PAINTINGS, DRAWINGS, PHOTOGRAPHS AND STORYBOARDS BY EIGHT FILM DIRECTORS
Written by Karl French
Published in GRANTA magazine #86
John Huston (1906-1987)
Before his directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon (1941), the film that confirmed Humphrey Bogart as a tough-guy star; Huston had been making a good living as a screenwriter; notably for Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra (1941) and Howard Hawks’s Sergeant York (1941); later he would script Orson Welles’s post-war thriller The Stranger (1946). The collaboration with Bogart was the most important in Huston’s long career, and together they would turn out The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The African Queen (1951), and the underrated oddity Beat the Devil (1953).
Although the 1960s began well with The Misfits (1961), the pessimism of the film was appropriate, with its three stars (Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift) all close to death and its director set for a dismal run throughout the decade. His career was reborn with Fat City (1972), and remained on a reasonably even keel (the notable low point, in 1981, of Escape to Victory notwithstanding) for the rest of his life.
But things could have been very different. After a serious illness as a ten year old, he was all but bedridden for several years. He emerged with a determination to live an intellectually and physically full life. At fifteen he was introduced to the sport of boxing for which he shared a passion with his father, the actor Walter Huston, who would later co-star in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Soon afterwards Huston developed an equally strong passion for painting. ‘Nothing,’ he wrote in his autobiography, ‘has played a more important role in my life.’
He was fascinated by the Cubists, and by the American school of Synchronism. He enrolled in the Smith School of Art in Los Angeles but was soon disillusioned with the aridity of the teaching and what he saw as the pointless discipline of the life classes there. Within months he had dropped out of art school and fallen in with a group of like-minded artists in the Art Students League. He continued to paint throughout his life. Huston had studios in each of his homes, notably St Clerans in Galway, Ireland, a house that also contained much of his art collection, ranging from Paul Klee paintings to his impressive hoard of Pre-Columbian art.
Martin Scorsese (b. 1942)
Scorsese’s twin passions as a child and adolescent were the cinema and the Church and for many years he planned to enter the priesthood. But the movies won out and he studied film at New York University, where by the time he graduated he had made a number of short films. Through the 1960s he worked as an editor and also directed his first feature film, Who’s That Knocking on My Door? (1968), a labour of love starring Harvey Keitel, who would become, along with Robert De Niro, one of Scorsese’s favourite actors.
He got his big break, as did Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovitch, under Roger Corman, who assigned him to direct Boxcar Bertha (1972). The film was a modest success, but a key moment came when Scorsese screened it for his idol, John Cassavetes, who praised the style but pleaded with Scorsese to go for more personal material. Heeding that advice, Scorsese dusted off an old idea of his based around the characters who had populated his own neighbourhood of Little Italy, in downtown Manhattan, in his youth. Mean Streets, released in 1973, co-starring De Niro and Keitel, made Scorsese’s reputation and established his trademark themes—men, often violent men in crisis, with religion generally in the background or foreground—and a signature directorial style, involving flashy, imaginative visual flourishes, long or otherwise complex takes, and pervasive pop music on the soundtrack.
While occasionally working on more mainstream material, Scorsese turned out a succession of great films, including Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1983), and Goodfellas (1990), all of which bear his personal touch. Many have been script collaborations—Scorsese and Nick Pileggi co-wrote Goodfellas and Casino (1995)—or written wholly by others, most notably Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver.
Throughout his career Scorsese has carefully storyboarded his own films. With their urgent, primitive stylelessness, these 'storyboards may stretch the definition of art; indeed they may look uncomfortably like extracts from (Taxi Driver’s) Travis Bickle’s illustrated notebooks. But they show Scorsese’s innate understanding of the medium and his talent for framing shots and building sequences—in the examples featured here, sequences that have been etched forever into the minds of a generation of film-goers.