Martin Scorsese and the Fast Dolly Zoom: A Cinematic Love Affair

The revered director’s penchant for getting close to the action.

On one hand, Martin Scorsese is a very naturalistic filmmaker. He creates films that exist in our world about real types of people – in several cases actual real people – in real types of situations. There’s no filter over Scorsese’s worlds, no veils or sugar-coating, like there’s no fantasy in them either, or no real genre work outside of crime or period pieces; there is only the stark truth, often cold and unpleasant, always intriguing, and all too real.

On the other hand, Martin Scorsese is a very stylistic filmmaker as well, not one to hide the artifice of his medium but rather to draw attention to it, to celebrate it through the use of techniques that make it very obvious the story in front of you is being presented and isn’t just unfolding on its own.

It’s this balance between realistic storytelling and a visual aesthetic that isn’t afraid to show you the strokes comprising the finished picture that makes Scorsese one of the most effective filmmakers not just of our time but of any time, every time. He understands the gaps between narrative and imagery, where they are, and how to align these separate elements to best fill them in. He knows when to let us disappear into the story and when to jar us out of it with his technical bag of tricks.

One such trick Scorsese employs quite often is the fast dolly zoom, where all of a sudden the camera rushes towards its subject smooth and quick like a bullet being fired. The effects of this are multifarious: it can reflect mental unravelling, a call to action, a moment of determination, of realization, of resignation, and all this is just in relation to character. From a narrative perspective, the fast dolly zoom accelerates the story, it pulls your attention to a particular plot point, and it kickstarts the action, be it physical or emotional.

Editor Jorge Luengo Ruiz has collected all the fast dolly zooms from the films of Martin Scorsese, Mean Streets through The Wolf of Wall Street, into the same video, where their repetition demonstrates that the technique falls somewhere, as Ruiz notes, “between the subtle and the obnoxious,” which sounds a lot like the same space in which characters like Jordan Belfort, Tommy Devito, and Travis Bickle – all of whom get the Scorsese zoom treatment – reside as well.