Filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995) is structured around a compiled score of almost sixty popular music recordings. Scorsese himself, working with editor Thelma Schoonmaker and using digital editing tools for the first time, assembled and arranged a diverse body of pre-existing music into a unified score that plays for more than two of the film’s three hours. This article offers a close analysis of Scorsese acting as composer—crafting Casino’s compiled score in the manner of a DJ—and, in reciprocal fashion, editing film images and narrative to recorded music. Casino demonstrates highly varied, multivalent relationships between musical form and film form. Indeed, musical form proves a constituent element of Casino’s construction at multiple levels of magnification. The large-scale form of the score as a whole articulates the larger arc of Casino’s dual narrative. The strategic deployment of musical styles (from jazz to rock to pop) and the targeted use of lyrics as voiceover (often subtly deploying aspects of racial performance in popular styles) serve to differentiate narrative strands and fill out otherwise unspoken characterization. Scorsese builds several sequences in Casino on a direct, often audible relationship between song forms and narrative unfolding, creating song scenes in which compiled tracks heard as musical wholes grant a musical shape to discrete narrative units. Casino’s complex use of music does not, however, penetrate the inner lives of the film’s three primary characters, who seem unaware of the musical flow Scorsese employs to set their story dancing. The analysis draws upon the filmmaker’s own words about his creative process and offers select comparisons to other Scorsese films with compiled scores.
The Filmmaker as DJ: Martin Scorsese’s Compiled Score for Casino (1995)
Todd Decker is professor of musicology and chair of the music department at Washington University in St. Louis. The author of four books on American commercial music and media, including Hymns for the Fallen: Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam (California, 2017), he has lectured at the Library of Congress and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. In fall 2016 Decker was an International Chair at LabEx Arts-H2H, a humanities center at Université Paris 8 (Vincennes–St. Denis)
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Todd Decker; The Filmmaker as DJ: Martin Scorsese’s Compiled Score for Casino (1995). Journal of Musicology 1 April 2017; 34 (2): 281–317. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2017.34.02.281
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