The Card Counter – Paul Schrader

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Every film fanatic has a short list of certain filmmakers they’re fascinated by for whatever reason.

For me, screenwriter/director Paul Schrader is high up on my fanatic list. I consider his screenwriting on the same sophistication level with screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky (Network), who is arguably the greatest of all time, in my opinion. His masterwork is the screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).

As a former Calvinist theology student, Schrader studied film at UCLA and he started, ironically, as a film critic. Back in early 1970s while at AFI, Schrader wrote a book on the art of film analysis called The Transcendetal Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer. That book blew my mind when I read it back in the late 80s as a teenager. It was fascinating to read an intellectual dissection of film as an art form, with ties into the nature of religion.

I’m also a big of Yoshiro Ozu and Carl Dreyer and for Schrader to keenly observe the similarities between their works – whether deliberate or not consciously or perhaps just human condition – it made a big impact on me and my understanding of the power of filmmaking as an art form, beyond just a commercial enterprise.

My life working in the music business crossed paths with Schrader on the periphery, due to our shared appreciation for the band The Call. Fronted by singer/songwriter Michael Been, both Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese were also fans of the band. Who knew? I’ve heard stories from The Call drummer Scott Music about Scorsese and Schrader coming their gigs in NYC back in the 80s.

Scorsese cast Michael Been to appear as the apostle John the Apostle in his 1988 movie, The Last Temptation of Christ. Schrader later hired Michael Been to score his 1992 movie Light Sleeper, which was part of his “God’s lonely man” series of themed movies (Taxi Driver, Bringing Out The Dead, Light Sleeper, First Reformed).

In 1999, I worked with Michael Been on releasing The Call’s only live album, Live Under The Red Moon on my indie record label, Conspiracy Music. Sadly, Michael passed away in 2006 from a heart attack.

In 2021, Michael Been’s son, Robert Levon Been (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) was hired by Paul Schrader hired to co-score his latest movie, The Card Counter, starring Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Hadish.

There’s a scene where we see Oscar Isaac‘s back filled with a tattoo inscribed with Michael Been‘s lyrics from Light Sleeper. Robert Been’s Card Counter score is excellent – the movie, too. Highly recommended.