NEW YEAR'S DAY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE. I can't think of a better way to spend it considering the finally Oscar-winning director takes us on a tour throughout the history of movies in two phenomenal documentaries: one on the history of American movies and the other on his favourite neorealist Italian films.
The first doc is called "A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES"; and while it's a tremendously unwieldy title for a film it tells you exactly what it is with that title. Scorsese, one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic movie fans ever, has simply taken four hours to talk about (and take you through) the American movies which meant the most to him growing up. These are the movies which infatuated him into becoming first a film fan and then a film maker. In this four hour documentary, Scorsese takes us from "The Great Train Robbery" to films of the 90's (the documentary was made in 1995); but not in chronological order. Thank God. No, Scorsese moves from one film to another (showing us the important scenes from each) in a non-linear manner which illustrates exactly what he's talking about at each moment. The result is a documentary which plays more like an enthusiastic friend (who happens to be a film freak) grabbing your hand and saying: "You've GOT to see THIS!" Scorsese takes is through westerns and gangster films, musicals and films noir -- the epics of D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, the westerns of John Ford and the horror films of Jacques Tourneur. Scorsese does not, however, restrict himself to the well-known movies; he also shows us meaningful yet minor films which had an impact on him -- from the lurid western DUEL IN THE SUN to the tiny little Edward G. Robinson flick THE RED HOUSE. This is, after all, a PERSONAL journey by Scorsese through American film so the director is never snobbish or elitist. A movie can be flawed and still provide a hell of an impact. And I must say that, at four hours, the film is too short. I could've gone on watching for 8 hours without a complaint.
As good as "A PERSONAL JOURNEY" is, Scorsese's second documentary on Italian films is even better. Nearly perfect, as a matter of fact. Here the director takes us back to his childhood in an Italian neighbourhood in New York. While he went to the movie theater to see the American movies, he experienced Italian films on local New York television in the 50's. Here, at a very young age, he became enraptured by the neorealist movies coming out of Italy in the 40's and 50's. These films shaped the entire way he himself would go on to make movies and Scorsese shows us why. Knowing that most of us probably haven't seen many (or all) of these films, Scorsese economically shows us key scenes and explains the action of each film while also talking about what each director was doing. I frankly admit to only having seen 2 of the films Scorsese talks about but you know I'm now ravenous to see them all. Scorsese does this to the viewer. Even though we now know what happens in each of these films, Scorsese reveals them in such a way as to produce a hunger in the viewer to track down the entire films and watch them all. However, now we are armed with an understanding of the films which will aid in their appreciation. And these films are so powerful that, even in the context of a documentary, they hit hard. I was in fact moved to actually tears by Vittoria De Sica's "UMBERTO D"; and if these films can do this solely with film clips in a documentary. . .
The films are glorious in the scenes we are shown in Scorsese's documentary so I can just imagine how wonderful they must be to watch in toto. Rossellini. Fellini. De Sica. Antonioni. OPEN CITY. L'AVVENTURA. STROMBOLI. 8 1/2. LA DOLCE VITA. THE BICYCLE THIEF. VOYAGE TO ITALY. PAISA. EUROPE '51. THE ECLIPSE. I VITELLONI. UMBERTO D. THE GOLD OF NAPLES. And many more are lovingly displayed and explained -- celebrated, in fact -- by Martin Scorsese. Both documentaries, in fact, are heartfelt celebrations instead of dry, scholarly texts. Scorsese's love and enthusiasm -- and appreciation -- are infectious. Both documentaries have got to be some of the best ever made about movies. Anyone who makes even the slightest show of loving movies has got to get their hands on these two documentaries.
Many thanks to Terry Frost at Paleo-Cinema for giving me the idea to grab these two indispensible documentaries.