Nov 30, 2014


"A tribute volume that is hefty, handsome, and smart. The graphic design is downright overwhelming — stunning images from every major Scorsese feature, both inside and outside his elegantly composed frames — but the real draw here is Shone’s text, which tells the stories behind the pictures with intelligence and grace. It’s that rarest of creatures: a coffee-table book that’s also a helluva good read." — Jason Bailey, Flavorwire  
"Scorsese: A Retrospective by Tom Shone (Thames & Hudson £29.95) is a glorious coffee-table delve into the great director’s 23 feature films — including this year’s superb The Wolf of Wall Street. The book features stills, behind-the-scenes shots (Martin Scorsese on his back during the making of Taxi Driver, pointing at his temple to show Robert De Niro where Travis Bickle should aim his finger gun) and page upon page of Shone’s typically fluid, effortless prose." — Sunday Times
"Martin Scorsese: A Retrospective celebrates one of America’s most original and audacious filmmakers. Written by incisive film critic Tom Shone and lavishly illustrated, this book—like a Scorsese film—packs a passionate wallop and is elevated by scrutinous attention to detail.' — Bookpage

On my iPod: Nov 29th 2014

1. Johnny and Mary (feat. Bryan Ferry) — Todd Terje
2. I Can't Live Without My Mother — Sun Kil Moon
3. Repeat Pleasure — How to Dress Well
4. In Conflict — Owen Pallett
5. Immunity (w. King Creosote) — Jon Hopkins
6. Do You — Spoon
7. Seasons (Waiting On You) — Future Islands
8. Fireproof — One Direction
9. Sordid Affair — Royksopp
10. Wonderful Unknown – Ingrid Michelson

Nov 24, 2014

Thank-you to all who came to my event yesterday at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble, bringing my Scorsese publicity binge to a nice close. Photo by Smith Galtney.

Nov 21, 2014

Calling all Scorsese-loving New Yorkers!

On Saturday Nov 22nd at 6pm I will be presenting a sequence of my Top Ten Shots* from the films of Martin Scorsese and signing copies of my book Scorsese: A Retrospective at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble. Come early to be sure of a seat. 
Barnes & Noble 
97 Warren Street,  
New York, 
NY 10007212-587-5389
6pm Nov 22nd  2014

Nov 18, 2014


Film composer Hans Zimmer is too sensible to play favorites with his scores, but he hasn’t taken any new work since completing his score for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar this summer. “I threw everything into it,” he says. “Right now, I'm not willing to go on another journey. I don't quite want to leave it.”

This would make sense. Both score and film are about the sweet sorrows of intergalactic parting, ramped up to full ambience across the Escher-like distances of Einsteinian space-time. The $165-million epic is Nolan and Zimmer’s fifth collaboration together, after the Dark Knight Trilogy, and Inception, Zimmer’s score for which singlehandedy rewrote the rule book for the blockbuster: Zimmer’s dire, insistent “BRAAAMMM”, sounded by an army of brass instruments, all playing in unison, at the very bottom of their register, is now the klaxon-like call of summer. “I called Hans before I even knew exactly I was going to do this project,” says Nolan. “We realized we spent so much time on the other films we'd done, near the end of the process, trying to penetrate the mechanisms we'd created and get back to the heart of the story.” This time, he thought, “Let's flip the process. Let's start with the score and then build out.“

A short time later, an envelope arrived at Zimmer’s office containing a single sheet of paper on which Nolan had typed, using the same typewriter given him by his father when he was 21, a short précis of the film, drawing as much on Zimmer’s own relationship with his 13-year-old son Jake, as the father-daughter relationship portrayed in the film. Zimmer worked for a day and called Nolan’s wife Emma and the pair drove down to Zimmer’s studio in Santa Monica, where the composer made the usual nervous sounds when playing a filmmaker a new score, sneaking glimpses at him to see how it was going down. Zimmer could tell Nolan was moved. At the end of it, he said simply,  “I suppose I better make the movie, now.”

“Well, yes, but what is the movie?" asked Zimmer, and Nolan started describing this “huge, epic tale of space and science and humanity on this grand scale.”    
“Chris, hang on, I've just written this highly personal thing, you know?”

“Yes, but I now know where the heart of the movie is,” replied Nolan, who referred to Zimmer’s demo throughout production to keep himself and the film on track. It’s the piece of music that plays over the end credits. The score itself, released on iTunes on November 18th, is as remarkable for what it does not contain as what it does. It has no driving drums and string figures, no dominant-key brass swells such as was used to herald the villain’s layer in the later Bonds. Instead it comprises a series of hymn-like compositions for 34 strings, 24 woodwinds, four pianos, and 60 choral singers, in which the strains of 19th century romanticism and the ticking clockwork of Phillip Glass can be heard equally. But the star of the show is undoubtedly the 1926 four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ housed at the 12th-century Temple Church in London and played in the movie by its director of music, Roger Sayer. It was Nolan’s idea.
“He has a quiet way of suggesting things,” says Zimmer, “He very quietly said to me, ‘What about the pipe organ?’ Have you ever done a score with that?”

Zimmer immediately saw the shape of it, saw the consonance with that of a rocket ship, and also a breathy rhyme between the air pushing through the pipes of the organ and that being fed into the suits of astronauts. “Between the 17th century and the invention of the telephone exchange, the pipe organ was the most complicated man-made creation,” he says. “Stand next to them and you can hear them breathing, like giants. I just loved the idea that we were, in a funny way, following on in this great endeavor, built over generations — the idea of exploration and invention and time. I have a suspicion, which Chris and I talked about, I said to him, ‘I think all movies, all futuristic movies are inherently nostalgic’.”

A quick test of this hypothesis reveals it is broadly true, in so far as filmmakers have frequented sought to anchor the emotions of their futuristic visions with backwards-facing scores. In 2001: A Space Odyssey Kubrick balanced György Ligeti’s Atmosphères with Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz. For Star Wars, John Williams used a 19th century musical syntax, full of tumbling Korngoldian brass fanfares and sweeping Steineresque strings, as befits a tale set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Williams’s entire career has been built on this principle of musical reverse-engineering. Spielberg called him “a modern relic from the lost era of film”. His score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind contains an echo of  ‘When you Wish Upon a Star’. Close your eyes and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is scored like the romance it is. Jurassic Park is a hymn with strains of Elgar, not such much Jurassic-era as Darwinian. Zimmer’s own Hollywood career began with a similar stroke of counter-intuition in the opposite direction, when he scored Barry Levinson’s Rain Man — a road movie, crying out for slide guitars and a harmonica or two — with a set of sleek, syncopated synthesisers, such as much accompany a visit to Mars. Some might say that was exactly the trip as it felt to Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant, tunnelling through inner space. 

Zimmer’s score for Interstellar isn’t without controversy. Some audience members have complained of not being able to hear the dialogue in some sections of the movie, so rumbling are the bass notes on that pipe organ; one cinema in Rochester has even put up a sign reading “Please note that all of our sound equipment is functioning properly. Christopher Nolan mixed the soundtrack with an emphasis on the music. This is how it is intended to sound.” The pay-off came for the composer when he showed the finished film to his 13-year-old son Jake at Nolan’s editing suite in his garage. “He's sitting next to me, and we're talking about a 16 year old teenager, sitting next to his father.  As a 16-year old the last thing you want to do is let your father know that there any emotions.  The last 20 minutes, he's crying and I mean sobbing. I'm looking straight ahead because I'm trying to not invade his space and embarrass him.  We get to the end of it and I lean in slightly, and I go, ‘So, Jake, what do you think?  Is it all right?’  He goes, ‘All right, Dad?   It's a-maz-ing.’  When he said ‘amazing’ I wish I could have recorded it.”

Nov 11, 2014

My Top Ten Scorsese Shots

On Nov 22nd at 6pm I will be presenting a sequence of my Top Ten Shots* from the films of Martin Scorsese and signing copies of my book Scorsese: A Retrospective at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble. Admission is free, but come early to be sure of a seat. 
Barnes & Noble 
97 Warren Street,  
New York, 
NY 10007212-587-5389
6pm Nov 22nd  2014
* Clue: only two of the above are in my top ten.

Nov 5, 2014


'An admiring but clear-eyed view of the great American filmmaker’s career, acknowledging the early masterpieces such as Taxi Driver and Mean Streets but also pointing out the bummers (the rancid Cape Fear) and the slumps that have marked Scorsese’s long career. Although the pictures are marvelous, Shone gives the book the heft of a smart critical biography. Unlike the auteurists who always struggle to praise anything by favored directors, A Retrospective shows how Scorsese struggled to find suitable material after that string of personal films in the 1970s established his name..The excellent chapter on After Hours shows us how that quickly packaged and cheaply produced 1985 black comedy got the director back on his feet. Shone goes against the critical grain in praising the 1986 Paul Newman-Tom Cruise hit The Color of Money and dissing Scorsese’s long in the works The Last Temptation of Christ but his arguments are always strong and his insights are fresh. The oversized book’s beauty is matched by its brains.' — Joe Meyers, Connecticut Post
'Thames &Hudson do themselves proud with Tom Shone’s retrospective on the Martin Scorsese filmography stretching right back to the late 60’s where the, then young, director made his start in the business... Anyone looking for that tall and heavy book on one of the most continuous prolific directors working today need look no further than this."— Filmwerk

Nov 4, 2014

Christopher Nolan: The Director's Cut

From the longer cut of my Christopher Nolan profile:— 
MICHAEL MANN: “He works within the system here in a very commanding way. He has large ideas. He’s a complete auteur.  He invented the post-heroic superhero.  He can come up with an idea for a science fiction heist inside the moving contours of a dreaming mind and he had the boldness and audacity to have that singular vision and make it happen.  His work is very, very focused and it’s truly his own. He operates very much in the present, in the now.   We’re living in a post-modern, post-industrial world with decaying infrastructure. Many feel disenfranchised. Seclusion is difficult.  Privacy is impossible.  Our lives are porous.  We swim in a sea of interconnectedness and data. He directly deals with these intangible but very real anxieties. He’s tuned into the reality of our lives, our imagination, our culture, how we think, how we try to live. The quest to understand that and to tell stories from there, that is a central motivator for him, I think.” 
ANNE HATHAWAY: "We see him very, very calm. You never really see him blow a gasket or get frustrated... usually by the time we come to set the puzzle is solved for him.  For the both times I've worked with him, he's totally open to being surprised by things and discovering things on set and certainly he's always shown me amazing generosity as a director in terms of letting me find me, find my way through the part.  Yeah, he has the whole film in his head before we start shooting. I remember when we were doing the scene in Batman where I pull my mask back and it becomes the cat ears for the first time.  Chris came up to me before we shot the one and I guess we you're working a few weeks at that point, but we haven't, and we're having a great time but we were way more bonded at the end of experience than we were at the beginning.  It's just kind of the way it goes. He came up to me and made a point of saying to me, "Now listen, I'm going to do a lot of takes on this one just because I have the way I want it to look in my head for so long I'm not going to be able to move on until I get exactly right.  It's a complicated shot.  There's a lot of things at work here. The camera has to go, the prop has to work, you're mask has to go up. He just took me through it, and he said, "So if I do it a lot of times, I don't want you to get discouraged, it's not you.' I just thought it showed a great emotional awareness, on his part.  He didn't have to do that, it was so generous of him to make sure that I wouldn't take it personally."
ZACK SNYDER: "I think everyone wants their movies to be successful but I think there's sort of what Chris has been able to generate with the movies that he has made, including the Batman movies I think, is original work that doesn't rely on the whims of pop culture but in  informs pop culture. Which I think is the real trick of any filmmakers not to be a slave to trends but to then create those trends. They look to you for their direction. The Batman movies came out of nowhere. That take, that tone, came out of nowhere. If I had told you it's going to be a super-serious Batman movie that treats Batman like this mythological figure that is completely based in reality. You'd be like, okay that sounds like I don't know if that's going to work." 
NICOLAS ROEG“His films have a magic to them. They’re like incidents in one’s life; some things happen swiftly and some things take a long time to reveal themselves. They're marvelously disguised. Memento has this backwards-running time scheme, and yet you automatically find yourself applying the situation to oneself, to one’s daily life, which is very strange. The slipperiness of time, especially when it involves memory, that feeling of 'it's all true... but it wasn't like that', he’s got that on film, somehow. It’s a very rare thing. People talk about 'commercial art' and the term is usually self-negating; Nolan works in the commercial arena and yet there's something very poetic about his work."
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: "Chris knew this was something different than he’d done before. It had all and more of the concept, scope and awe you may expect, yet it’s about family, father’s and daughters, genuine relatable challenges, with real humans rather than archetypes. Chris has always created an  original world on screen as well as the rules within that world, but I think this story if more personal to him, more intimate, more flesh and blood. ...I’ll never forget the days on the glacier in Iceland. Cold, sleet, snow, altitude, two helicopters, a vast desert of frozen earth and caverns, over a hundred crew members in action, the combined elements made for a tremendous affair that many people might have considered overwhelming and dire. Not Chris. Chris was in his element. He was on fire. His focus, his stamina, he was conquering something- I remember looking at him, he looked 20 years younger, his eyes were bluer, his hair blonder and standing taller, a Nordic soul emanating,  like his feet were slightly off the ground in a state of levitation. On this glacier, in the most extreme natural and technical conditions you could imagine, it was as if he was some transmigrant incarnate — like he’d been there before." 


From my Guardian profile of Christopher Nolan:—
'Dressed in his trademark blazer, his shirt collar skewed at the raffish angle of a schoolboy late for rugby practice, Nolan did not seem rattled. Rather, he exuded the unshakeable confidence in his own abilities that you might wish for in the pilot of a 747 you’ve just boarded – an equanimity that stands him in great stead with the studio heads he must convince to green-light his movies. “He comes in, he talks about blowing your mind,” Grey told me, “then he very calmly accomplishes it.” Anne Hathaway, who plays a NASA scientist in Interstellar, remembered struggling with an important speech about the power of love, and finding herself in “an emotionally-frayed place that was making the whole thing feel, quite frankly, a little ‘actor-y,’ quote, unquote,” she said. Nolan came up to her and suggested it would be much more effective if she spoke with “calm certainty” – “as if you were saying something you had known your entire life.”  
It’s how Nolan talks about a lot of things: with the calm certainty of things he has known his entire life. Taking his seat at the front of one of the viewing suites at the photo lab, dark but for the glow of the computers manned by the digital colourists behind him, he munched on peanuts, quietly issuing comments as two sets of images were projected on the screen in front of him. On the left was the film’s IMAX 70mm print – the format it was shot in – and on the right, the digital print in which it will be screened in the majority of cinemas. The projections were flipped to appear as mirror images of one another, so any slight mismatches in luminescence could be detected and eliminated. 
 “As if this film weren’t trippy enough,” one of the colourists quipped. 
 “That's how they advertised the original 2001,” Nolan said, “The Ultimate Trip.” The images, showing Matthew McConaughey approaching the event horizon of a black hole, are no less stunning than Kubrick’s, with something of the blurred beauty of a Gerhard Richter painting. The black hole itself was generated using calculations from theoretical physicist Kip Throne, whose work inspired the movie, and fed into software developed by Nolan’s effects team using computing power so vast – each frame of film took around 100 hours of machine time – that Thorne, watching the footage for the first time, had new insights into the way light behaves near the event horizon of a black hole, which he plans to explore in a series of papers for the Committee of Theoretical Physicists. 
  “Is that a flare?" Nolan asked as another sequence came up, this one showing Hathaway on an alien planet at sunset, a halo of light briefly visible at her shoulder. 
 “We can take that out,” offered Walter Volpatto, the digital colourist who was overseeing the work. 
 “It’s in-camera,” Nolan declared. “Put your can of bleach away. Can you go back to the hospital scene and do a split screen for the whole sequence. To my eyes it all looks a point brighter." 
 Volpatto called up the images, showing McConaughey again, this time entering a hospital room. “It’s pretty good, I think,” he said. 
 “That's always what we strive for in the movie business – pretty good,” Nolan said sarcastically, squinting at the two sets of images. “We lowered it [the brightness] a whole point the other day, so something is drifting. We’re repeating ourselves.” 
 “I put them in,” Volpatto reassured him, referring to the changes. “In my experience, a flipped screen will always reveal new differences. Your eye adjusts. You clear away the moss and then you start to see a whole new level.” 
The implication seemed to be that we were caught in the visual equivalent of Zeno’s paradox: clearing away blemishes only to reveal still more, and so forever on, until such time as you made peace with imperfection. “In my experience,” Nolan replied, motioning toward the bank of computers that separated his production team from the digital colorists, “people behind this line are full of shit.” 
 “This is why I prefer film to digital,” Nolan said, turning to me. “It’s a physical object that you create, that you agree upon. The print that I have approved when I take it from here to New York and I put it on a different projector in New York, if it looks too blue, I know the projector has a problem with its mirror or its ball or whatever. Those kind of controls aren't really possible in the digital realm.”  
“I have no reason to lie to you,” Volpatto said, sounding a little miserable. 
 To the untrained eye there seemed to be no difference between the two images. The atmosphere in the suite rather resembled the air of mistrust that envelops some of Nolan’s films, epistemological thrillers in which protagonists gripped by the desire, above all, to know, must negotiate mazy environments in which certainty is almost impossible. “How can you not know?” the magician played by Hugh Jackman in The Prestige demands of his rival, after a magic trick has left his wife dead. But this could be the cry of any of Nolan’s heroes –  driven by an demand for absolute certainty in worlds where certainty is impossible: Guy Pearce’s amnesia victim in Memento, struggling to remember the clues that will lead him to his wife’s killer, or Leonardo Di Caprio’s dream thief in Inception, attempting to disentangle five levels of dream from reality. Nolan, too, has something of the same mixture of obsessiveness and scepticism, his handsome features always appearing slightly scrunched, as if by some internal calculus that nags at him until it is resolved. 
 “You know, when you left yesterday, I felt like I had maybe been a little rude to Walter,” he told me the next day. “I haven't worked with him before. He doesn't know my sense of humour yet. He was trying to please me and I was like, yeah, you're lying to me. That is my sense of humour. But I went in this morning to finish up, and he said to me, ‘Oh, I looked at the projector, and it was brighter.’ When he analysed it in terms of light output – because he is a very sharp man, Walter – it was exactly one point.” 
 In other words, Nolan was right.'