15 Great Scorsese Quotes on Storytelling

Scorsese and Storytelling

Martin Scorsese needs little introduction. The visionary director behind a lengthy list of iconic films from Taxi Driver to Raging BullGoodfellasand through to The Wolf of Wall Street has inspired generations of movie-goers and filmmakersIn addition, Scorsese is a prominent film historian. He founded a nonprofit dedicated to film preservation, started the World Cinema Foundation, and has given a variety of interviews and lectures about the importance of cinema. Here are 15 of his most memorable quotes about the art and business of storytelling…



1) “I guess I’m still cowed a little by the tyranny of art with a capital A. And there has always been the tyranny of the word over the image: anything that’s written has got to be better. Most people feel it’s more genuine if you express yourself in words than pictures. And I think that’s a problem in our society.”

2) “The question of commercialism is a source of worry. Must one make a choice, must it be a matter of either setting your sights on winning an Academy Award and becoming a millionaire, or making only the movies you want to make and starving to death?”

3) “I prefer the escapism of fantasy, rather than the escapism of incredible sentimentality. What I’m afraid of is pandering to tastes that are superficial. There’s no depth anymore. What appears to be depth is often a facile character study… But they’re making a product, and a product’s gotta sell.”

Martin Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street

4)  “I’m fascinated by the idea of people in history… Just because the society around them and the world around them is very different, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t have the same feelings and desires, the same goals and the same things that haunt us in modern society. And in going into the past, maybe we can learn something about ourselves.”

5) “You want to get films made that express what you have to say. You try to do that, but it’s a very delicate balance.”

6) “It’s like an act of faith, or an act of worship. I get angry but I have to think, What are you doing? This is what you’re made for… You have to do this– that’s all you do…. it’s work equaling prayer.”

7) “Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.”


8) “I think this need to recreate movement is a mystical urge. It’s an attempt to capture the mystery of who and what we are, and then to contemplate that mystery.”

9)  “The image in the mind’s eye. For me it’s where the obsession began. It’s what keeps me going, it never fails to excite me. Because you take one shot, you put it together with another shot, and you experience a third image in your mind’s eye that doesn’t really exist in those two other images.”

10) “Young people need to understand that not all images are there to be consumed like fast food and then forgotten – we need to educate them to understand the difference between moving images that engage their humanity and their intelligence, and moving images that are just selling them something.”

11) “As in the case of many great films, maybe all of them, we don’t keep going back for the plot. Vertigo is a matter of mood as much as it’s a matter of storytelling – the special mood of San Francisco where the past is eerily alive and around you at all times… And, as the film critic B. Kite wrote, you haven’t really seen Vertigo until you’ve seen it again.”

12) “We can’t afford to let ourselves be guided by cultural standards – particularly now. There was a time when the average person wasn’t even aware of box office grosses. But since the 1980s, it’s become a kind of sport – and really, a form of judgment. It culturally trivializes film.”

13) “Most creation myths start with darkness, and then the real beginning comes with light – which means the creation of forms. Which leads to distinguishing one thing from another, and ourselves from the rest of the world.”

14) “We have to remember: we may think we know what’s going to last and what isn’t. We may feel absolutely sure of ourselves, but we really don’t know, we can’t know.”

15) “We need to remember that there are other values beyond the financial, and that our American artistic heritage has to be preserved and shared by all of us. Just as we’ve learned to take pride in our poets and writers, in jazz and the blues, we need to take pride in our cinema, our great American art form.”

Image via Film4. Quotes from Martin Scorsese: Interviews by Martin Scorsese and Peter Brunett, as well as Scorsese’s lecture at the National Endowment for the Humanities, entitled “Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema.”

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