The Day I Shook The Hand Of Martin Scorsese, 1991
What Up Yo.
Here’s a simple little tale for the fellow Scorsese admirer.
A moment I had that I love reflecting on years later.
I’m sure this will sound a little nuts to some…but to others, this will make perfect sense.
The year was 1991. “Goodfellas” had been unleashed into the world and Scorsese was preparing to release “Cape Fear“.
I was 17 and absolutely loved Scorsese.
I was invited to a preview screening of “Cape Fear” by my buddy, Shaun.
It was fate.
The screening was in a movie theater in Syosset, New York. For those familiar…this was not the awesome, amazing, why the hell did you close it “Cinema 150” with the 1, large, 70MM screen…this was the 3 screen theater down the block.
I had never been to a preview screening before, we all sat down in the theater…excited.
The lights dimmed…we were told the soundtrack and effects were not complete and that we were to fill in a questionnaire after the film ended.
It was at this point 4 or 5 people entered the theater balcony where I was sitting. The final person to walk into the theater was Martin Scorsese.
It was also at this point…that I began to lose my shit.
I knew what he looked like.
Any die-hard cinephile did.
He was in his own films often, he gunned down DeNiro in “Mean Streets”,
he described what a .44 Magnum would do to his wife’s face in “Taxi Driver“,
I owned multiple books on him (Scorsese on Scorsese, baby),
He explained the rules to 9 ball in the opening of “The Color Of Money“…
And now he was walking right past my left shoulder up to his seat in the balcony of the theater with people who looked and smelled important.
I start to tell my friends…
“Martin Fucking Scorsese just walked into the theater.”
I’m trying to be calm.
I’m not calm.
They doubted it…but a few students from NYU sitting next to us confirmed it.
“That’s Scorsese, right?” I asked them.
The one closest to me on my right looked at me…and smiled.
His smile and my smile were identical; the smile of madmen.
The smile Vincent D’Onofrio gave Matthew Modine in “Full Metal Jacket“:
I was in a bit of exaggerated shock.
After 10 mins, I decide I could no longer sit in a movie theater, watching a film by Martin Scorsese…knowing Martin Scorsese was sitting 6 rows behind me.
Shaun, In an act of what he regarded as confidence and I regarded as blasphemy, walked up to the master and had him sign the inside of the package of Skittles.
To me that act was as insulting as walking up to him, sticking your ass directly in his face and farting.
I needed to look him in the eye…
To shake his hand…
To show him the ultimate respect and burn that moment into my memory for the rest of my years.
With that decided, as dramatically as I could, I stood up and marched right out of the fucking theater.
I went downstairs into the main lobby.
It was there I would spend the next two hours.
I was freaking the fuck out.
I needed a plan.
How am I going to do this?
How do I approach him and create the moment in time where in stand in front of Martin Scorsese, shake his hand and look him in the eye?
I surveyed the scene:
Guards stood in random positions around the lobby.
A parked limo was directly outside the theater doors.
A general air of security loomed.
His limo drivers?
I’ll stop him at the car?
Worth a shot.
I go outside, stand off to the side and start to chain smoke as I listen to them talk.
They sound cool.
They’re talking about Joe Pesci… How they wish she was there, how funny he is.
I look like a weirdo, a punk half spanish half italian kid nervously standing to the side chain-smoking cigarettes staring at the 4 of them.
I walk up, bluntly interrupt the 4 of them and ask to no one specifically:
“Let’s say I want to shake Martin Scorsese hand as he’s leaving…”
They all stop talking to each other suddenly and stare at me.
“Will you let me?”
First, they deny it’s him.
Then, after a few minutes…I get:
“Listen, I’m not saying it’s him…. But if it was, and you were to try to talk to him as he was leaving…if you were to approach him…and he didn’t want to be approached…well then we would need to get involved. We would need to move you out of his way.”
“Have fun. You’re young kid…go watch the movie.”
“I can’t be up there…”
If I had to explain, they wouldn’t understand.
If they didn’t understand, they wouldn’t take mercy on me when I tried to shake his hand…I would need to figure out a Plan-B.
I would need to catch him before he got to the car, before these guys saw him…
It had to happen in the lobby of the theater.
An hour has passed, I’m trying to work all this out…darting in and out of the movie theater to smoke …when a security guard, a member of Scorsese’s crew I had seen earlier, approaches me.
“Kid what are you doing down here…why aren’t you watching the movie?”
“Martin Scorsese is up there” I say. “I can’t sit in the same theater with him. I want to meet him, shake his hand, but he’s watching his film and I don’t want to interrupt him…I mean my friend just had him sign a…”
“Who’s Martin Scorsese?” He asks.
I blankly stare at him.
What’s this, a sick joke?
“Who is Martin Scorsese? The director!” I exclaim. “The director of “Goodfellas”, “Taxi Driver”, “The Last Temptation Of Christ“, “The Color Of Money”…he’s the guy who directed the movie playing upstairs right now! The greatest director of all time!!!”
I’d like to thank the Academy.
“Martin Scorsese isn’t here.” He says.
I stare blankly at him, I don’t understand.
Then I get it. He’s having fun, he’s doing his job.
“I saw him upstairs sitting in the back of the balcony…it’s Martin Scorsese.” I say, getting frustrated.
“Listen kid, I’m telling you, it’s not Martin Scorsese. Just go upstairs and watch the movie.”
His voice, it’s getting softer with each sentence.
“It’s Martin Scorsese.” I exclaim again. “I could pick him out from a crowd of 1000 people and that’s Martin Scorsese upstairs.”
“I just want to shake his hand.” I say.
He starts grinning at me.
“What are you in high school?”
“I am, yeah.” I say.
“You’re a movie fan?”
“It’s all I have.” I say. “It’s everything to me. Since I was a kid. I don’t do drugs, I just watch movies.”
“You live here on the island?” He asks.
“Yea, Huntington.” I say.
“You’re here alone?”
“I came with my friends.”
“Where are your friends?” He asks, looking puzzled.
“There are upstairs watching the movie.” I say.
“They know you’re down here? Are they gonna wonder where you went?” He’s trying to put together why I left, and my explanations are amusing him.
“They know me. They’ll understand. They know how much I love him. They know I couldn’t sit there”
He begins loosening up. He’s warm. A nice guy. Older. This is his gig, and he takes it seriously.
I was disarming him I realize as I look back now.
And still, over and over again…he denies that The Greatest American Film Director Who’s Ever Lived is in the building.
45 minutes pass.
The whole time, he won’t budge an inch.
We speak about film, Hitchcock, DePalma, then my Family, about school and then about my mother.
I’m keeping him company, and he I.
He see’s that I’m passionate about film.
But he doesn’t budge man.
We were getting on real well I remember, and then a group of people walk out of a private elevator one of the guards stands in front of and into the lobby of the theater,
They are well-dressed. Polished. A bit older, all talking amongst themselves about where they can grab a quick bite to eat before the movie ends.
The guard I’m speaking with explains to them that there is a diner down the block, and they all shuffle off.
He turns back around to me.
He doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve got him.
“That’s his mom.” I say.
I’ll never forget the look on his face at that moment.
He starts to smile.
In the middle of the crowd of people…I made eye contact with Catherine Scorsese, Martin Scorsese’s mom.
“That’s Catherine Scorsese.” I say proudly. “That’s Martin Scorsese’s mother and that’s him upstairs!”
He has a full on smile now and looks a bit stunned as he asks:
“Who did you say that was? How do you know that kid?!”
“I told you. I just know.” I say. “He’s my favorite director. She in his movies, I’ve read his books. I know him, and I know her”
He lets out a big laugh, like he’s been saving it up, holding it in and he couldn’t keep it compressed any longer.
He calls over to one of his co-workers there who us standing in front of a private elevator, who has been a guard who has been watching the whole exchange between us and says:
“Hey Mario…the kid just picked out Catherine! The kid just looked over and picked her out of the crowd! just like that” he yelled.
He looked back over at me…his whole face is different…relaxed, almost…How do I put this…
And I will remember what he said to me next for the rest of my life.
He had this smile…this look in his eye I’ll never forget:
“Kid, I give up, What do you need? Whatever you need…I’ll do.”
I had cracked him wide open, I felt validated.
And in that moment, I flat out loved that guy.
So this was it.
I was now protected.
Whatever I wanted, I no longer had to worry about the limo drivers jacking me up.
I explained to him what I wanted to do, more than anything:
“I just want to shake his hand and tell him he’s great.” I say, short and to the point.
He was smiling and waiting for more:
“…that’s it?” He asks.
“That’s it” I say. “I don’t need a signature. Just want to shake his hand.”
“Ok.” He says “You see that elevator?”
He turns and points towards Mario, to the elevator Mario is standing in front of, the one Catherine and company had just come out of.
“Ok…” I say.
“After the movie’s over…the audience will all start to leave.” He explains. “He’s going to come out of that elevator. He’ll be with guards and a few other people and he’s going to come out real fast and he’s going to head directly for his car. You need to be right there. Don’t leave, just wait. But you got to be quick when you see him.”
“Ok ok…” I say, memorizing every word he is saying.
“But…” He continues…”If he ignores you or walks away, you have to let it go kid. Ok? He is getting right into the car and he’s leaving after that. But be calm, he’s a great guy, it will be ok. “
“Thank you so much. I got it.” I say.
And so I waited.
Mr. Scorsese’s mom returns (they went to McDonalds in case you were wondering.) and heads into one of the limos out front.
Then the movie lets out.
The auditorium fills up.
The auditorium empty’s out.
I see my friends and quickly, frantically, explain to them why I had vanished for the two hours, and why they needed to wait outside for me.
I’d be there as soon as I could.
They went out and waited for Carol, Shaun’s mom, a saint in my world.
God bless my friends.
God bless Carol.
In the meantime, my new friend has vanished. He’s gone.
The crowd is also pretty much gone.
I’m pacing back and forth.
I’m staring at the elevator.
The people that work at the theater are beginning to stare at me now.
But I dare them to fuck with me with my eyes.
Then the elevator doors open…
Mario steps aside…
And Ladies and Gentleman…
My heart starts beating out of my chest,
I may have looked like a complete maniac.
I imagine I did as I am writing this, but I was a kid…
If I was the age I am now, acting that way, I would have been taken away in a police car.
This was it.
He walked out of the elevator.
He’s with the people from up stairs.
I make quick eye contact with him, then he turns around to speak to the others behind him.
Ok. I made eye contact with Martin Scorsese.
The pussy inside me says I should leave.
He’s just a man, but for some reason I’m terrified.
But something in me wouldn’t let me bug out.
Like the me from the future somehow spoke to me as a teenager and said:
“Don’t. You. Dare. Walk. Away.”
There’s a clearing between us, nothing standing between me and Martin Scorsese, who is now standing 5 feet in front of me.
His back turned, discussing his imminent departure with the circle of elite people who all smell fucking great.
I was making it harder on my self.
I was shy kid, and this was absolutely terrifying to me.
But it was all kind of magical.
Shaun getting the tickets.
The girl he invited turning him down.
Me getting the invite instead.
Us sitting in the balcony.
Me sitting in the isle seat allowing me to see the master when he walked in.
Going downstairs and meeting the guard who liked me.
Seeing his mom at that precise moment.
Something divine was making these events possible…all culminating in me standing in this exact spot in space and time.
I looked for my guy.
He isn’t there…but neither any other guards.
And just as he had said, Mr. Scorsese was exactly where he said he would be.
The stars had aligned Wes.
In hear my mothers voice from heaven whisper in my ear:
I move in.
The following exchange takes place:
“Excuse me, Mr. Scorsese?”
Martin Scorsese whips around quickly.
He is looking me in the eye.
I am looking Martin Scorsese directly in the eye…
“My name is Wes Candela, I just want to shake your hand and tell you I think you’re great.”
Martin Scorsese firmly grips and shakes my hand.
“Oh, thanks a lot! Thanks for coming!”
He turns around…
And like that…he’s off.
I am electric.
Standing in awe, I am reborn.
I can now distinguished my life into 2 separate parts.
BS: BEFORE SCORSESE
AS: AFTER SCORSESE
Only a true cinephile, film lover would understand.
This man had astounded millions with what he had created up until that point, and what he would go on to create, to teach, how we would alter and mold how the world would see and know cinema…its was shaking the hand of a legend.
Of a man who has moved mountains,
For me, this was an event of epic proportions.
I touched greatness.
I stared that greatness in the eye.
I celebrated him, and he thanked me wholeheartedly.
My new friend comes back right before they all depart a few minutes later…
“Hey kid…Did you see him?”
“I shook his hand!! Thank you!!!”
“Great kid, great! Best of luck to you!”
And that’s it.
It’s beyond special to me.
It is a moment I thank the gods for, thank my mother for, thank Shaun for and thank the new friend I made that night for still to this day.
I enjoy telling the story, I wanted to tell it to you.
And thats it.
Thats the story of the day I met Martin Scorsese and shook his hand.
It’s the little things people.