martin scorsese david bowie

With the long-brewing, long-awaited Silence finally arriving, 2016 will be a big year for Martin Scorsese. And with the specter of a new film from our personal favorite hanging in the air, we should take time to explore a slightly fresh perspective on his amazing career: the juxtaposition of neo-realism and postmodernism.

If you can look past the, let’s say, overly emphatic voiceover, there’s something to be gleaned from this video’s proper use of visual examples — precisely what’s needed for an explication of juxtaposition and why any of that matters in the first place. If something can get you to think about Goodfellas and Raging Bull in any new ways, a bit of commendation is in order.

Giving this video an unfortunate significance is the passing of David Bowie, a collaborator — and, sadly, only one-time collaborator — of Scorsese. As much as people forget his role, the musician-actor made a rather remarkable, single-scene appearance in The Last Temptation of Christ as Pontius Pilate, the sort of surprise turn emblematic of this film’s strategy for enhancing our identification with long-dead, distant figures.

This placement, like much of Bowie’s film work, is rooted in a familiarity, even comfort — itself shining proof that whatever energy he generated by constantly “performing” could negate limitations that might come from being only an “occasional” actor, to say nothing of being one with an instantly recognizable / iconic presence. Even if onscreen for just a bit, he helped some of our greatest filmmakers (e.g. David Lynch, Nagisa Oshima, Nicolas Roeg) create some of their finest scenes. I do think about this one a lot in particular: the weight of his outside associations, the softness of his voice, the uncertain look (compassion? bafflement? both?) in his face, and the inevitability in the conversation with Willem Dafoe‘s Christ. And so this bit as Pontius Pilate also resembles many of Bowie’s big-screen turns for being perfect.

Said Scorsese to EW:

“It’s a shock to think that David Bowie is gone. He was one of those extraordinary artists that come along so rarely. There’s a song on his album Low called ‘Speed of Life,’ and that’s the speed at which he seemed to move — his music and his image and his focus were always changing, always in motion, and with every movement, every change, he left a deep imprint on the culture.

I was a little taken aback when I met Bowie: he was such a quiet and concentrated and thoughtful man, and he was truly humble. We had the chance to work together on The Last Temptation of Christ, in which he appeared as Pontius Pilate, and for me it was sheer joy. He was a great artist and he left behind a remarkable body of work.”

Below, have a look at the video and the scene in question:

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