It’s a masterpiece
Martin Scorsese's filmmaking idol sends some glowing feedback
It was in 1975 that Martin Scorsese finally met his idol, Michael Powell, and embarked upon a fifteen year friendship that would see Powell—one half of The Archers and the renowned British filmmaker behind such movies as The Red Shoes and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp—repeatedly offering invaluable advice and feedback to the American director. A perfect example: in 1988, after reading a new script of Scorsese’s titled Wise Guys, Powell sent his friend the following enthusiastic letter and declared it “one of the best constructed scripts [he had] ever read.”
Wise Guys eventually became Goodfellas. Sadly, Powell died in February of 1990, just months before its theatrical release.
November 14, 1988
Re: the script of Wise Guys
It is one of the best constructed scripts that I have ever read. At the same time it is not academic, it is not a script just on paper. It is very much alive.
The first question I would ask you, is what is the tone of the director? It is a take-it-or-leave-it tone? It is a dispassionate tone? Is it meant to be the wiseguy’s thoughts - or meditations - or memories? And, in the final hiding place, is he resigned to his completely anonymous existence, or does he expect that they will catch up with him some day?
I think that the narration is brilliantly handled on the page, and the tone of the narration will be equally important. How have you managed to sustain the action and narration side by side for the whole length of the script? It’s a masterpiece. I can only compare it with the script of The African Queen, or Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity.
Yes, it is a little long, and the pause, or the length, seems to come about the 100 minute mark. By the way, the women, when they arrive, are very good, but I would love to see one of the women in the early part of the film as a young girl, or even a little girl. I mean a new character - either his sister, or a ten-year-old girl. Some of the best scripting is in the first twenty pages. How are you going to handle the youngster? There are not many actors who can play from ten years old to thirty years old.
Dear Marty, it is a stunning script, and will make a wonderful film, and a priceless social document.
This letter can be found in the excellent book, Scorsese on Scorsese, edited by David Thompson & Ian Christie. First published by Faber & Faber in 1989. Huge thanks to Daniel Farrell.