Scorsese: Look In My Eyes

Look at me looking. That could well be Martin Scorsese’s motto, or serve as a concise summary of his stylistic modus operandi. His in-your-face visual style steers the audience’s gaze and commands their eyes.


No wonder then that extreme close-ups of eyes feature heavily in all of his work, from his feature films to the commercials he directed. In most movies, such a close-up would signal an upcoming point of view shot, or serve to stimulate the identification of the viewer with the character. But in Scorsese’s filmic universe, these close-ups more often have a different function. They are his way of reminding the audience of their own act of viewing, of their status as spectator.

It’s an almost Brechtian device, reminding the viewer of the central conceit that is at the heart of the movie-going experience. A film is no first-hand experience but a heavily mediated one. Scorsese constantly reminds the viewers of their place in the pecking order: they are looking at Scorsese looking at a scene. And the director wastes no time in rubbing this under our noses: half a dozen of his movies start with a close-up of a character’s eyes (or have a comparable shot in the very first scene).


These on-screen stares are mirror images of the audience’s gaze at the screen. And their excessively close framing reminds the audience who is holding up that mirror…

This video essay includes clips from:


What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? [short film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. New York University Department of Television et al., USA, 1963. 9 mins.
It’s Not Just You, Murray! [short film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. New York University – Production Company, USA, 1964. 15 mins.
Who’s That Knocking at My Door [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Trimod Films, USA, 1967. 90 mins.
Boxcar Bertha [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. American International Pictures, USA, 1972. 88 mins.
Mean Streets [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Taplin – Perry – Scorsese Productions et al., USA, 1973. 112 mins.
Taxi Driver [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Columbia Pictures Corporation et al., USA, 1976. 113 mins.
New York, New York [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Chartoff-Winkler Productions, USA, 1977. 155 mins.
After Hours [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. The Geffen Company et al., USA, 1985. 97 mins.
‘Mirror, Mirror’, Amazing Stories [television program] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Amblin Entertainment et al., USA, 1986. 24 mins.
Emporio Armani [commercial] Dir. Martin Scorsese. N.k., n.k., 1986. 30 secs.
The Color of Money [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Touchstone Pictures et al., USA, 1986. 119 mins.
The Last Temptation of Christ [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Universal Pictures et al., USA et al., 1988. 164 mins.
Goodfellas [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Warner Bros., USA, 1990. 146 mins.
Cape Fear [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Cappa Films et al., USA, 1991. 128 mins.
The Age of Innocence [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Cappa Production et al., USA, 1993. 139 mins.
Casino [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. De Fina-Cappa et al., USA et al., 1995. 178 mins.
Kundun [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. De Fina-Cappa et al., USA, 1997. 134 mins.
Bringing Out the Dead [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Cappa Production et al., USA, 1999. 121 mins.
Gangs of New York [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Miramax et al., USA et al., 2002. 167 mins.
The Aviator [feature film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Appian Way et al., USA et al., 2004. 170 mins.


The music used is the hit song ‘Look In My Eyes’ by African-American girl group The Chantels. Scorsese used this song on the Goodfellas soundtrack.


‘Look In My Eyes’, Greatest Big Hits of 1961, Vol. 28 [music track, CD] Perf. The Chantels. Six Week Smile, USA, 2012. 2 mins 19 secs.


Additional illustrations are taken from:


Bleu de CHANEL – The Film [commercial] Dir. Martin Scorsese. N.k., n.k., 2010. 60 secs.
‘Pilot’, Vinyl [television program] Dir. Martin Scorsese. Home Box Office et al., USA, 2016. 113 mins.