Martin Scorsese’s Lockdown Diary: An auteur’s-eye view of house arrest

The director’s New York dispatch is an affecting treat and an honest reflection on ageing

Martin Scorsese’s Zoom call to the world is marvellous. If you haven’t seen it yet, he made it for Mary Beard’s BBC Lockdown Culture series. (It’s on iPlayer until June 26th, but you can also find it on YouTube and Twitter.) It’s a personal short film shot on his smartphone – sometimes artlessly in portrait mode, sometimes giving it a clockwise quarter-turn for the more professional landscape format. (He does seem to be holding the phone himself.)

It is a brief, intense, ruminative snapshot about his life in his New York apartment during coronavirus lockdown. We see Scorsese brooding on his house arrest. At some moments his face looks very glum, as if perennially struck afresh with the novelty of what is happening, the fact that no end is in sight, and the impossibility of coming to terms with it until it is. Occasionally his face will be lit up with a smile that makes him look decades younger. We get tantalising glimpses of bookshelves, family photos and what is conceivably an east Asian carved figure. (Something from his movie Kundun, perhaps? Or maybe Silence?)

And of course Scorsese gives us a couple of movie clips: Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, which allows us to reflect on the nature of wrongful imprisonment – Scorsese playfully lets the background music from this continue under what he is saying – and Siodmak’s The Killers, which shows us Burt Lancaster and the other prisoners looking out through the bars and gazing at the stars, which one of them has been learning about with a book from the prison library. Has their lockdown has given them an insight into the universe? (It’s impossible to watch this without remembering some of Scorsese’s own great prison scenes: Jake LaMotta pounding the walls of his cell in Raging Bull, Paulie savouring his cuisine in GoodFellas, the ageing Russell playing bowls in The Irishman. Scorsese looks more thoughtful than any of them.)

And, of course, being over 70, Scorsese is shielding. He is vulnerable. For me the impact of this little film is that it really brings that fact home to me for the first time. I think of him as a dynamic force in the movies, which of course he is. But he is also a human being, and I love his honesty and insight about the fact that when lockdown first hit he was just relieved. He could step off the treadmill for a little, simply take a break from the demanding schedule.

But now that novelty is wearing off. You can see Scorsese straining to get back to work, you can a hint of that mega-espresso livewire jittery energy starting to kick back in. But it's coexisting with what looks like a new reflection on mortality. Scorsese ponders his final meeting with the late Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami, and what Kiarostami told him about the unreliability of time. There's never enough of it. Even when you're on your own, and it seems like time is all you have. – Guardian

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