The genius of Martin Scorsese is a well-worn story that doesn’t require further explanation. A seminal part of the quality of his output goes to his penchant for working with the right people to bring out and enhance his vision. Rather than shifting into mere assembly line workmanship, his mainstays arguably have gotten better with time, bringing new and exciting spoils to the table, in ways that a fresh face might not be daring enough to venture into. Simply put; Scorsese’s A-team has aged like a fine wine.

There have been many excellent frequent collaborators, but the shining star of Marty’s arsenal is editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who has cut film for every Scorsese flick since 1980 (as well as getting her start alongside Marty on his earliest projects).

image of a young Thelma Schoonmaker with young Martin Scorsese - Soundsnap
Thelma Schoonmaker with Martin Scorsese. (photo courtesy of tinbirdproductions.wordpress.com)

Here’s a brief overview of some her Scorsese collaborative highlights.

 

The Doors – Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967)

Before their joint gig as editors on the groundbreaking concert film Woodstock (1969), and way before she joined the union and became Scorsese’s ‘right-hand-man,’ Schoonmaker was an NYU student looking for gigs, and Marty was a student trying to salvage a short film. They would end up working on his first full-length, the black and white art film Who’s That Knocking at My Door which, while not a masterpiece by any stretch, is still a very early example of French new wave editing techniques being dropped into the streets of New York City. One part to note is the highly stylized sex scene that drops quite randomly into a scene of dialogue, like a momentary thought stretched from end to end.

Set to the Doors’ dirge-like “The End,” the camera swirls around naked bodies with splicing jump cuts and purposely varying takes (breaking continuity, a barrier Schoonmaker would turn into art many times over years later). Aside from the (purposefully) jarring mid-scene intrusion, the sequence could be seen as a touchstone to music videos, exercising a format still in its infancy.

 

Raging Bull (1980)

After more than a decade, Schoonmaker finally joined the union thanks to Marty pulling some long overdue strings. The result was one of his first massive films. While Mean Streets and Taxi Driver showcased his auteurism, Raging Bull is where he made the leap to the big time of veneered directors, due in large part to the help from Schoonmaker. Take a look at this last fight scene between Jake La Motta (Robert DeNiro) and Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes). With an expert sound mix arranged by Frank Warner, the ultimate beatdown splices quickly between fists, flashing camera bulbs, and a blood-spattered audience for one of the most intense and graphic boxing scenes ever captured on film.

 

Goodfellas (1990)

The crashing downturns of cocaine abuse had been explored in mainstream cinema for years, but no film pinpointed the heightened and disastrous rush of the drug better than the “May 11, 1980” sequence in Goodfellas. To illustrate the drug’s dizzying effect on Henry Hill, the sequence features many interlacing cuts of fastly moving bodies and vehicles with curious zoom-ins, many of which on otherwise mundane items — a stirring pot, a blood pressure meter, payphones, etc.

Most notable is the use of music cuts in this sequence. Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” frequently comes in and out, each time in an increasingly more manic part of the song, occasionally with multiple segments of the song overlapping each other. Just as notable is an extremely chopped and echoed splice of the Who’s “Magic Bus” (from their Live at Leeds album) which orchestrates Hill’s near car crash with pick slides and screaming perfectly illustrating the panicked terror in actor Ray Liotta’s performance.

 

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Much like the zonked out drug-induced exploits of Goodfellas and Casino, the audience follows ambulance driver Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) into madness as a graveyard shift working paramedic haunting the streets of New York City. Starting with more relaxed pacing earlier in the film, the editing becomes more manic as the week stretches on, with some intoxicatingly bleary sequences set to Clash songs “Janie Jones” and “I’m So Bored with the USA.” In the former, both Pierce and Tom Wolls (Tom Sizemore) giddily speed their way through the streets with the city zipping by. The dispatcher’s voice (voiced by Martin Scorsese himself) sputters off assignments with increasing manic velocity with an array of speed manipulations creating a jerky effect, disorienting effect. The film remains an underrated gem in Schoonmaker and Scorsese’s canon.

 

The Departed (2006)

In many ways, The Departed might be Scorsese’s most convoluted work. With the help of Schoonmaker, it’s also a late period best. The editing twists around the double double-agenting by William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon), hopping back and forth between phone calls, both narrowly outsmarting the Irish mob and the police respectively. The zigzag between the two is as fun as it is whiplash-inducing trying to keep up with both sides. A lesser editor might scale it back a little, but Schoonmaker’s touch works at its nimblest, keeping the audience’s brain racing along with the characters.

 

featured image courtesy of: 2020awards.org