Martin Scorsese pays tribute to Jane Campion with New York Film Critics Circle speech

Delayed due to the surge of coronavirus cases in January, the New York Film Critics Circle held its awards dinner on Wednesday night, where top honors went to Lady Gaga (Best Actress for “House of Gucci”), Benedict Cumberbatch (Best Actor for “The Power of the Dog”), Kathryn Hunter (Best Supporting Actress for “The Tragedy of Macbeth”), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Best Supporting Actor for “The Power of the Dog”), Jane Campion (Best Director for “The Power of the Dog”), and “Drive My Car” (for Best Picture).

To honor Campion, legendary director and past New York Film Critics Circle honoree Martin Scorsese paid tribute to the filmmaker with a speech that touched on her work in Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog” and their own shared personal history.

“It gives me a great opportunity to express my admiration for Jane Campion. That began many years ago, at Venice when she was there with ‘Angel at my Table.’ We met then, I think it was 1990. My admiration has only increased over the years,” Scorsese said. “I wish you would make more pictures, but every one you do get to make really counts.”

In terms of “The Power of the Dog,” Scorsese said the film asked, “What is strength and who is the strongest?” 

He added, “For me, at first, I saw a still from it, and it had all the trappings of a Western. But the usual expectations I bring to the Western genre, all of this is turned inside out. What is strength and who is strongest? What is the very essence of strength? These questions are at the very heart of the conflict at the core of the picture. It’s there visually but not how I expected it.”

Scorsese cited specific shots from the current favorite for Best Picture at the 2022 Oscars – including, for instance, the braiding of a rope or rolling of a cigarette – and explained how “The Power of the Dog” builds to a final battle, but not in the fashion of traditional Westerns.

“It’s not out in the open range, it’s within,” he explained. “There are weapons of choice which are surprising too because the weapons are avoidances, withdrawal, tentative steps. Everything is obliquely expressed between the character and in the storytelling. It all comes from the side, there’s an ellipses and a suggestion dictated in the editing. They push you forward in a way, but it’s not propelling you. In actuality, they shift you to another place, another plane, which is suggestive and intriguing and thought-provoking.”

Scorsese said he has seen “The Power of the Dog” numerous times. “I like looking at it, I like experiencing it. Each time, I’m equally impressed by the production design, the cinematography, every element of the picture, and of course those extraordinary performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirsten Dunst, and Jesse Plemons, who I’m lucky enough to work with two times now,” Scorsese said, referencing both “The Irishman” and his forthcoming film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which stars Plemons in a lead role. “I’m most impressed by Jane’s direction and it’s a precious thing to have an artistic voice as powerful as Jane’s developing over time. It’s like a great ongoing conversation and it’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”

To close out his speech, Scorsese mentioned a dinner he had with Campion a few months earlier. He had recently finished shooting “Killers of the Flower Moon,” another 1920s-set Western similar to “The Power of the Dog,” and told Campion he was currently working on the edit.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Editing, people don’t understand. That’s where you learn the film,’” Scorsese recalled. “I have to tell you Jane, this film certainly taught you well.”

Campion is the overwhelming favorite to win Best Director at the Oscars for “The Power of the Dog.” She’s already won honors from the BAFTA Awards, Directors GUild Awards, and Critics Choice Awards. “The Power of the Dog” is also the favorite for Best Picture. Watch the full Scorsese speech below.

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