The book really is exhaustive – it covers Scorsese’s life’s work, right through from the short films he made while he was a student in the 1960s, right up to and including Shutter Island. If you’re a Scorsese fan yourself, and you haven’t seen all of his films on your bucket list yet, then Beware the Spoilers.
Wernblad writes engagingly and knowledgeably about her subject and finds recurrent themes in each of Scorsese’s films that she uses to argue for seeing his work as a unified whole. Along the way, she even tries to rehabilitate the notorious flop New York, New York and even minor works, like the little-remembered Life Lessons, are given the full academic treatment and reassessed as Major Works of Art. Each chapter can be read as a stand-alone essay, which is a bonus for film and theatre students who want to use this as a reference guide and even casual Scorsese fans will find enough here to enrich their experiences of the big hitters like The Aviator and Taxi Driver. Films are discussed thematically, rather than chronologically, which helps to strengthen Wernblad’s central proposition.
However, at times Wernblad’s enthusiasm for her subject prevents her from fully engaging with the less than favourable assessments of Scorsese’s work. For example, while she acknowledges the disquiet about the elements of racism and misogyny in Taxi Driver, Wernblad swiftly moves on to a spirited and persuasive counter-argument without fully developing the arguments against. This is her prerogative, of course, but after a while the unrelenting message that Scorsese can do (almost) no wrong begins to wear and the lack of objectivity hurts her cause. Even The Departed, which Wernblad feels is ‘an extremely flawed work’, is discussed in glowing terms. She spends her two introductory paragraphs expressing disappointment that it is ‘ironic’ Scorsese got his longed-for Oscar for this (and here I paraphrase) ‘inconsistent, illogical, pot-boiler’ but then goes on to discuss its many merits.
This is not a balanced appraisal of Scorsese’s work, but Wernblad makes no apologies for that. If you’re already a member of Team Scorsese this is the only book on the man’s work you’ll ever need. But if you’re undecided, then don’t accept The Passion as the Gospel.