Martin Scorsese on lockdown: 'Time takes on another aspect'

New York director delivers short film from quarantine

Martin Scorsese's self-shot video includes a peek at his bookshelves. BBC

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You can’t keep a good man locked down. That’s the takeaway from Martin Scorsese’s new short film, a five-minute video shot by the director from his New York home.

Scorsese submitted the film to the BBC’s Lockdown Culture with Mary Beard, which has previously featured Margaret Atwood, Helen Mirren and other celebrities in its COVID-19-themed arts coverage.

It opens with a clip of Henry Fonda in jail in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, the camera panning away from the screen to Scorsese raising the blinds, as though he’s in the same cell. It ends on another jailhouse clip of Burt Lancaster in The Killers.

In the minutes between these artistic bookends, the 77-year-old discusses the range of emotions he’s felt since lockdown began March 13. “At first there was a day or so of a kind of relief. I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything,” he says.

“But then the anxiety set it.” Now we’re back in the cell with Fonda, the camera cutting away to items on Scorsese’s bookshelves – family photos and artwork, a Swiss army knife, DVDs of Leave Her to Heaven and Sunrise.

One can’t depend on time. One doesn’t know.

It’s the kind of peek-inside that film fans love, but ultimately what’s most moving is Scorsese’s rumination on the nature of time. “Time takes on another aspect,” he says. “Whereas before I thought, well you’re doing nothing … no, you’re existing.”

He’s optimistic that production will begin again on his next movie, Killers of the Flower Moon, about the murder of members of the Osage First Nations in 1920s Oklahoma. Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro will star. Rights to the film were recently bought by Apple TV, in partnership with Paramount.

But again, he’s not really talking shop. “What I look forward to in the future is to carry with me what I’ve been forced to learn under these circumstances, which is the essential. The people you love, to be able to take care of them and be with them as much as you can.”

He recalls the last time he saw Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian filmmaker who died in 2016. “He looked at me and says, don’t do anything you don’t want to do. He knew. He understood. One can’t depend on time. One doesn’t know. So ultimately that time has to be worth it, even if it’s just exiting. Even if it’s just being alive.”