Martin Scorsese, Leonard DiCaprio, and Jonah Hill

Peter Vandenbelt

Martin Scorsese, Leonard DiCaprio, and Jonah Hill

SBIFF 2014: The Leo DiCaprio-Marty Scorsese Show

Actor and Director Receive Santa Barbara Film Fest’s Vanguard Award

At last, an intelligent conversation about movies at the fest.

Once we got past initial hypester glitz (cinematic pas de deux, indeed) and settled in chairs, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and moderator Todd McCarthy embarked on a most satisfying film discussion because McCarthy wasn’t interested in scooping dirt or making himself seem erudite. He calmly introduced topics upon which his guests could mull and quip.

An opening salvo gave DiCaprio enough attention to discourse on the “twin pillars of wealth” he played this year: he Great Gatsby and Jordan Belfort, better known as the Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio simply settled into a talk about growing up in Beverly Hills and being fascinated with many aspects of the grossly moneyed. This tone gratefully prevailed: It was three interesting people talking about movies rather than selling themselves.

We knew Scorsese would be good (he’s as interesting as Hitchcock and Truffaut were) and he delivered fine anecdotal references on Ford, Kurosawa, and Kazan, for instance. But who knew he would pepper his conversation with classical allusions, too, like Daedalus, Icarus, and the Titans Who Ate Their Children?

Scorsese referred to DiCaprio’s role in getting Gangs of New York made in post-Titanic days. “I didn’t have anything to do with that [movie],” quipped Scorsese. “I get seasick.” Knowing nothing about boxing didn’t prevent him from making Raging Bull, said Scorsese, and his fear of flying didn’t stop The Aviator either.

DiCaprio made an impressive case for why it was easier to play historical figures than fictional characters: “You don’t have to make up so much shit.” He likes that Scorsese takes many takes, he said. “I have a hunger for it,” he said, loving to explore the possibilities.

This talk, so free from hyperbole, worked: no pandering to the audience, no overselling the goods. Nobody mentioned, it’s true, most of these movies, particularly Shutter Island, might have great moments but aren’t really great films. Yet it didn’t matter, because it seemed like the history was thrilling enough.

It was good to hear Scorsese admit he sometimes wanted to make movies that were “down and dirty.” And I never knew that Joe Pesci’s infamous “Am I a clown? Do I amuse you?” riff in GoodFellas was improvised. “That wasn’t in the script,” said DiCaprio, who wasn’t there. “That wasn’t in the script,” said Scorsese, who was.

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