Arts & Entertainment

The Power of Music

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 13:39 min

Martin shows how music serves as part of the spiritual lives of his characters and talks about the films whose music influenced him, from director Kenneth Anger's independents to the traditional scores of Hollywood films.

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Topics include: Seeing the Music, Hearing the Movie • Contemporary Music • Source Music • Traditional Score • Non-Traditional Score • Playing Music On-Set


As I was growing up, music was a very important part of our lives. It wasn't a bookish culture I came from. But there was a great deal of music-- records, radio. Eventually, music everywhere-- in the streets, through people's windows in the summertime. And as I started to put together the impulse to tell a story, I found that very often, the music was something that created that moment of visualization, so to speak. And often, the music that was being heard or being played in the street or in the car radio counterpointed to the scenes I was seeing around me-- created the films. And eventually, this all led to my use of music in "Who's That Knocking" or particularly "Mean Streets" and eventually even "Alice" and eventually "Raging Bull" into "Goodfellas," et cetera. But in an odd way, pulling all those scenes together, hearing that everybody talking about movies at the time, in 1950s. And my father, my uncles talking about certain films and then mentioning other stories that are going on in the family or in the street. And somebody would say something like, oh, they could never make a movie of that. And that's what I wanted to do. So why not? So all this was coming together, and music was so prominent and almost like what you would call the sense memory, in a sense. So it really begins with the music for me. And once I hear the music, I mean, I really start to feel the story. Sometimes a piece of music reflects a character for me, and I start to imagine scenes. It isn't that I sit down and start . They sort of come to you while you're listening to the music. When I finally started making feature films, I knew that my movies would not have a proper score. They weren't meant to have that. In a way, they weren't deserving of that because those films, or the pictures that were made up to that time around the world are- they were something that were unattainable. They were the guides. They were the something we aspired to and couldn't really do something like them, even though you try. So the kind of films I was making just didn't lend themselves to this kind of thinking. At times, not in more negative sometimes in terms of Hollywood scores or traditional scores, sometimes they were coded, and the narratives were very different. There are different ways of indicating emotions and characters in music and in that tradition, and I was not from that tradition, I felt. The only thing trying-- the only thing that-- the only thing that restricted us to a certain extent was that at that time, we did not have the budgets to pay for licenses. And so we did want the films to be shown in theaters, if possible. And so that became a bit of a problem in terms of how much we could use, where we could get it, who would allow us to use it et cetera. Well, for example, the use of Ray Buretto's "El Watusi" and "Who's That Knocking On My Door" was a pivotal moment for me and in trying to shape a film together. Or in "M...

About the Instructor

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.

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Martin Scorsese

In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.

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