What to think of “Vinyl”, the new Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger series?
The new Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger HBO series follows the salacious existence of a record label boss. A dip into 1970s New York when drugs, punk, glam-rock and early hip-hop reigned supreme.
In 2010 Martin Scorsese made his first foray into television by directing a series pilot. But the beginnings of Boardwalk Empire (which for five seasons followed the rise of a mafia boss in 1920s Atlantic City) were rather needy. Almost as if the maestro behind Raging Bull was bored stiff trying to understanding the demands of the medium – and so were we too. The problem seems to be thankfully resolved with a brand new series, Vinyl which has gone above and beyond any expectation. It’s written by Terence Winter, formerly on the Sopranos and now a Scorsese accomplice since Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street. On the production side was no less than Mick Jagger, the originator of the project and official provider of juicy anecdotes. And responsible for the first episode was, of course, the director of The King of Comedy. A dazzling promise of good times to come.
It all begins in 1973, New York, in the footsteps of Richie Finestra, a record label boss in search of personal and professional renaissance.
A purchase by a competitor is imminent, and more or less agreed. But he spends his days snorting coke, fixing his problems by creating more, questioning the meaning of his commitments and passions. Between the mafia and the groups who’ll be playing the sounds of tomorrow, daily life is relentlessly volatile. His is a chemically pure male character haunted by guilt, overwhelmed by violence, fickle yet heroic. Actor Bobby Cannavale, barely known until now, imbues him with an immediacy of pain and determination.
Beyond this figure as cranky as he is touching – even if he’s typical in his unequivocal masculinity – the series strives to identify the ambiguities and mutations of an era that thought music could change the world. The jumpy, brutal style printed by Scorsese on the pilot sublimates the fervour of seventies rock, from glam to a burgeoning punk, as well as the green shoots of disco. Hip-hop also takes its first steps. More than a revival, Vinyl is a screaming hymn to a city. From the dirtiest pavements to the clubs shaken by a youth without fear or loathing, there’s not a décor brimming with desire that escapes him.
In this fictional underworld, Scorsese finds that blast of fresh air and destructive energy we intermittently know him for. Sleek, powerful and intense, his pilot appears to resemble both a film (one hour fifty minutes!) and to respect the rules of the show, leaving you thirsting for lots more. The incredible opening sequence is the best ever in Scorsese’s oeuvre and in the history of TV series… The rest of the first season, ensured by other directors, inevitably bears the mark of a creator without inhibitions. This is a man who’s willing to look to the past (Scorsese was 31 years old in 1973 when he made Means Streets) all while living in perfect harmony with his own era. So much for nostalgia, but great news for us...
Vinyl, on since February 15th every Monday night at 8.55pm on OCS City
By Olivier Joyard