In his video essay, “Martin Scorsese – The Art of Silence,” Tony Zhou explores the power of silence in cinema, specifically focusing, as the title suggests, on the films of Martin Scorsese. The essay uses footage from 17 Scorsese-films, and relies heavily on scenes from Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), The Departed (2006), and The Last Temptation of Christ (1998). Zhou’s essay uses Scorsese’s wide-ranging filmography to illustrate the variety of ways silence can enhance the narrative structure of a film.
Zhou’s essay shows how effective silence can be in portraying the thoughts and feelings of a character, and how it can be the central dramatic beat of a scene. Zhou illustrates this point by examining one of the most famous scenes in Goodfellas, where Henry (Ray Liotta) is silent after Tommy (Joe Pesci) “angrily” confronts him for saying he is funny. The silence makes the viewer feel as if they are in the room, and allows them to feel the tension between the two men. The silence is drawn out in such a way that we believe something violent is going to happen. However, just as we are on the edge of our seats, the silence breaks, Henry tells Tommy to “shut up,” and they all laugh.
Silence also gives the viewer permission to enter the world of the film, to become a character. Zhou articulates this point through another famous scene, when Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) fights Sugar Ray Robinson in Raging Bull. In this scene, LaMotta stands with his hands by his sides in the boxing ring and allows Robinson to punch him repeatedly in, as Zhou says, a kind of religious slaughter. The silence of the scene is contrasted by it’s location — Madison Square Garden, a place that is anything but quiet. The lack of noise allows us to become LaMotta, join in his numbness and pain. The silence allows us to connect with a character on a more intimate level.
The videographic form that Zhou’s piece of criticism takes allows us to better understand the nature of silence. In a traditional written essay, Zhou would have to describe to the reader the aforementioned moments, however, in the videographic form, we are able to see and feel them for ourselves. As a result, the video essay communicates to us what the written word cannot, since it is crafted using the film itself.