Golden Globes: I love awards-show montages, and last night's Martin Scorsese tribute was one of the best

The greatest-hits-of-Hollywood movie montages that have long been a staple of awards shows tend to get a bad rap these days. They’re blamed, with some justification, for stretching Academy Awards night into the weary wee hours, and yes, they’re sometimes hung on pretty thin concepts (like “Celebrity” — a real Oscar low point). But I confess that I can never get enough of them. These memory-lane mini-reels may be little more than flashcard redundancies in the perpetual nostalgia culture of YouTube and VH1, yet when they’re well produced, they’re candy for movie buffs. And it’s worth noting that they were once actually offered up as prestige epiphanies. In 1972, it was showcased as a Really Big Deal that the honorary tribute reel to Charlie Chaplin at the 44th Academy Awards ceremony — a nearly poetic evocation of Chaplin’s genius — was assembled and edited by Peter Bogdanovich, then one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. Last night’s Martin Scorsese tribute at the Golden Globes achieved that same level of instant cinematic bliss-out. More than just mesmerizing to watch, it was executed with a thrilling love and understanding of Scorsese’s films — the sort of montage that made you think, half a dozen times in the space of four minutes, “Oh, man, I’ve got to see that movie again right now!”

The montage, which was edited by film-journalist-turned-trailer-cutter Stephen Garrett and his editing partner, Christy Wilson, hooked you with an image of Harvey Keitel’s Charlie from Mean Streets (Scorsese’s signature protagonist, and still his greatest film), standing at a bar bathed in blood-red light. The music was pure Scorsese, too, only this was the Middle Eastern snake-charmer wail of Peter Gabriel’s great score for The Last Temptation of Christ. Accompanied by that music, the images that followed — De Niro’s Jake LaMotta panting in the ring in Raging Bull, the shut-in Howard Hughes watching a movie unspool at home (just like Marty himself?) in The Aviator, Willem Dafoe wearing his crown of thorns in Last Temptation — expressed, with graphic power, the darkness and daring and madness and redemption-seeking passion that unites Scorsese’s heroes. And the startling juxtaposition of music and image mirrored the director’s own operatic rock & roll mash-ups.

The montage caught other Scorsese flavors as well, like his king-size comedy of mayhem. A moment of Sandra Bernhard, shrieking “Wouldn’t you love to see me out of my head?” at Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy, kicked off “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (first used by the director in Mean Streets), which became the soundtrack for all those fabled Scorsese moments when violence, even of the most sociopathic kind, is a ticket to audience exhilaration. (I especially liked a near-subliminal shot of De Niro’s Johnny Boy blowing up a mailbox wedged in between a LaMotta knockout punch and Lorraine Bracco turning a gun on Ray Liotta in GoodFellas.) The romantic refrain of Clapton’s “Layla” then became the stirring backdrop for images of spiritual struggle — including, audaciously, the great, from-the-back shot of Dafoe’s Christ being raised on the Cross, and Rupert Pupkin, in his echo chamber, speaking to a wall-size black-and-white photograph of a studio audience.

The beauty of this whole sequence is that it caught the rage for freedom in Scorsese’s heroes, the whole reckless and desperately violent yet fundamentally religious bravura of men (and women) who want, more than anything, to go out of their heads. There may be an element of glib corniness built into these juxtapositions, but I still loved the way that the montage revealed, and connected, the mostly unconscious drive to martyrdom that unites Scorsese’s saints, sinners, and (holy) fools. I do wish that the whole thing hadn’t ended with an overly extended advertisement for Shutter Island, the director’s upcoming mental-asylum thriller. But hey, it’s the Golden Globes — if it wasn’t a little shameless, it wouldn’t belong in Hollywood’s most famously cheesy awards bash.

In case you missed it (or even if you didn’t), here’s the entire sequence:

So what did you think of the Golden Globes’ Marty montage? And, if you have one, what’s your favorite awards-show clip reel from the past? Or do you think it’s about time that these packages were retired?

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  • Robsy

    Couldn’t agree more! It was so amazing, beautifully scored, I was nearly weeping during Layla. Scorsese is such an artist…

    • Celia

      I know it highlighted his genius, perfectly. I love Martin Scorsese movies. He’s brilliant. I didn’t even know he had directed some of the movies that were in the montage.

    • David O.

      My 2nd favorite director (after Spielberg) of all times. Very moving speech.

      • Celia

        He’s definitely a favorite of mine too. There’s a certain feeling I get from his movies that I just don’t experience with other directors. I can’t describe it, but I love it. His movies don’t need crazy special effects and extreme action to be great. They’re built around the talent of the filmmakers and actors and he just places so much dedication and focus on telling the story. He’s amazing.

  • Aaron

    There’s no bigger Scorsese fan than me, and I loved this montage. And watching these clips in HD made me realize that I need a Blu-Ray player, now.

  • craig

    one of the best ever!

  • Aaron

    Also, I’m as excited for Shutter Island as someone can possibly be. One of my favorite books combined with my fav director will be amazing.

  • V

    Couldn’t agree with you more! The only thing that would have made this montage better were if it had been edited by Thelma Schoonmaker. When these montages are well done, they highlight what movies are all about. They should throw you back in time, make you nostalgic and eager to load up your Netflix queue. “I love that movie!” “I forgot they worked together!” “I love that song!” Without fail, when I hear that first note from “Layla,” I sort of swoon, and a little GoodFellas sequence plays in my head. Awards shows just need to use the montages more judiciously. They shouldn’t be fillers for already bloated shows.

    • JR

      I’m so with you, especially on Layla. Though I’ve loved the song for decades, ever since Goodfellas, I think of it as “Dead Mobster Music.” As soon as the piano kicks in, I no longer hear Clapton’s eloquent ode to doomed love, but only see the pan of the dead bodies post-Idylwild.

      • Bridgette

        I couldn’t agree with you more, I hear the rolling stones and a scorsese moment isn’t too far behind.

    • Celia

      I know I added like 10 Scorsese films to my netflix queue after I saw this montage.

  • moonshake

    AFTER HOURS one of my fave films of all time. not enough footage from that one in the montage. First saw KING OF COMEDY back in the 80s in a University ‘Media in Society’ course and absolutely hated it. Now not so much but still don’t love it.

  • AK

    That montage was amazing! And then the last thirty seconds hit. The preview for “Shutter Island” was stuck on there so awkwardly. What were they thinking?

  • DT

    I personally did not mind the SHUTTER ISLAND clips at the end. They just got me more jazzed for the movie than I already was, and everything before them was unadulterated awesomeness. Scorsese will forever be the f***ing man.

  • David D

    I’m an editor myself, and I usually watch these montages with exasperation and embarrassment. The clips rarely flow together and often seem to be Cuisinarted without rhyme or reason. You’re absolutely right, Owen, this was the exception. Just beautifully done. EXCEPT — where was “New York, New York?” Not only were there no clips, but it was missing from the string of opening title cards! Was there some legal reason for it to be gone? All the stranger, since it was the song from the movie that brought Scorsese to the stage.

    • kim in kentucky

      I thought the same thing! Also – no Boxcar Bertha (esp since David Carridine died this past year)

    • Nicole

      I was thinking the same think about New York, New York. Maybe the editor didn’t like it. I know a lot of people who think it’s a disaster. But I like it.

  • keith

    I agree. It inspried awe. What a fantastic body of work!

  • DVaRmy

    I loved the montage and it gave me chills. I have always like montages, but sometimes I wish they would be labeled, or listed somewhere I could find out the movies used, especially some of the Academy Awards montages have great bits, but I have no idea what movie it was.

  • Anthony

    There was a montage during the 2000 Academy Awards that showed film’s take on history from the beginning of time. (I hope that makes sense. I really can’t figure out how to word the sentence.) It was introduced by Morgan Freeman. I watch this montage all the time.

    • Celia

      I know what you mean, but I haven’t seen it before. That sounds awesome. Is it on youtube??

  • Hal

    Hey David D,

    What other montages have you seen that you liked? Surely, they can’t ALL be bad…

    • David D

      Well, on the Oscar show that Quincy Jones produced, there was an incredible montage that was accompanied live onstage by the cast of “Stomp.” It had a point to the rhythm of the cutting, as opposed to so many of them that just want to put in as many clips as possible. I personally love clip montages that find links between cuts, or that deliberately direct your eye from one part of the frame to the crucial section of the following clip. I thought this Scorsese montage did an unusually good job at this.

  • jim

    Three years ago, when they gave Robert Altman finally got his Oscar. His reel was pretty good. The Coen Brothers reel will be good too.

  • jim

    Three years ago Robert Altman finally won his Oscar. That reel was pretty good. The Coen Brothers reel should be good as well.

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