leave a comment --Ethan Alter
A sequel of sorts to A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES (1995), this four-hour documentary is an excellent guide to some of the highlights of post-World War II Italian cinema. Narrated by Scorsese (who also appears frequently on camera), the film begins in the early 1940s when the future filmmaker was growing up on New York's Lower East Side. Living in an all-Italian neighborhood, Scorsese was exposed to his homeland’s films at a young age; every weekend the local TV stations would run scratchy prints of Italian movies in their original language and his extended family would gather around the set to watch. The first Italian film he remembers seeing is Roberto Rossellini's PAISAN (1946), which, along with Rossellini's OPEN CITY (1945), were the movies credited with launching the neorealist movement. Neorealism replaced conventional narrative storytelling with a more documentary-like approach; filmmakers often employed non-actors and focussed their attention on such social problems as poverty, unemployment and crime. Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti also got their start making neorealist films; De Sica is responsible for what may be the movement’s most famous movie, THE BICYCLE THIEF (1948), while Visconti made the well-received LA TERRA TREMA (1948). Scorsese examines each of these directors in detail, discussing their contributions to cinema (including his own films) and analyzing numerous scenes from their movies. He also covers the early work of Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, whose I VITELLONI (1953) he cites as a major influence for MEAN STREETS (1973). The movie concludes with Fellini's masterpiece, 8 1/2 (1963), which clearly ranks as one of Scorsese's most beloved films. Much like A PERSONAL JOURNEY, this documentary is like an entire collegiate course crammed into a single four-hour lecture. Scorsese once again proves an excellent teacher, offering plenty of insightful comments (not all of which were written by him-several other experts contributed to the screenplay) and sharing some touching personal memories. The director was clearly coached to tone down his normal exuberance, but his passion for cinema still comes across. The only disappointment is that the film isn't longer; there's so much ground to cover that discussions of certain topics-and movies-occasionally feel rushed (fortunately, Scorsese is currently at work on a follow-up documentary). Indeed, hardcore fans of Italian cinema might take Scorsese to task for devoting so much time to a well-known film like THE BICYCLE THIEF and passing over less-renowned fare. But for viewers who want an introduction to the classics, this is the perfect place to start.