Martin Scorsese on David Johansen’s documentary ‘Personality Crisis’

“The word ‘documentary’ is out of date,” Scorsese said at the Metrograph in New York on Tuesday night for the premiere of his eighth music documentary, “Personality Crisis: One Night Only.”

“Inimitable storyteller” and “mythical storyteller” were some of the superlatives former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen sang of lounge actor Buster Poindexter at Tuesday’s Metrograph premiere of “Personality Crisis: One Night Only” in New York.

But they can easily claim the film’s co-director Martin Scorsese, who made the cabaret concert documentary with David Tedeschi, a longtime editor on his earlier nonfiction music films such as “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” and Bob Dylan’s “Rolling.” volt. Thunder Revue.”

For an Oscar-winning filmmaker who has made eight music documentaries, including portraits of Fran Lebowitz, “Pretend It’s a City” and “Public Speaking,” and other nonfiction works, Scorsese doesn’t quite live up to the term. documentary film itself. Or distinguish it at all from his fiction features like “The Irishman” or the upcoming “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

“For me, I’m trying to find a way to make movies that don’t fall into the fiction or non-fiction niches. The word documentary is obsolete,” Scorsese said during a Q&A moderated by Johansen’s daughter Leah, which included Tedeschi and Johansen himself.

“It has to do with the old black-and-white, post-war neorealist cinema, the newsreels, we were all used to it, my generation, that if it wasn’t black and white and grainy, it wasn’t true. . It was, except that it has now been supplanted by high-definition TV. The picture is on an iPhone. This is the new cinema vérité,” said Scorsese.

Such frank comments come as no surprise from a director who dismissed an obsession with American box office numbers when he last screened “Personality Crisis” at the New York Film Festival. His thoughts on filmmaking are ahead of their time and ahead of their time as always.

(L-R): Leah Hennessey, executive producer Mara Hennessey and David Johansen at the SHOWTIME premiere of PERSONALITY CRISIS: ONE NIGHT ONLY.  The screening and reception were held at the Metrograph in New York.  Photo: Kristina Bumphrey/SHOWTIME.

Leah Hennessey, executive produced by Mara Hennessey and David Johansen

Kristina Bumphrey/SHOWTIME

“The thing is, yes, there are certain kinds of non-fiction films with a non-fiction theme that deal specifically with history – music, sports, whatever – but I’m trying to find something where they’re just movies and they slip away. in and out of each other and influencing each other,” he said, adding that he doesn’t even differentiate between narrative and nonfiction when editing or structuring a film.

“I still fall into the trap of A, B and C in a narrative film. I don’t like it, but often with narrative films, if you’re telling a story, you have to hit certain story points so that the audience knows what you’re doing. I’m trying to find a way to get around that and let you feel the story without telling the story.”

In the case of “Personality Crisis,” Scorsese says it comes from the music. This is the centerpiece of the film, as Johansen plays a one-night cabaret show at New York’s Cafe Carlyle as Buster Poindexter while covering his own New York Dolls songs from decades earlier, but with a more atmospheric, bluesy twist. During the club performance, Scorsese and Tedeschi weave the stories of how the New York Dolls became the founders of punk through decades of love, loss, drugs and drinking.

Scorsese and Tedeschi decided to make the film after seeing the Johansen/Poindexter performance in New York and saying, “Let’s make a movie.” But when they started mapping out the film before COVID, Scorsese wondered, “Will it just, simply, be the cabaret itself? I said, Let’s shoot and start. This is what happened with the last waltz. We have now decided to record the concert for the sake of history.”

“Personality Crisis” features a couple of conversational-style interviews — if you can call them that, since they’re really more poetic, free association — with Johansen, but conducted by his daughter Leah. “If he gets annoying, he’ll get annoyed with him, which is great. And this is family, keep it in the family,” Scorsese thought at the time. Johansen is hilariously short-tempered throughout, calling his life “mutilated happiness” after a William Blake quote.

While we won’t know exactly what Scorsese means until the film’s Cannes release in May, Scorsese’s “Crisis of Personality” is a sort of musical accompaniment to the Osage Nation murder saga, “Killers of the Flower Moon” — ditto. “Rolling Thunder Revue” and “The Irishman” were released on Netflix in the same year. Scorsese admitted that Johansen’s radio show “Mansion of Fun” certainly inspired the “Killers” soundtrack.

“Music has always inspired a kind of provocation that forces you to think differently,” he said. “As for the two styles, the two types of images, they are the same. It’s not literally true, but it’s true in my mind.”

“Personality Crisis: One Night Only” premieres April 14 on Showtime.

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