.

Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors ever, whose work including 46 films, can extensively prove and commemorate his ‘auteurhip’. With a career now spanning 60 years, BAFTA Film Awards named Scorsese as one of the most influential filmmakers in cinema history.

The son of Sicilian immigrants, Scorsese started his life with aspirations of being a Catholic priest (that never materialised) but which would later have an essential influence on his films. He uses religious undertones and motifs throughout his work, such as the Christ-like poses that Frank Costello in ‘The Departed’ (2006) and La Motta in 'Raging Bull’ (1980) emulate upon their ultimate defeat and the obvious symbolism of ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (1988).

Martin Scorsese is a great example of an auteur. We see the same thematic consistencies throughout his work. Catholicism, redemption and the virgin/whore conflict, guns, cars, water and flames, Italian-American neighbourhoods, these appear in most of his films. When it comes to the cast, Scorsese proves to be loyal to a small number of actors; Robert De Niro appeared in 8 of his films; Harvey Keitel in 5 and more recently Leonardo DiCaprio has become his muse.

Throughout Scorsese’s films, there is a huge emphasis on his main characters and their psychological perspectives.
For example, Travis Bickle (De Niro in 'Taxi Driver' ) suffers from severe loneliness and depression. In ‘Raging Bull’, boxer Jake La Motta (also played by De Niro) has a serious temper problem. Thirdly, 'Mean Streets' (1973) is the story of conflicted New York hooligan Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and his Catholic guilt as a sinner doomed for Hell.

1970s-1980s New York City, reflected by dirt, scum and crime, is used by Scorsese in many of his films and it is believed (Kyser 2009) to serve as a microcosm for the hell in which many of his antiheroes find themselves spiritually.

Used as a visual detention for the hustlers and hoods of ‘Mean Streets’, New York City is even more important in the narrative of ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976), where mentally unstable Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle becomes obsessed with the idea of saving angelic women from the evil scum of the city.
By the time ‘Taxi Driver’ was produced, Scorsese was becoming more highly accomplished in his technical skills and experience. Several of his touches are also included in the film, by using jump cuts, expressionist cuts, slow motion shots, and its ‘regular’ location.

In “Raging Bull,” the boxing scenes are not simply action sequences; they are used to develop La Motta’s character.
Scorsese also placed the camera inside the boxing ring to give us the feeling that we are inside the action.

The water that we see frequently in these films is thought to represent cleansing. Charlie, Travis, and Jake are often looking into mirrors; this indicates to the viewer that there is a sort of internal conflict in each of these characters. Scorsese also uses slow motion in all three movies to emphasize the emotions of his characters.

Martin Scorsese has become known as the master of crime and mob movies. He has perfected the art of blending controversial violence into effective storytelling and has proved that ‘one camera angle could transform a world and a jump edit could shake up an emotion.’ (La Rocca 2012)

Taxi Driver (right)
Raging Bull (left)


Etherington-Wright, C. and Doughty, R., 2011. Understanding Film Theory. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Kyser, 2009. The Auteur: Martin Scorsese. [online]. Eblogger. Available from: [Accessed 6 March].

La Marca, 2012. Three Filmmakers and the Auteur Theory. [online]. Casey La Marca. Available from: [Accessed 5 March 2012].

La Rocca, 2010. Martin Scorsese: Gritty Auteur. [online]. NY: Examiner. Available from: [Accessed 6 March 2012].

Scorsese and his films, 2000. Filmography. [online] Martin Scorsese and his films. Available from: [Accessed 6 March 2012].

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