What I Learned from Martin Scorsese’s ‘Life Lessons’

My third in a trio of Martin Scorsese pieces for VAGUE VISAGES.

Vague Visages • Wave Faces

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Two years before Martin Scorsese cast Nick Nolte as the protagonist of his ambitious Cape Fear remake, he chose the actor for the leading role in Life Lessons (the director’s 40-minute contribution to the 1989 anthology film New York Stories). The first in a trio of featurettes rounded out by Francis Ford Coppola’s Life without Zoe and Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks, Life Lessons finds within Nolte the capacity for reinterpreting a stock character. Scorsese would later challenge the actor to apply a similar process of reinvention in Cape Fear (1991), which the director reportedly wrote off initially in a conversation with his friend Steven Spielberg. At first, Scorsese claimed that he couldn’t expand on the Manichean morality of the 1962 original. Upon Spielberg’s argument that Scorsese could easily shape the project to satisfy his own vision, however, the director reinterpreted Cape Fear’s straightforward ethics, and called Nolte to drastically…

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