ByBen Jones, writer at
Music and film enthusiast, occasional clickbaiter - writer at MoviePilot. Personal blog:
Ben Jones

‘The Scorsese Effect’ is my name for a recent trend in modern cinema. My first example would be David F Russell’s American Hustle, which released in 2013 to wild critical acclaim. For reference the film sits at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and 90% on Metacritic from 47 different reviews. However, audience scores paint a different picture: 7.3 on imdb, 74% on RT’s and again, 7.3 user score on Metacritic. While I’m not basing my hypothesis purely on audience reaction, I do find it interesting that there is such an audience/critic divide over the movie. I believe that the reason for this is that the film was simply boring. It lacked relatable characters and the plot was all over the place. I remember coming out of the cinema in 2013 not quite sure of what had just happened, how the ‘hustle’ was even executed, and why I should care. I can’t even remember the names of any of the characters.

However, this isn’t my point. I’m not here to write about why I felt American Hustle was underwhelming. The film, like most of Martin Scorsese’s work, contains a lot of licensed music. In fact, the entire film seems Scorsese-lite to the point where it almost seems too try-hard. Robert De Niro even makes a surprise cameo. The reason why the ‘Scorsese Effect’ fails in practise in American Hustle is because the inclusion of recognisable period songs from that time seems to be a cheap way to add ‘style’ to the movie. In my opinion, American Hustle didn’t even seem like that of a ‘cool’ movie to justify the excessive licensed songs. Music shouldn’t be used as the sole tool to pull in audiences. That job should be left to the story, the direction and finally, the actors.

Songs With Purpose: How The Scorsese Effect CAN Work

The reason that the effect worked so well in films like Goodfellas, and The Wolf of Wall Street is because the songs actually have a purpose. In Goodfellas, the music reflects its time, which goes from the Tony Bennett’s in the 60s to the Rolling Stones of the 80s. The music also reflects a changing America as it transitions from the hopeful 50’s to the more cynical and violent 80’s. The lyrics of some of the songs used even help in revealing more about some of the characters in the movies. They aren’t just placed there to add ‘style’. The Wolf of Wall Street uses similar techniques, this time in order to glamorise the lifestyle that its protagonist ‘Jordan Belfort’ played by Leonardo DiCaprio indulges in. Who wouldn’t want to live the life he lives?

Ain't That a Kick In The Head?

In contrast War Dogs, the latest from director Todd Phillips (which I really enjoyed, by the way) uses its licenced soundtrack in moments that seem almost too cliché, too clinical. For example, ‘Fortunate Son’ plays (of course) when the protagonists are saved from terrorists by the US Military while a helicopter flies overhead. ‘Ain’t that a kick in the head’ plays when the two ‘War Dogs’ of the title head to Las Vegas. It’s predictable, by the numbers stuff. Jumpy 90’s hits play when the pair conduct their illicit business. It’s been done before. It’s been seen before. This is an example of the ‘Scorsese Effect’ in action. It is a director badly imitating a Scorsese production and its use of music this time being The Wolf of Wall Street.

Finally, I guess it’s easy to see my point – the ‘Scorsese Effect’ is harmful. Adding songs to your movie that you think will accompany the scene well is just not enough. The song isn’t the focus of the scene. It is the icing on the cake. Goodfellas didn’t succeed because of its musical choices, because if you take them away it remains a great film.

What do you think?


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