Later this week, probably the world’s greatest living film director will celebrate his eightieth birthday. However he celebrates — whether in the company of friends and family in his no doubt opulent Manhattan home, or working on his eagerly awaited new film Killers of the Flower Moon — Martin Scorsese can reach his milestone age in the confidence that his position in cinematic history is assured forever.

For a man so steeped in the art and practice of filmmaking — and who has made several excellent documentaries about movies — it must be intensely gratifying for...

Later this week, probably the world’s greatest living film director will celebrate his eightieth birthday. However he celebrates — whether in the company of friends and family in his no doubt opulent Manhattan home, or working on his eagerly awaited new film Killers of the Flower Moon — Martin Scorsese can reach his milestone age in the confidence that his position in cinematic history is assured forever.

For a man so steeped in the art and practice of filmmaking — and who has made several excellent documentaries about movies — it must be intensely gratifying for Scorsese to be aware that he is that rarest of persons, a living legend, whose contributions to film will live forever. Of course, his most famous works — Goodfellas, Raging Bull, The Departed and Taxi Driver — are cinematic classics that are much quoted, imitated, parodied and ripped-off by everyone from would-be comedians to other filmmakers. But over the course of a career that has stretched over five decades, Scorsese has a higher hit rate of good-to-excellent films than any other living filmmaker. There’s barely a miss among them, and there are countless second-tier pictures (The King of Comedy, The Aviator and The Age of Innocence) that most directors would kill to have as their crowning masterpiece.

Scorsese has always been exacting in his choice of collaborators, working repeatedly with the same excellent actors and craftspeople. It’s not a Scorsese film unless it’s edited by Thelma Schoonmaker, widow of Scorsese’s idol Michael Powell, who once memorably quipped, when asked how it felt for a woman to be working on such carnage-heavy pictures, “They aren’t violent until I’ve edited them.”

Scorsese launched the career of Robert de Niro, revitalized that of Leonardo DiCaprio and elicited iconic performances from everyone from Ellen Burstyn and Cate Blanchett to Joe Pesci and Mark Wahlberg. A vast number of people have won or been nominated for Oscars for their work in Scorsese’s films — proof, if it were needed, that he’s a man who both understands the technical art of cinema and how vitally important great actors (even Wahlberg, who was deservedly nominated for awards for The Departed) are to the success of these pictures.

Yet there will be some who will not be queuing up to praise Scorsese. He has been trenchant in his dismissal of superhero and Marvel pictures, memorably saying in 2019, “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

Scorsese is, of course, correct, but this has not stopped those taking the Marvel dollar — or indeed the corporate bean-counters behind the films themselves — from criticizing Scorsese, implicitly damning him as an old, white heterosexual man who cannot understand the wonderful diversity that Marvel has brought to our screens.

Some will see Scorsese as a conservative figure, moaning against the dying of the light. Many more, I hope, will not. He has given the art of cinema — and for him, it is an art, not merely a replication of the theme park experience — more gifts than virtually any other filmmaker, not just contemporary but since the medium was invented. He lives and breathes film, and will do so until the day that he dies. I cannot imagine that a man as energetic and committed to his life’s work will simply retire.

So happy birthday, Martin Scorsese, the Don of cinema. Let’s hope that there are many more birthdays, many more films, and many more thumbed noses to the barbarians at the gate of the art form you adore so much, and have done so much for.