This book explores the intersection of two topics and their impact on American culture. One is an idea: the American Dream, one of the most resonant - and controversial - themes of U.S. History. The other is a person: Martin Scorsese, a man widely regarded as the greatest living American director.
The American Dream is something that a great many American artists have chosen (or perhaps have felt forced) to engage, and the highly articulate Scorsese has referred to it many times over the course of his life. But neither he or the many scholars who have explored his work have traced the Dream in anything like a systematic way. It has certainly been a means for him to understand his own life-he is, as much as any American who has ever lived, is a poster child for upward mobility-but it also functions as a lens through which he has filtered a variety of characters and situations over the course of his large body of work. One reason why Scorsese's engagement with the Dream, however implicit, merits a book-length study is the complexity of his understanding of it. He's no mere cheerleader; as he told one critic, 'The American Dream, if you dream it intensely enough, will make you nuts.' This is something he experienced first-hand during a dark period in his life during the late 1970s. But he understands its appeal for the gangster and the priest, the hustler and the housewife.
In Scorsese's art, the American Dream is animated by a potent friction between two competing forces: provincialism and cosmopolitanism. Scorsese is the product of a small, insular world, and he has spent life recreating them in one form or another. And yet his artistry rests on talents that were quickly recognized by a wider world, and has spent most of his life working with a global set of collaborators-actors, writers, set designers, location managers and the like-who have cast their lot with him in the process of producing some of the most significant cinematic art of last half-century. Literally and figuratively, Scorsese sees the American Dream in uniquely powerful ways. And he allows us to see the Dream that way, too. Fast-paced, instructive, and resonant, Martin Scorsese and the American Dream illuminates an important dimension of our national life and how a great artist has brought it into focus.
JIM CULLEN is the author of numerous books, including Those Were the Days: Why All in the Family Still Matters and From Memory to History: Television Versions of the Twentieth Century (both Rutgers University Press). He has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Sarah Lawrence College, and is a member of the faculty of the newly established Greenwich Country Day High School in Greenwich, Connecticut.