Martin Scorsese has never been the sort of filmmaker to milk his successes by creating endless sequels to his movies. There is no “Taxi Driver 2,” “Raging Bull, the Comeback,” or “Son of Goodfellas.”
But Thursday evening (Feb. 13), audience members at the Hasty Pudding Theatre learned there would be a sequel to Scorsese’s current release, “Gangs of New York.” The title of this top secret production: “Gangs of New Haven.”
This revelation came about in the course of Scorsese’s ritual humiliation at the hands of Hasty Pudding Theatricals co-producers, seniors Chuck Howe and Robin Potts. Scorsese, the 2003 Hasty Pudding Man of the Year, was asked to act out a scene from the upcoming movie in which he portrayed “a hapless Yale student” whose lunchbox is stolen by a pair of street thugs.
The skit was only one of a series of wacky improvisations that the distinguished director was forced to suffer through before receiving the gaudy brass receptacle, which each year another pair of celebrities indulgently agrees to regard as sufficient recompense for undergoing this sophomoric debacle.
Other degrading ceremonies that Scorsese was compelled to endure included a grammar lesson in which the director was shown a chalkboard inscribed with Travis Bickle’s famous challenge from “Taxi Driver” – “You talkin’ to me?”
A Hasty Pudding player emerged disguised as a portly “Harvard schoolmarm.”
“Can you tell me what’s wrong with this sentence?” she demanded, then slapped the director’s hand with a ruler when he replied that he could see nothing amiss.
“Repeat after me: To whom are you speaking?” she instructed. Scorsese dutifully repeated the lesson and passed the test.
Next, a clown complete with a red fright wig somersaulted onto the stage and asked Scorsese, “Am I funny to you?”, Joe Pesci’s menacing line from “Goodfellas.” When Scorsese failed to respond, the clown bellowed, “Do you think I came here to f***ing amuse you?”
Another ordeal that preceded the presentation of the pudding pot was a series of inkblot tests, designed to expose Scorsese’s inherent penchant for violence, as evidenced by the death and mayhem in many of his films. Howe showed him “inkblots” that were unmistakably silhouettes of a pair of machine guns and two men fighting with knives. When Scorsese identified them as such, Potts screamed accusingly, “You would think that!”
The final inkblot was in the shape of an Oscar, which Scorsese hopes to win for his directorial efforts in “Gangs of New York.”
“That looks suspiciously like a certain award,” he said wistfully. Despite being nominated several times, Scorsese has never received the Best Director award.
Finally there came the inevitable blond wig and bra. Scorsese’s hairpiece was topped with what appeared to be a halo. The bra was made of decks of playing cards fanned out in a circle.
Scorsese’s good humor through all of this horseplay was all the more remarkable given the fact that he was suffering from the flu. He was forced to cancel his tour of Harvard Yard earlier in the day and instead took a nap in his hotel room, a very sensible decision in view of the frigid weather outside.
Later, at the press conference, Scorsese apologized for his illness and for the difficulty he had speaking. His indisposition did not stop him from giving thoughtful answers to the press’ questions.
Asked how the Man of the Year award compared with the Academy Award, he said, “That’s a tough comparison. I don’t know if you can compare the two.”
In answer to a question about his impressions of Harvard, Scorsese answered that he had never had the chance to form many impressions because his illness had kept him from seeing anything of the campus.
“The last time I was here was in 1973 for the opening of “Mean Streets” at the Orson Welles Cinema,” he said.
He added, with a barely perceptible tongue-in-cheek tone, “I was so glad to see that the tradition of sophisticated comedy lives here at Harvard.”
There was one more hurdle for Scorsese to clear before he was free to retire for the night and nurse his cold. Cambridge City Councilwoman Marjorie Decker and Katherine Rafferty of the mayor’s office came forward to tell the guest of honor that Mayor Michael Sullivan had declared Feb. 13 “Martin Scorsese Day.”
“And just to make sure you know you’re in Cambridge and not in Boston, we’d like to give you the key to the city,” Rafferty declared.
Despite this geography lesson, Scorsese still looked a trifle disoriented, but ever the professional, he held up the large brass-plated key and smiled while the photographers snapped his picture.