10 Things I Learned: Scorsese Shorts

10 Things I Learned: <em>Scorsese Shorts</em>


In 1996, Martin Scorsese’s mother, Catherine—who costars in his 1974 documentary portrait Italianamerican, one of the five early films by the director collected in our new release—collaborated with author Georgia Downard on Italianamerican: The Scorsese Family Cookbook. Among the family recipes and stories in the long-out-of-print book are instructions for how to make Mrs. Scorsese’s signature sauce and meatballs, a dish prominently featured in the documentary. (This recipe also appears in the credits of the film.)


Italianamerican was commissioned by Saul Rubin and Elaine Attias as part of an educational series about the American immigrant experience called A Storm of Strangers. The program, which also included stories about Chinese Americans and Irish Americans (the latter entry featuring the actor Edmond O’Brien), aired on PBS in the 1970s.


Even long before he started making films, Scorsese was busy dreaming them up. Above are storyboards he drew for a film he called The Eternal City, a 75 mm CinemaScope epic he imagined when he was eleven years old.


The earliest film included in Scorsese Shorts, What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963)—made by the director while he was still an undergrad at New York University’s Washington Square College—was partly filmed in Queens at the location of the 1964 World’s Fair.


The score for It’s Not Just You, Murray! (1964) was recorded by the band from John W. Dodd Junior High School in Freeport, Long Island. Josh and Benny Safdie point out what a genius idea this was in one of the disc’s supplements, which features them in conversation with fellow filmmaker Ari Aster.

Josh and Benny Safdie
It’s Not Just You, Murray!


In the early seventies, while he was teaching at NYU, Scorsese programmed the series Movies in the Park, a showcase for young filmmakers in New York City. You can hear him talking about the series in a 1971 WNYC radio interview with Doris Friedman on our release.


Scorsese considered Italianamerican to be a companion piece to his breakthrough feature, 1973’s Mean Streets. For him, both films have “to do a lot with the incredible storytelling that [my parents] have, but also a love that was there.” While preparing for Mean Streets, Scorsese and his cowriter, Mardik Martin, interviewed his parents in their home. According to the director, “it was as if suddenly the cameras disappeared. And this is where everything took place anyway—at the dinner table. There was no dining room, there was the kitchen table, right? It was very integral to my life. Everything . . . goes on around the table, and so we just reproduced that.”


One of the most famous scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction—in which an adrenaline shot is used to revive Uma Thurman’s character from an overdose—was inspired by a story that Steven Prince recounts in Scorsese’s 1978 documentary American Boy. (Prince—a friend of Scorsese’s at the time who had also appeared in 1976’s Taxi Driver in a small but memorable gun-salesman role—does not say whether the shot worked in real life.)


In 2009, filmmaker Tommy Pallotta and producer Richard Linklater tracked Prince down in Austin, Texas. In American Prince, the short documentary that resulted, Prince discusses his experiences of working on American Boy and shares other outrageous stories from his life.


The secret to that famous meatball recipe of Catherine Scorsese’s is to “take a few spoonfuls of tomato and throw them in here, because your meatballs remain very soft. Not like some of the meatballs you eat sometimes.”

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