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Golden Globes: I love awards-show montages, and last night's Martin Scorsese tribute was one of the best

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The greatest-hits-of-Hollywood movie montages that have long been a staple of awards shows tend to get a bad rap these days. They’re blamed, with some justification, for stretching Academy Awards night into the weary wee hours, and yes, they’re sometimes hung on pretty thin concepts (like “Celebrity” — a real Oscar low point). But I confess that I can never get enough of them. These memory-lane mini-reels may be little more than flashcard redundancies in the perpetual nostalgia culture of YouTube and VH1, yet when they’re well produced, they’re candy for movie buffs. And it’s worth noting that they were once actually offered up as prestige epiphanies. In 1972, it was showcased as a Really Big Deal that the honorary tribute reel to Charlie Chaplin at the 44th Academy Awards ceremony — a nearly poetic evocation of Chaplin’s genius — was assembled and edited by Peter Bogdanovich, then one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. Last night’s Martin Scorsese tribute at the Golden Globes achieved that same level of instant cinematic bliss-out. More than just mesmerizing to watch, it was executed with a thrilling love and understanding of Scorsese’s films — the sort of montage that made you think, half a dozen times in the space of four minutes, “Oh, man, I’ve got to see that movie again right now!”

The montage, which was edited by film-journalist-turned-trailer-cutter Stephen Garrett and his editing partner, Christy Wilson, hooked you with an image of Harvey Keitel’s Charlie from Mean Streets (Scorsese’s signature protagonist, and still his greatest film), standing at a bar bathed in blood-red light. The music was pure Scorsese, too, only this was the Middle Eastern snake-charmer wail of Peter Gabriel’s great score for The Last Temptation of Christ. Accompanied by that music, the images that followed — De Niro’s Jake LaMotta panting in the ring in Raging Bull, the shut-in Howard Hughes watching a movie unspool at home (just like Marty himself?) in The Aviator, Willem Dafoe wearing his crown of thorns in Last Temptation — expressed, with graphic power, the darkness and daring and madness and redemption-seeking passion that unites Scorsese’s heroes. And the startling juxtaposition of music and image mirrored the director’s own operatic rock & roll mash-ups.

The montage caught other Scorsese flavors as well, like his king-size comedy of mayhem. A moment of Sandra Bernhard, shrieking “Wouldn’t you love to see me out of my head?” at Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy, kicked off “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (first used by the director in Mean Streets), which became the soundtrack for all those fabled Scorsese moments when violence, even of the most sociopathic kind, is a ticket to audience exhilaration. (I especially liked a near-subliminal shot of De Niro’s Johnny Boy blowing up a mailbox wedged in between a LaMotta knockout punch and Lorraine Bracco turning a gun on Ray Liotta in GoodFellas.) The romantic refrain of Clapton’s “Layla” then became the stirring backdrop for images of spiritual struggle — including, audaciously, the great, from-the-back shot of Dafoe’s Christ being raised on the Cross, and Rupert Pupkin, in his echo chamber, speaking to a wall-size black-and-white photograph of a studio audience.

The beauty of this whole sequence is that it caught the rage for freedom in Scorsese’s heroes, the whole reckless and desperately violent yet fundamentally religious bravura of men (and women) who want, more than anything, to go out of their heads. There may be an element of glib corniness built into these juxtapositions, but I still loved the way that the montage revealed, and connected, the mostly unconscious drive to martyrdom that unites Scorsese’s saints, sinners, and (holy) fools. I do wish that the whole thing hadn’t ended with an overly extended advertisement for Shutter Island, the director’s upcoming mental-asylum thriller. But hey, it’s the Golden Globes — if it wasn’t a little shameless, it wouldn’t belong in Hollywood’s most famously cheesy awards bash.

In case you missed it (or even if you didn’t), here’s the entire sequence:

So what did you think of the Golden Globes’ Marty montage? And, if you have one, what’s your favorite awards-show clip reel from the past? Or do you think it’s about time that these packages were retired?

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