He might have 26 feature films to his name, but the list of movies Martin Scorsese nearly directed is far longer. We’re taking a dive into the films he hasn’t gotten round to making (yet)…
Martin Scorsese is a busy man. If you hadn’t heard, he’s got a film out this weekend, so that’s to be expected. But beyond Killers Of The Flower Moon, the director is hardly resting on his laurels.
In an interview with Sight and Sound magazine, he listed all the projects he’s currently noodling away on: adaptations of Marilynne Robinson novels Home and Jack; a Roosevelt biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio; something, he promised after meeting with the Pope last year, about Jesus.
According to the Times, he’s actually settled on another David Grann (author of the Killers Of The Flower Moon book) adaptation, The Wager, once again teaming up with his old pal Leo to tell the story of an 18th century mutiny. The rest of these pitches, for now, join a not-so elite club: the films Martin Scorsese nearly, but never quite, got around to making.
From sci-fi epics to a series of saintly documentaries, the director’s almost-oeuvre is even more wide-ranging than his actual scope of releases, and starts from before his first film, Who’s That Knocking At My Door, got off the ground. Instead of an Italian-American tale of Catholic guilt and sexual politics, we could have had a version of the gospel set in modern Manhattan’s Lower East Side, including a crucifixion on the West Side docks.
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The untitled gospel movie was only the first of Scorsese’s near-misses with the church. Who’s That Knocking and Mean Streets were originally conceived as films two and three in a ‘Catholic guilt’ trilogy of sorts. The first film, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, would have been set in and around a Seminary retreat.
Though his Catholic roots are never far from the surface throughout much of his filmography, few are quite as overt as the series of TV documentaries on the lives of different saints he almost made after Raging Bull. At that point, he was recovering from a serious cocaine addiction: “I literally thought it [Raging Bull] would be my last film”, Scorsese said while promoting Silence in 2017. The plan was to move to Rome, to reconnect with his strongly religious past (he originally trained to be a priest after graduating high school before pursuing moviemaking).
Instead, Raging Bull turned out to be a form of rebirth for the troubled filmmaker. Though he returned to the topic of religion with 1988’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, 1997’s Kundun and 2017’s Silence, the rest of his filmography, would-be or otherwise, took on a far more varied tone.
In the 1980s alone, he passed on Little Shop Of Horrors, Beverly Hills Cop and Schindler’s List. Later, he filmed half of a documentary on Bill Clinton, and was the first-choice director of this year’s Leonard Bernstein biopic – Maestro.
Though best-known for his feature films, the Bernstein biopic would have proved an interesting merging of two worlds for Scorsese. After directing concert films The Last Waltz and Shine A Light, and the music documentaries No Direction Home and George Harrison: Living In The Material World, the director’s love of music is a topic that hasn’t often found its way into the subject of his theatrical work.
A 1984 Paul Schrader script for a George Gershwin biopic could have changed that. So could a 1992 Dean Martin biopic called Dino, or a film based on Lou Reed’s song Dirty Blvrd. In fact, Scorsese seems to have been attached to a frankly staggering number of biopics, musical and otherwise, throughout his career.
So far unseen, too, is the Scorsese sci-fi film (he approached Philip K Dick to adapt Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep in 1969 – some upstart called Ridley Scott made Blade Runner instead).
But, buried deep within these projects is a trail that leads, ultimately, to some of the finest films he did make. Silence, which we’ve mentioned a lot here, was apparently hovering somewhere in Scorsese’s head for over 25 years. And though he never crossed the finish line on Marlon Brando’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, the preparation he put into it proved pretty handy working on this year’s Killers Of The Flower Moon.
Maybe, then, some of these films will materialise one day after all. We’ve got our fingers crossed for the ‘Jesus in New York’ film ourselves.
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