Mardik Martin, a screenwriter who collaborated with Martin Scorsese on films like “Raging Bull,” “New York, New York” and particularly Scorsese’s breakthrough in gritty realism, “Mean Streets,” died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 84.
The cause was complications of a stroke, said Hunter Hughes, his friend and former assistant.
Martin met Scorsese when they were both film students at New York University in the 1960s. Obsessed with movies, they began to collaborate.
“For a time, we were inseparable,” Scorsese said in a statement after Martin’s death. “We went to see movies together, we talked about them endlessly, and then we started dreaming up the pictures we were going to make — in diner booths and on benches in Washington Square Park, walking the streets of Lower Manhattan or driving around the city, in hot and cold weather, in sunshine and in rain and snow, by night and by day.”
Martin drew from the seedier side of New York, going to great lengths, he said, to dredge up realistic dialogue for his scripts. “I would drive around and pick up hookers, but not for the sex,” he said in 2007. “I would bring a tape recorder and pay them $100 for their stories.”
His interviews inspired parts of “Mean Streets,” a crime drama, set on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, that Martin wrote with Scorsese. The film, which starred Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, was released in 1973 to critical praise and catapulted Keitel, De Niro and Scorsese to stardom.
Scorsese and Martin later collaborated on “The Last Waltz” (1976), the concert film about The Band, and on “New York, New York” (1977), a musical drama (and a box-office disappointment) written with Earl Mac Rauch and starring De Niro and Liza Minnelli. They then worked together on “Raging Bull” (1980), about the troubled life of boxer Jake LaMotta.
De Niro, who played LaMotta in the film, had spent years trying to persuade an initially reluctant Scorsese to adapt LaMotta’s autobiography, “Raging Bull: My Story” (1970, with Peter Savage and Joseph Carter).
Martin wrote a first draft of “Raging Bull” in 1977. He said he had tried to interest Scorsese in the project by comparing it to biblical epics.
“‘Think of them as gladiators, fighting in an arena packed with people,’” Martin was quoted as telling Scorsese in a 2010 Vanity Fair article by film historian Richard Schickel. “‘Then think of them exchanging blows, and the sweat and the blood flying all over the place, onto their tuxedos, their mink coats.’ That got him excited.”
Martin wrote three versions of the screenplay, drawing on interviews he conducted with LaMotta and his ex-wife. But Scorsese and De Niro disliked all of them, Schickel wrote, and enlisted Paul Schrader to write a new version.