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British Plan Naval Attack on Dardanelles

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 163rd installment in the series.

January 13, 1915: British Plan Naval Attack on Dardanelles 

Having first decided on its feasibility in November 1914, in January 1915 the British government began planning the ill-fated attack on the southern Turkish straits, known as the Dardanelles, which would eventually snowball into the Gallipoli campaign, one of the bloodiest engagements of the Great War. However the operation began as something very different – a naval attempt to “force” the Turkish straits by sending a powerful armada past Turkish forts and mine fields in the hopes of capturing Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire. 

As the war settled into stalemate on the Western Front, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill and other strategists were increasingly drawn to the idea of using sea power, Britain’s traditional area of strength, to produce a decisive strategic result in some other theater, specifically the Mediterranean or the Baltic, thus threatening the Central Powers’ flanks. Churchill summed up their thinking in a letter to Prime Minister Asquith on December 29: 

Are there not other alternatives than sending our armies to chew barbed wire in Flanders? Further, cannot the power of the Navy be brought more directly to bear upon the enemy? If it is impossible or unduly costly to pierce the German lines on existing fronts, ought we not, as new forces come to hand, to engage him on new frontiers, and enable the Russians to do so too? 

Although Churchill originally favored a move in the Baltic, in the end the Dardanelles plan won out for a number of reasons. Not only would an amphibious attack on the straits help burnish the Royal Navy’s reputation following a number of embarrassing defeats; it held out the possibility of changing the balance of forces – and maybe even ending the war – by knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the conflict. Reopening the Turkish straits would also allow the Western Allies to deliver much-need supplies to Russia, including ammunition. Furthermore it would force the Turks to withdraw forces from other theaters to defend their capital, thereby reducing threats to the Suez Canal in Egypt and British oil supplies in Persia, as well as the southern Russian Caucasus region. And it would encourage neutrals like Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Italy to join the Allies.


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But one of the most important (and under-recognized) reasons was Russia’s long-term goal of taking control of Constantinople and the Turkish straits, thus liberating the historical seat of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and securing Russian maritime trade routes to the rest of the world via the Black Sea. Indeed, as historian Sean McMeekin pointed out in his revisionist work, The Russian Origins of the First World War, Russian planning for an amphibious attack on Constantinople was already well advanced by the first half of 1914; even before the outbreak of war, with the Armenian reforms undermining Ottoman control in the east the Russians clearly anticipated the breakup of the decaying empire in the near future, giving them an opportunity to make a lunge for the ancient Byzantine metropolis they called “Tsargrad,” or “The Tsar’s City.”

After war broke out, setbacks on the Eastern Front forced the Russians to put this plan on hold, but they still nursed a burning ambition to conquer Constantinople, which the British and French accepted as a legitimate war aim, promising to help Russia fulfill the age-old quest. Of course the Western Allies also expected to get “compensation,” in the form of their own slices of Turkish territory. 

On November 2, 1914, the same day Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, the British officially abandoned their traditional policy of upholding Turkish territorial integrity, clearing the way for Russia to annex Constantinople; three days later Britain formally annexed the island of Cyprus, until then technically still part of the Ottoman Empire. Then on November 14, the same day the Ottoman Sultan declared a spurious “Holy War” against the infidels (except German and Austria-Hungary), the British Ambassador George Buchanan told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov, “The Government of his Britannic Majesty… recognize that the question of the Straits and Constantinople must be solved in the manner Russia desires” – provided that Russia had no objections to Britain formally annexing Egypt, also until then technically an Ottoman province. Of course the Russians did not, and Britain formally declared Egypt a British protectorate on December 18. Meanwhile on November 21 Sazonov met with the French ambassador, Maurice Paléologue (who coincidentally claimed descent from a Byzantine noble family) to iron out the details for Russian control of the straits. 

However the exact form the Allied campaign would take remained undecided. After British War Council Secretary Maurice Hankey circulated the first proposal for an attack on the Turkish straits on December 28, 1914, participants weighed various options, including a “demonstration” intended simply to distract the Turks, a bold “rush” by the fleet racing past the forts, and a combined land and sea operation. Churchill advocated the last option at a meeting on January 2, 1915, but Secretary of War Lord Kitchener dismissed the idea, saying no troops could currently be spared from the Western Front. So Churchill asked the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean commander, the memorably named Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden, to explore possibilities for a naval-only attack. 

Carden’s plan, presented and approved at a follow-up meeting of the War Council on January 13, 1915, called for a slow, careful advance by a powerful armada of twelve battleships supported by minesweepers, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. But even with overwhelming force this was a risky plan, presenting many chances for failure in the face of interlocking Turkish defenses: the battleships were vulnerable to mines, the minesweepers were vulnerable to mobile artillery batteries, and all the ships would come under the guns of the Turkish forts (see map of Turkish defenses below), as well as exposing themselves to attack by German and Austrian U-boats. 

Ideally the minesweepers would clear the way for the battleships to bombard the Turkish forts and mobile batteries, while the destroyers would guard against enemy submarines – but the Turks would take every opportunity to lay new minefields and reposition mobile batteries under cover of night, and the Royal Navy’s record defending against submarine attacks had been, so far, less than stellar, leading to the loss of ships including HMS Cressy, Aboukir, Hogue, Hawke, and Formidable, among others. Then there was also the risk of inclement weather disrupting operations: the northern Aegean Sea was famous for violent storms like the ones that destroyed Persian invasion fleets in 492 and 480 BCE. 

Some key figures voiced doubts about this ambitious plan, most notably First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher, who in late January (and in typically dramatic fashion) threatened to resign if no land force was provided. However Kitchener and Churchill prevailed on the mercurial Fisher, who withdrew his resignation, and planning for the naval-only operation went ahead. In the event Fisher’s forebodings proved correct, and the Allies would end up mounting a huge amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula – but only after the failed naval operation had alerted the Turks to the threat, giving them plenty of time to prepare their defenses. 

ANZACs In Transit 

In January 1915 few regular soldiers in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) suspected that they would soon be fighting opposite the plains of ancient of Troy. That month thousands of hardy soldiers from down under were training in Egypt at a camp within sight of the Pyramids, with the immediate assignment of protecting the Suez Canal against Turkish attack; meanwhile a second contingent was sailing across the Indian Ocean to join their “mates” in the Middle East. 

Needless to say, the months spent in Egypt were an eye-opening experience for ANZAC troops, many of whom had tramped the Australian outback or New Zealand backcountry but never left those shores, and generally shared the racial and cultural prejudices endemic to that era. One anonymous Australian soldier summed up his feelings about native Egyptians: “They are intensely religious, always looking for backsheesh [tips or bribes], and have no morals… they are to a man top-knotch liars, and invoke the aid of Allah to help them out in their perjuries. They are truly Eastern in their love of bargaining; also in their smell.” 

Unsurprisingly relations between the ANZAC troops and Egyptian natives were particularly fraught when it came to Egyptian women, who found ways of expressing themselves even when clad in a full niqab, according to the same Australian source: “They were rather fine about the eyes, and they made full use of those organs, even in the company of the ‘old man,’ who didn’t seem to be overjoyed when he caught them giving the glad eye to a mob of khaki-clad Christians.” 

The War of the Sexes 

Indeed, as the Great War didn’t change underlying human nature, all over the world men and women thrown together by circumstances were socializing – and often more – despite half-hearted attempts to stop them. 

Early in the war most interactions were brief and chaste, characterized more by curiosity than lust – although often with a modest transactional element. British war correspondent Philip Gibbs fell in with a band of Belgian nurses who “discovered a shop where hot coffee was being served to British soldiers who were willing to share it with attractive ladies.” Similarly Louis Keene, a Canadian soldier, remembered: “Girls were very interested in us and took most of our collar badges and buttons as souvenirs.” Sometimes the gifts flowed in the other direction, irrespective of nationality; one Scottish soldier, Joe Cassells, noticed British nurses doting on a wounded 16-year-old German soldier, observing, “The fair sex found him very attractive and he always got an ample share of the dainties they brought.”

As time went on and the war settled into routines, more intimate relationships inevitably developed. Piete Kuhr, a 12-year-old German girl living in East Prussia, confided the results in her diary after a regiment from another part of Germany had been stationed in her small town for a few months: “The women and girls go to great lengths to look nice for them. A few days ago a thirteen-year-old-girl, a baker’s daughter, was expelled from our school because she is going to have a child by a first lieutenant. She is a big, strapping girl with blond pigtails. None of us had noticed anything. The whole school was in turmoil.”

Practical French authorities established official brothels in order to keep French and British soldiers away from “good” local girls, with mixed success. Of course even simple commercial relationships could still have their awkward moments. Edward Casey, an Irish soldier in the British Army, recalled an embarrassing visit to a brothel Paris:

Before I could find an empty table and sit, a different [Girl] took charge of me, leading me along, talking in her funny English… [She began] putting her hands inside my fly, and murmuring, ‘Oh darling, you are so hard and big. You will like a short time with me. I am very good, and I make you very pleasurable…” I was amazed when she took hold of my business and examined it very carefully. Satisfied I was clean and free from the Gonna [gonorrhea]… [she] laid on the bed… I was told to lay on top of her. Then my trouble started. I went limp, and even though this French hussy tried everything she knew (even putting my thing in her mouth), I could not get hard. Then she got very angry: “Am I not very beautiful to you, that you do not want to love me? You English are very cold and do not know how to make love. I leave you now. Get dressed, I have work to do.” 

These were hardly universal experiences, however. Although its cumulative effect on cultural mores would be huge, in January 1915 the Great War had scarcely begun loosening traditional strictures around sexuality, especially in the middle classes, where respectable young women (and men) of all nationalities found themselves constrained by the same set of rules that governed Victorian gender relations fifty years before. Vera Brittain, an aspiring academic and writer who later volunteered as a nurse in France, recalled her closely supervised interactions with her soon-to-be fiancée, the poet Roland Leighton, up to the moment he left for the front: 

Incredible as it may seem to modern youth, it was then considered correct and inevitable that my aunt should cling to me like a limpet throughout the precious hours that I spent with Roland… Sophisticated present-day girls… have no conception of the difficulties under which courtships were conducted by provincial young ladies in 1915. There was no privacy for a boy and girl whose mutual feelings had reached their most delicate and bewildering stage; the whole series of complicated relationships leading from acquaintance to engagement had to be conducted in public or not at all.

Massive Earthquake in Italy 

While the manmade cataclysm of the Great War kept the world’s rapt attention, nature continued to deal out its own share of death and destruction, as if to remind the human race who was really in charge. On the morning of January 13, 1915, a devastating earthquake struck central Italy, killing over 30,000 people and leaving 90,000 injured, prompting many observers to wonder if it was divine retribution for the Great War. 

The epicenter of the earthquake, which measured around 7.0 on the Richter scale, was located near the town of L’Aquila in the Apennine Mountains, an area bedeviled by deadly quakes throughout history (in 2009 L’Aquila was the site of another earthquake, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, which left 309 people dead). However it inflicted the worst destruction on the ancient town of Avezzano, for which the disaster was named (above, the ruins of Avezzano). 

Composed mostly of poorly maintained medieval and 19th century dwellings, virtually the entire settlement of Avezzano collapsed in eight seconds, killing all but 300 of its 11,000 inhabitants, while thousands more perished in the surrounding villages, many located in even more remote parts of the countryside. One teenager, Giovanni Pagani, was preparing to go to school

when the old earth started to shake with all its mountains, with such force that the very hinges of the world seemed about to fall down. From mysterious depths a roar was rising, to which another roar replied from the frightened mountains, and the roars filled the caves of the earth and the immensity of the skies, where the sun was looking down at a huge cloud of mourning. Afterwards, things lost their names to become a confused heap of debris…

Another eyewitness told Reuters that “where there had been towns he could see enormous whirlwinds of dust and smoke.” The death toll probably grew even higher in the following hours, as local authorities, operating with scant information in a place still largely lacking in modern communications, failed to grasp the scale of the disaster until the following day – meaning rescue efforts were for the most part too little, too late. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
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Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which premiered on this day in 1975, won critical acclaim, box office success, and a shelf full of Oscars. But even if you love the complex exploration of life inside a 1960s psychiatric hospital, there are a few things you may not know about its behind-the-scenes story. 

1. CUSTOMS NEARLY DOOMED THE PROJECT. 

Despite the middling success of the 1963 stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel starring Kirk Douglas, Hollywood legend Douglas was dead set on adapting the story for the screen. Douglas contacted Czech director Miloš Forman about the project, promising to send Forman a copy of the book for his perusal. 

Douglas mailed Forman the novel, but the package was confiscated by Czechoslovakian customs and never reached the director. Unaware of the parcel’s fate, the filmmaker resented Douglas’ broken promise, and Douglas thought Forman rude for never bothering to confirm receipt of the novel. It took a decade to sort the mess out, and things only cleared up when Kirk’s son Michael Douglas took another crack at production and contacted Forman once more. 

2. ONE STUDIO WANTED TO CHANGE THE ENDING.

When producers were shopping the picture to studios, 20th Century Fox was interested, but with a catch. Fox would distribute the film, but only if the filmmakers would agree to rewrite the ending; the studio wanted McMurphy to live. Producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas wisely considered this a deal breaker, and United Artists eventually distributed the film.

3. JACK NICHOLSON AND LOUISE FLETCHER WERE NOT THE FIRST CHOICES FOR THEIR CHARACTERS. 


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When Kirk Douglas spearheaded the first attempt to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to life on the big screen in the 1960s, he had intended to play the Randle Patrick McMurphy role himself, just as he had on stage. When production began in earnest 10 years later, Douglas was too old for the part, leaving director Forman to consider and contact the likes of Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and (his personal favorite) Burt Reynolds before finally settling on Jack Nicholson.

A number of different actresses were considered for the role of Nurse Ratched, the film’s central antagonist, as well: Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, and Angela Lansbury were all in the running, before Louise Fletcher ultimately got the part. 

4. LOUISE FLETCHER CHANGED FORMAN’S VIEW ON THE CHARACTER. 

Forman’s original view of Nurse Ratched was as “the personification of evil,” a characterization that made Louise Fletcher a bad fit for the part in the filmmaker’s mind. As Fletcher pressed for the role, Forman’s perspective of Ratched evolved: “I slowly started to realize that it would be much more powerful if it’s not this visible evil,” he said. “That she’s only an instrument of evil. She doesn’t know that she’s evil. She, as a matter of fact, believes that she’s helping people.” This new take on the character paved the way for the official casting of Fletcher. 

5. SEVERAL OF THE FILM’S STARS WERE NOT ACTORS. 

Following the production team’s decision to use Oregon State Hospital as its shooting location, the producers hit on the idea of casting facility superintendent Dr. Dean Brooks as Dr. John Spivey, the doctor charged with assessing R. P. McMurphy’s psychological health. Brooks agreed to play what turned out to be a sizable role, though it would be the only acting job he would ever take. He also helped secure employment for many of his hospital’s patients as extras and crew members during production. 

Mel Lambert, another non-actor, was wrangled to play the harbormaster who protested McMurphy’s ad hoc fishing trip. What’s more, Lambert—a respected area businessman who had a strong relationship with the local Native American community—introduced the production team to Will Sampson, the 6-foot-5-inch-tall Muscogee painter who would make his acting debut as the major character Chief Bromden. 

6. THE STARS LIVED ON THE WARD DURING PRODUCTION. 


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All of the actors who played patients actually lived on the Oregon State Hospital psychiatric ward throughout production. The men personalized their sleeping quarters, spent their days on campus “get[ting] a sense of what it was to be hospitalized” (as actor Vincent Schiavelli put it), and interacting with real psychiatric patients. 

7. MANY SCENES WERE SHOT WITHOUT THE ACTORS’ KNOWLEDGE. 

To complete this realistic immersion, Forman led his performers in unscripted group therapy sessions in which he directed the actors to develop their characters’ psychological maladies organically. He would often capture footage of the actors, both in and out of character, without explicitly mentioning that the cameras were rolling. The film’s final cut includes a shot of a visibly irritated Fletcher reacting to a piece of direction fed to her by Forman. 

8. FORMAN AND NICHOLSON HAD A TREMENDOUS SPAT OVER THE FILM’S PLOT. 

While the intensity of the turmoil varies from rumor to rumor, reports from the set were consistent on one fact: The star refused to speak with Forman for a large chunk of the production process. Nicholson took issue with Forman’s suggestion that the hospital inmates would be an unruly bunch upon the initial arrival of McMurphy. Instead, the actor insisted that such disavowal of the medical staff’s authority should only begin after the introduction of McMurphy into their lives and routines. 

Although the version of the story that we see in the film today is more closely associated with Nicholson’s alleged reading, suggesting that Forman ultimately took his advice, Nicholson refused to interact with his director from that point forward. When the star and Forman needed to communicate with one another, they used cinematographer Bill Butler as a middleman. 

9. DANNY DEVITO CREATED AN IMAGINARY FRIEND DURING PRODUCTION. 


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Emotionally strained by a demanding shooting schedule that kept him 3000 miles from his future wife, Rhea Perlman, DeVito developed the coping mechanism of an imaginary friend with whom he would have nightly chats. Concerned that his own sanity might be slipping away, DeVito sought the advice of Dr. Brooks, who assured him that there was no reason to worry as long as DeVito could still identify the character as fictional. 

10. THE CREW WAS WORRIED ABOUT THE SANITY OF ONE CAST MEMBER.

While Dr. Brooks had no concerns about DeVito, he echoed the rest of the cast and crew’s apprehensions about the psychological state of Sydney Lassick, who played Charlie Cheswick. Lassick exhibited increasingly unpredictable and emotionally erratic behavior during his time in character, a pattern that culminated in a tearful outburst during his observation of the final scene between Nicholson and Sampson. Lassick became so overwhelmed during the scene that he had to be removed from set. 

11. FLETCHER TOOK OFF HER CLOTHES IN ORDER TO GET FRIENDLIER WITH HER CO-STARS.

Envious of the camaraderie her male costars had forged, and hoping to dispel any associations with her tyrannical character, Fletcher surprised the cast one evening by ripping off her dress on the crowded ward. Years later, the actress laughed about the display, saying, “‘I’ll show them I’m a real woman under here, you know.’ I think that must have been what I was thinking.” 

12. THE FISHING TRIP SCENE BARELY MADE IT INTO THE FILM. 

Initially, Forman was vocally opposed to including a scene that took place beyond the grounds of the hospital out of concerns that a temporary liberation would undercut the dramatic force of the film’s ending. In the end, Zaentz convinced Forman to shoot the fishing trip sequence. It was the final scene filmed and the only piece shot out of chronological order. 

One thing to look for in the fishing scene: A very subtle Anjelica Huston cameo. Huston, who was dating Nicholson during production, has a nonspeaking role as one of the spectators on the dock as McMurphy and his fellow patients steer the stolen boat back to shore. 


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13. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST WAS THE FIRST FILM TO WIN ALL “BIG FIVE” ACADEMY AWARDS IN 41 YEARS.

Not since 1934's It Happened One Night swept the Oscars had a film walked away with awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest took home the lot, with Nicholson and Fletcher winning the top acting awards. The feat would not be matched again for another 16 years, with Silence of the Lambs becoming the next (and last to date) movie to earn the distinction. 

14. THE FILM ENJOYED ONE OF THE LONGEST THEATRICAL RUNS IN MOVIE HISTORY. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was revered worldwide, but Swedish viewers developed an especially soft spot for the film. Cuckoo’s Nest remained a regular option for Swedish moviegoers through 1987—11 years after its initial release. 

15. KESEY REFUSED TO SEE THE FILM (BUT MAY HAVE BY ACCIDENT). 

The poster child for the “the book was better” movement, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Kesey disapproved of a big screen adaptation of his novel as soon as he found out that the filmmakers had abandoned the use of Chief Bromden as the story’s narrator. Kesey never intended to see the movie, but one story says he inadvertently caught a few moments during a bout of channel surfing one evening. Once Kesey realized what he was watching, he promptly changed stations.

According to fellow novelist Chuck Palahniuk (who has famously praised director David Fincher’s adaptation of his novel Fight Club, plot changes and all), Kesey once stated privately that he did not care for the material.

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30 Facts About Your Favorite Martin Scorsese Movies
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In the pantheon of iconic American film giants, Martin Scorsese gets to sit at the head of the table and carve the turkey. In a career spanning 50 years, he has created some of the most visually spectacular and quote-worthy material ever put on celluloid. To celebrate the auteur’s 75th birthday, here are 30 facts about some of your favorite Scorsese movies. Ready? Great… now go home and get your #@$%ing shinebox!

1. MUCH OF THE MEAN STREETS BUDGET WENT TO ITS SOUNDTRACK.

Clearing songs for 1973's Mean Streets ate up almost half of the film's $500,000 budget. Staying true to his well-documented love of rock, Scorsese used tunes by The Ronettes, Eric Clapton, and The Rolling Stones for the soundtrack. “For me, the whole movie was 'Jumping Jack Flash' and 'Be My Baby,'" the director said in Scorsese on Scorsese.

2. LAURA DERN HAD A TINY ROLE IN ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE.

Future Oscar nominee Laura Dern made one of her earliest, albeit uncredited, appearances toward the end of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Working alongside her mother, Diane Ladd, Dern—who was seven years old at the time—played a little girl eating a banana-flavored ice cream cone at Mel’s Diner. It took 19 takes to get the shot, which required Dern to consume 19 ice cream cones. Impressed by the budding actress, Scorsese told Ladd that “if she doesn’t throw up after [19 takes’ worth of cones], this girl is ready to be an actress.”

3. THE “YOU TALKIN’ TO ME?” SCENE FROM TAXI DRIVER CAME FROM BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.

Robert De Niro improvised that whole paranoid monologue, including what would become the movie’s most famous line. (The film's screenwriter, Paul Schrader, later said, “It’s the best thing in the movie, and I didn’t write it.”) De Niro got the line from Bruce Springsteen, whom he’d seen perform in Greenwich Village just days earlier, at one in a series of concerts leading up to the release of Born to Run. When the audience called out his name, The Boss did a bit where he feigned humility and said, “You talkin’ to me?” Apparently it stuck in De Niro’s mind.

4. MUCH OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK WAS IMPROVISED (WHICH MAY HAVE BEEN ITS DOWNFALL).

In 1977, Scorsese released New York, New York. What was meant to be an epic musical turned out to be one of the director’s biggest bombs, due partly to the fact that the normally very regimented director decided to take a more improvisational approach to the film. “I tried to have no idea at all what I was going to do, as much as possible, on the day of shooting—as opposed to having a fairly strong idea of what I was going to do,” he said. “I was really testing the limits … I had a very chaotic style, on purpose, on New York, New York. And I found it didn't work for me."

5. A LOT OF FAMOUS CINEMATOGRAPHERS WERE INVOLVED IN THE MAKING OF THE LAST WALTZ.

The seven 35mm camera operators who shot The Last Waltz, Scorsese's 1978 concert documentary, included Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter), and László Kovács (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces). Scorsese and Robbie Robertson (who also served as a producer) came up with a 300-page shooting script of diagrams and text that assigned the camera positions with the music lyrics and cues. According to the film's production notes, it was the first music documentary made on 35mm.

6. JOE PESCI WAS RUNNING AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT WHEN SCORSESE AND ROBERT DE NIRO APPROACHED HIM ABOUT RAGING BULL.

Joe Pesci had been a professional actor and musician (he sang and played guitar) off and on since childhood, but he called it quits in the 1970s. His 1975 Broadway show with comedy partner Frank Vincent (whom he would later recruit to play Salvy in Raging Bull) had closed after a week, and his first movie, 1976’s The Death Collector (also featuring Vincent), was a flop. But Robert De Niro happened to see that film in 1978, and was so impressed by Pesci’s performance that he pitched him to Scorsese. The two tracked Pesci down and called him at his restaurant to coax him out of showbiz retirement to co-star in Raging Bull.

7. SCORSESE INITIALLY DIDN’T SEE HOW THE SCRIPT FOR THE KING OF COMEDY WOULD WORK AS A MOVIE.

Robert De Niro passed Paul D. Zimmerman’s script for The King of Comedy on to Scorsese, hoping that he could interest him in directing it. "I didn't get it," Scorsese later admitted. "The script is hilarious. But the movie was just a one-line gag: You won't let me go on the show, so I'll kidnap you and you'll put me on the show.” Eventually, he came to see how it could be turned into a feature.

8. GRIFFIN DUNNE HAD TO GIVE UP, WELL, PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING TO STAR IN AFTER HOURS.

In order to capture the desperation and paranoia to play word processor Paul Hackett in After Hours (1985), Scorsese gave star Griffin Dunne some very specific instructions. “I was at a symposium with Marty Scorsese and he said, ‘I really had to be hard on Griffin for this part. I said, no sex, no going out, none of it,’” Cher told People at the movie’s after-party. “It must have worked,” she added. “He’s so good at being frustrated.”

9. IT WAS PAUL NEWMAN WHO APPROACHED SCORSESE ABOUT THE COLOR OF MONEY.

Walter Tevis had written the book The Hustler and its sequel, The Color of Money, yet Paul Newman didn’t care for the adapted screenplay to the latter. So Newman went to Scorsese, as he was a fan of his work, particularly Raging Bull, which he felt had a similar tone to what The Color of Money should be.

10. SCORSESE GOT THE IDEA FOR GOODFELLAS WHILE SHOOTING THE COLOR OF MONEY.

In a rare moment of downtime on The Color of Money set, "I read a review of [Nicholas Pileggi's] Wiseguy ... and it said something about this character Henry Hill having access to many different levels of organized crime because he was somewhat of an outsider," Scorsese told Rolling Stone. "He looked a little nicer. He was able to be a better frontman and speak a little better. I thought that was interesting, because you could get a cross section of the layers of organized crime—from his point of view, of course. So I got the book, started reading it and was fascinated by the narrative ability of it."

11. THE FAMOUS “FUNNY HOW?” SCENE IN GOODFELLAS WASN’T IN THE SCRIPT.

The most famous (and certainly the most quoted) scene in Goodfellas comes at the beginning, when Pesci's Tommy DeVito jokingly-yet-uncomfortably accosts Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) for calling him "funny." In addition to being the driving force behind the scene on screen, Pesci is also responsible for coming up with the premise.  

While working in a restaurant, a young Pesci apparently told a mobster that he was funny—a compliment that was met with a less-than-enthusiastic response. Pesci relayed the anecdote to Scorsese, who decided to include it in the film. Scorsese didn't include the scene in the shooting script so that Pesci and Liotta’s interactions would elicit genuinely surprised reactions from the supporting cast.

12. STEVEN SPIELBERG TRADED CAPE FEAR TO MARTIN SCORSESE FOR THE RIGHTS TO SCHINDLER'S LIST.

Scorsese was set to direct Schindler's List, but was apprehensive about making it after the controversy surrounding his previous two films, Goodfellas and The Last Temptation of Christ. At the same time, Steven Spielberg was set to make Cape Fear, but decided that he "wasn't in the mood" to make a movie about a "maniac." So they traded projects. Spielberg had Bill Murray in mind to play Max Cady. Scorsese had other ideas.

13. THE CASINO OPENING TITLES WERE DESIGNED BY THE LEGENDARY SAUL BASS.

Saul Bass is certainly the most famous (and possibly the only) well-known designer of opening credit sequences, with more than 50 to his name. If there was a movie in the '50s or '60s with distinctive opening titles, odds are good that it was Bass's work, often in conjunction with his wife, Elaine. (Among them: Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest, West Side Story, Spartacus, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.) Bass did the titles for Scorsese's Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, and Casino, which turned out to be the final film of his career. He died five months after the film opened, at the age of 75. 

14. GANGS OF NEW YORK WAS 32 YEARS IN THE MAKING.

Scorsese read Herbert Asbury’s 1928 nonfiction book The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld in 1970 and immediately thought it would make a good movie. He didn’t have any money or clout yet though, so he had to wait. He bought the movie rights to the book in 1979, and even got a screenplay written around that time, then spent the next 20 years trying to get the project off the ground.

15. THE DEPARTED IS A REMAKE.

While Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan claim they did not watch the 2002 Hong Kong action movie Infernal Affairs before making The Departed, the two films share more than a few similarities. Infernal Affairs director Andy Lau unsurprisingly prefers his own film, saying of The Departed, “Of course I think the version I made is better, but the Hollywood version is pretty good too.” 

16. “GIMME SHELTER” IS SCORSESE’S UNOFFICIAL GANGSTER THEME SONG.

Before The Departed, Scorsese had previously used the Rolling Stones song in Goodfellas and Casino. It seems Billy Costigan loves the Stones, too; the CD that he mails to Sullivan is housed in the case for the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street.

17. MEAN STREETS TOOK ITS TITLE FROM A RAYMOND CHANDLER ESSAY.

Originally titled Season of the Witch, the film’s name was changed to Mean Streets from a line from Raymond Chandler’s 1944 essay “The Simple Art of Murder.” Writing about the art of storytelling and plumbing the depths of humanity, Chandler wrote. “In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

18. DE NIRO WANTED TO MAKE RAGING BULL AS A PLAY, TOO.

This was in early 1978, before it was even written as a movie yet, when De Niro was collaborating with Mardik Martin to adapt LaMotta’s memoir, while simultaneously trying to convince a noncommittal and increasingly drug-addled Scorsese to take on the project. De Niro’s idea was to stage it as a Broadway play (to be directed by Scorsese), and then, during the run of the show, spend the daylight hours shooting the movie. De Niro liked the idea of the day’s filming influencing the way they performed the play that night. But Martin’s script wasn’t yet ready for either medium, and Scorsese was in no shape to do it then anyway. 

19. SCORSESE WAS WORKING ON NEW YORK, NEW YORK AT THE SAME TIME HE WAS MAKING THE LAST WALTZ.

Scorsese was supposed to be in New York editing the Liza Minnelli/Robert De Niro musical drama when he was in San Francisco preparing and shooting The Last Waltz. According to Scorsese, New York, New York producer Irwin Winkler was "very upset" when he learned this.

20. CHANDELIERS FROM GONE WITH THE WIND WERE USED ON THE LAST WALTZ.

The performance recorded for The Last Waltz was designed by Boris Leven, who has served as production designer on West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). Leven created a backdrop inspired by the films of Luchino Visconti (Death In Venice, The Leopard), borrowing props from the San Francisco Opera's production of La Traviata and chandeliers designed for Gone with the Wind. Robertson wasn't sold on the elaborate decor. He told Leven, "Chandeliers? I don't think that's going to go over with Neil or Bob or the rest of the musicians. These people don't do chandeliers, Boris."

21. THE FIRST SCENE SHOT FOR GOODFELLAS WASN’T DIRECTED BY SCORSESE. 

As you might know, the business of filming is rarely chronological—directors tend to jump scenes for cost, scheduling, and efficiency reasons. For Goodfellas, the scene that broke shooting ground was the intentionally low-budget Morrie’s Wigs commercial, which plays just before Henry and Jimmy hassle Morrie about a debt near the beginning of the film. To get the feel of the commercial right, Scorsese contacted Stephen R. Pacca, who had created his own ultra low-budget ads for his replacement window company, to write and direct the Morrie’s Wigs ad. 

22. REESE WITHERSPOON BLEW HER CAPE FEAR AUDITION. SO DID DREW BARRYMORE.

"It was my second audition ever," Witherspoon said in 1999. "My agent told me I'd be meeting Martin Scorsese. I said, 'Who is he?' Then he mentioned the name Robert De Niro. I said, 'Never heard of him.' When I walked in I did recognize De Niro, and I just lost it. My hand was shaking and I was a blubbering idiot.''

Drew Barrymore auditioned for the role, too, but believed she overacted for one of Scorsese's assistants. In 2000, she called the audition "the biggest disaster" of her life and said that Scorsese thinks she's "dog doo-doo" because of it.

23. GEORGE LUCAS HELPED WITH SCORSESE OUT WITH AN ELEPHANT PROBLEM FOR GANGS OF NEW YORK.


ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The Star Wars creator, then working on Attack of the Clones, had visited the massive set in Rome and told Scorsese that it was probably the last of its kind, that such large re-creations would be done on computers now to save money. Lucas’s know-how in such matters came in handy later, when Gangs needed an elephant and none of the animal wranglers in Italy were able to produce one in time. So Scorsese called his old friend Lucas and asked for help: “We’re effed," Scorsese told Lucas. "We don’t have [an] elephant! Tell us how to shoot it!” Lucas, an old pro at such things, guided them through the process of filming without the elephant and having it digitally created later. It’s the only thing in the movie that’s completely computer-generated. 

24. SCORSESE WAS INSPIRED TO CAST GWEN STEFANI IN THE AVIATOR AFTER SEEING HER PICTURE ON THE SIDE OF A BUS SHELTER.

The Marilyn Monroe-inspired pictures, taken by Herb Ritts for a Teen Vogue cover, caught Scorsese's eye. Stefani told MTV the story, as she heard it from DiCaprio. “Martin Scorsese’s driving in New York City and he sees my Teen Vogue cover on the side of a bus stop shelter. And he’s like, ’Who’s that girl? Let’s get her!’ I had Leonardo DiCaprio tell me the whole story in Martin Scorsese’s voice, so it was pretty bizarre.” Stefani portrayed Jean Harlow; it was her first film role. 

25. BERNARD HERRMANN DIED JUST A FEW HOURS AFTER RECORDING THE MUSIC FOR TAXI DRIVER.

Scorsese was lucky to get Bernard Herrmann, a Hollywood legend who had scored Citizen Kane, Psycho, Cape Fear, North by Northwest, and dozens of others. Herrmann wrote the Taxi Driver score and conducted the recording sessions himself, finishing in Los Angeles on the evening of December 23, 1975. He retired to his hotel and died sometime during the night, officially Christmas Eve morning, at the age of 64. He was posthumously nominated for an Oscar. 

26. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS WAS TRAINED BY REAL BUTCHERS FOR GANGS OF NEW YORK, BECAUSE OF COURSE HE WAS.


Miramax

Ever the Method actor, Day-Lewis first took lessons from two Argentine brothers with a butcher shop in Queens, then from a master butcher specially flown in from London.

27. SCORSESE THREATENED TO TAKE HIS NAME OFF OF RAGING BULL OVER ONE MINOR SOUND ISSUE. 

Very late in the post-production process, when the film was due to premiere soon and Scorsese was still tinkering with the final sound mix, producer Irwin Winkler gave him a drop deadline: All work would cease at midnight on a certain night, and that would be it. When the hour arrived, Scorsese was obsessing over one minor line of dialogue someone says to a bartender —“Cutty Sark, please”—which he didn’t think was audible. Winkler told him too bad, we’ve got to send this thing out. Scorsese declared that if Winkler released the film this way, he wanted his name taken off it as director, because it no longer reflected his vision. Winkler said, “So be it.” Like all good producers, he knew that sometimes you have to let an overtired director throw a tantrum and say things he doesn’t really mean. Sure enough, Scorsese recanted sometime later.

28. SCORSESE AVOIDED AN X RATING ON TAXI DRIVER BY MAKING THE BLOOD LOOK MORE BROWN THAN RED. 

Scorsese desaturated the color in the film’s gorier scenes, rendering the blood less realistic and more like a black-and-white tabloid newspaper (without actually being black-and-white). Not only did it fit the lurid tone he was going for, it soothed the nerves of the ratings board. 

29. CATE BLANCHETT DID HER HOMEWORK FOR THE AVIATOR.


Miramax

At Scorsese's request, Blanchett watched all of Hepburn's first 15 movies for The Aviator. Blanchett also screened Hepburn's 1973 interview with Dick Cavett, read a memoir about her, took golf and tennis lessons, and took cold baths just like Hepburn. On June 29, 2003—the same day that Blanchett arrived on set for the first time—Hepburn passed away. "I picked up the paper thinking, 'Isn't it odd that Katharine Hepburn's on the cover?'" Blanchett recalled. "She had such a remarkable life, and then with her death, she was even more present in everyone's mind."

30. WE MAY NEVER KNOW WHAT THE REAL SAM “ACE” ROTHSTEIN ACTUALLY THOUGHT OF CASINO.

Lefty Rosenthal—the inspiration for Sam Rothstein, who died in 2008—said he only ever saw Casino once. If that's true, it was the screening of a rough cut that was also attended by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi sat with Rosenthal—they were the only ones in the screening room—and said Rosenthal's reaction was positive. But near the end of his life, when an interviewer mentioned that, "You only saw Casino once—and you don't like the movie," Rosenthal replied that "It lacked the detail of what I did. There are scenes where the Rosenthal character repeated the same thing twice. I would only tell you to do something one time—that's all I needed. And there was that scene that still angers me when I think of it—I never juggled on The Frank Rosenthal Show. I resent that scene. It makes me look foolish. And I only did that TV show [at] the behest of the chairman of the board of the Stardust so that the public would realize I was a decent guy and not a mobster as portrayed by the media covering us at the time.” Did Rosenthal change his mind over time? Did Pileggi misinterpret his initial reaction? We'll never know.

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