In between 2002’s GANGS OF NEW YORK and his 2004 follow-up feature, THE AVIATOR, director Martin Scorsese embarked on a series of projects that saw him step in front of the camera once again, not as an artist, but as a personality and authority figure in the mass media conversation. Thanks to the success of his feature film career, Scorsese hadn’t directed a commercial since he was a young filmmaker struggling to get his first feature off the ground in 1968.
Several decades later, however, Scorsese didn’t need to make commercials to pay the rent, so his taking on a spot in 2002 for whiskey brand Johnnie Walker speaks to a genuine interest in the subject matter. And why shouldn’t he be interested— the subject matter is HIM. Titled “SCORSESE”, the commercial is a strange bit of advertising in that it doesn’t actually allude to whiskey or a product of any sort. Instead, it is more of a lifestyle spot, providing a fictionally exaggerated look into Scorsese’s interior monologue in a bid to make the audience associate Johnnie Walker with a seasoned artistic elegance.
The spot is rendered in the visual and tonal aesthetic of Scorsese’s seminal work, TAXI DRIVER (1976), right down to the text font and Bernard Herrmann’s score. Instead of Travis Bickle driving through the city and delivering a monologue on his hatred of New York’s street scum, we get Scorsese riding in the back seat of a taxi and observing the street life around in wistful admiration. The color palette is very cold, emphasizing blues and greens that blend together in a series of cross fades and speed ramps that suggest a hybrid between TAXI DRIVER and BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (1999).
This being a spot that highlights Scorsese himself—a portrait of the artist, if you will—it’s expected that the director’s signatures (like the NYC setting and an appreciation for film history) will be front and center. In a way, “SCORSESE” is a quick primer on the director’s worldview and lifestyle to those who, in the wake of his return to the highest echelons of treasured American filmmakers, are only now just becoming aware of the profound mark he’s left on the art form.
JOHNNIE WALKER WHISKEY: “SCORSESE” is currently available on Youtube via the embed above.