My friend Brian Koppelman has a piece up at Grantland as part of its "Oscar Travesties" mini-series, called "The Boning of Goodfellas." It treats, of course, what a sham of a mockery of a sham it was that Kevin Costner's more do-gooderish Dances With Wolves swept the Oscars for 1990. While I feel Brian's pain, I can't share his indignation, for a number of reasons. But reading his feisty, funny, and for all that entirely evenhanded piece, I couldn't help recall the very first time I met Martin Scorsese, which was in late 1989, when he was in the very final stages of editing what was then called Good Fellas.
At the time I was an editor at Video Review magazine, self-advertised on its covers as "The World Authority On Home Entertainment." The book was about to celebrate its tenth anniversary, and I, having worked my way up from editing the magazine's very tech-wonky equipment test reports (I swear I've forgotten more about this technology than most people have ever known), was one of several staffers deputized to fetch prognosticating soundbites and in some cases full essays from luminaries literary, cinematic, and otherwise. (J.G. Ballard: "I look forward to the day when specialty video producers—the equivalent of Sun Records and the like in the music business 20, 30 years ago, and the equivalent of small publishers in the book trade—really can begin to reach out to the public." Paula Abdul: "The big movie musical will return to prominence in this decade, as recording artists take the video music concept one step further.") I had already fielded essays by Paul Slansky and Dave Barry and of course the idea of approaching Martin Scorsese to do one was a no-brainer. I contacted his office and laid out our idea and terms (which were pretty good) and got a guardedly enthusiastic response from Scorsese's then-assistant. Two issues were of concern: Scorsese's schedule, which was tied up in finishing his latest film, and Scorsese's comfort level with respect to sitting down and writing something. Not a problem: I could come up to Scorsese's office with a legal pad and a tape recorder and go over the topics we wanted to cover, I'd draft an essay out of it, he'd dictate changes where necessary, then approve, and there we were. Deal, Scorsese's assistant said.
It was right before the Christmas holiday when I went up to Scorsese's office, which was then in the Brill Building. The man immediately struck me as, sure, intense, but also warm, friendly, considerate. Not at all intimidating. We talked about the work in progress, and he invoked the old television series The Untouchables, in terms of both the pace and the brutality. The last thing on his mind was Oscars; there was a sense, almost palpable, of his delight that he was trying something really new for him, and also a slight sense of trepidation, as in "what are they gonna make of this?" And of course the work was consuming. "I ran into Paul Schrader in the hall the other day, he's finishing his movie. I said to him, 'It figures I see you here, we're the only two guys who are gonna work through Christmas'," Scorsese said, laughing the slightly nervous laugh he had back then.
We settled in to his private office and got started. He mostly stood and paced, and sometimes took a hit off of his inhaler—his asthma was acting up a little—and I'd just suggest a specific topic and off he would go. It did not take all that much more than an hour, and when we were through, I asked him to sign my copy of the then-new interview book Scorsese on Scorsese, published by Faber. I'm sitting here looking at it now; he inscribed it "To Glenn Kenny/Thanks & appreciation/Martin Scorsese/1989."
The piece came out well, I think. I was more interested in preserving Scorsese's voice than in making it work as an essay, and it shows, but I don't think that's necessarily bad. In subsequent years I would commission and edit other essays by him for Premiere, including his double obit for James Stewart and Robert Mitchum called "The Men Who Knew Too Much;" by this time, his comfort level with respect to prose writing had increased, so our interaction was a more simple matter of request and acknowledgement.
In any case, the piece called "The Second Screen" has always held a special place for me, and even though it is now an extremely anachronistic look at the technology that has, indeed, transformed cinema and cinephilia, I think it still bears reading. So, without permission, I've inputted it into document form from my old and increasingly raggedy copy of the April 1990 edition of Video Review magazine, and am reproducing it here below the jump. Enjoy.