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How does a filmmaker get out of being asked in every interview what
films influence him? He makes a movie about them. Martin Scorsese's
lengthy documentary, My Voyage to Italy has been making the rounds on
film festival circuit since 1999. It is now available to the general
public on two-disc DVD.
Scorsese says in the beginning of My Voyage to Italy that his film was made so that people, especially today's youth, can realize that not all great films are born deep in the heart of Hollywood, USA. Scorsese directs and narrates this documentary about the history of Italian cinema. My Voyage to Italy includes home video from Scorsese's childhood and footage from 24 movies made between 1914 and 1966. It is these films that inspired him to become one of America's most well known and beloved directors. Scorsese gives us plot points, character descriptions and even endings of each classic film, pointing out specific elements that make the movie great. He tells us the strengths and weaknesses of each film and what he got out of it. At one point, he even shows us the same scene twice so we can spot exactly what he wants us to see. And, although you know the ending of these films, you are somehow still compelled to go out and see them anyway. It is as if he is a close friend who is describing a movie he just saw and tells you to go see it. This is a person whose opinion you can have confidence in.
The films featured in My Voyage to Italy opened the door for today's writers and directors. In a time where free speech was only something the press could take advantage of, many of the films were considered scandalous and provoked boycotts and law suits in the US. Roberto Rossellini's film Il Miracolo (The Miracle) prompted a US court to rule that filmmakers are entitled to the same freedom of speech as the media. Where would modern cinema be without this landmark decision?
Scorsese's main influences were the films made during the Italian neo-realism movement. All of the films in the genre focused on the reality of World War II; the horrors and sacrifice, liberation and compassion; all of the emotions felt during that time are on the screen, giving the audience little-to-no optimism or silver-lining. Through these films, the viewer experiences the filmmaker's response to that moment in history. They were not about a hero or a villain, but about life during and after the most extensive and costly war in the history of the world. Through these movies, Scorsese was subjected to the true Italian life and culture he couldn't experience at home in New York.
My Voyage to Italy should be required viewing for people who want to pursue a career in film; it is like a four-hour advanced film class that is as interesting as it is entertaining. It is obvious to the viewer that the films Scorsese highlights are dear to his heart. Based on the films that he loves, you can clearly see their influence reflected in the darker movies he has directed. Films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas came to life because of the old movies he watched on the tiny black-and-white TV in his childhood home.
Before watching My Voyage to Italy, I had never seen even a frame of a film by Rossellini or Federico Fellini. Now, I feel compelled to go out and study each one. That, I suppose, was Scorsese's intention all along.
Instead of doing commentary on the DVDs of his favorite Italian films,
he probably could do better than anyone else alive, being a masterfully
adept teacher as well as the greatest working American director, Scorsese
has decided to make his own film about them so he could relate them to his
own development as a director. He relates how in the late '40s and early
'50s, early Neo-Realist masterworks such as "Paisa" were shown often on New
York area TV because of the large Italian-American population there, and
what an indelible mark they made on him, a kid used to escapist Hollywood
films. The films Scorsese's talking about, of course, are those of
Rossellini, De Sica, Fellini, Visconti, and Antonioni. He leaves out some
the lesser known master directors such as Valerio Zurlini and Francesco
Rossi, but does drop in a fascinating little visit to the beautifully
dreamlike and nearly forgotten films of Alessandro Blasetti (1860, Fabiola)
in his discussion of the common elements, born of a 2000 year old
of Italian-made fantasy films and neo-realist films, as opposed to most
Scorsese's sense of humor and eye for bizarre detail and the hilariously nuanced absurdities of some of these films are in top form throughout, and it's quite obvious from the get-go that he knows these films like the back of his hand. He's so passionate about these films that often his voice falters a little as you can hear him audibly moved to the point of tears in the voice-over!
The films he goes into in considerable detail are "ROME, OPEN CITY," "PAISA," "GERMANY: YEAR ZERO," "STROMBOLI," "AMORE," "ST. FRANCIS OF THE FLOWERS," "EUROPA 51," "VOYAGE TO ITALY," "SHOESHINE," "BICYCLE THIEF," "GOLD OF NAPLES," "OSSESSIONE," "LA TERRA TREMA," "SENSO" (Scorsese uses a breathtakingly beautiful restored print when discussing this technicolor Visconti film), "I VITELLONI" (the direct inspiration for "Mean Streets," as well as George Lucas' "American Graffitti"), "LA DOLCE VITA," "L'AVVENTURA," "THE ECLIPSE," and then closes the nearly 4 and half hour discussion with a brilliantly wide-scoped dissection of his favorite Italian film: "8-1/2."
Maybe if I lived in New York, perhaps I'd have the chance to take a master class in cinema; but I don't and I haven't. So warmly grateful I was along with a half-full house Memorial Day morning at the Seattle International Film Festival to absorb Scorsese's generous tutorial on Italian neo-realism. Of the dozen or more films filleted, I'd never laid eyes on three-quarters of them. The four-hour experience was like taking a double-tank dive to a sunken ship and coming back up with treasures. I'll definitely find a way to see "Open City", "Paisa", "Senso" and "Eclipse". Scorsese's gentle, loving commentary as he sends us sailing on a sea of images is so intimate and, occasionally, so humorous that I felt my heart grow inside me. This documentary will take you deep into a humanity that most Americans have never empathetically understood. This film is an event in maturity, an act of love.
In the beginning and end of Mi Viaggio Di Italia (My Voyage to Italy),
legend Martin Scorsese explains, in good reason, that the way to get people
more interested in film is to share personal experiences of viewing
particular ones that had some kind of impact for a movie-goer's experience
(much like a friend telling another that a new movie is out, go see it, it's
good, etc). Scorsese used a similar approach to his first cinema lesson- A
Personal Journey Through American Movies- and like that one, it's a long,
detailed, and deeply felt documentary. Sometimes when he talks about these
movies you can tell he's so passionate about them, and it's a good
First, Scorsese gives the viewer a feel of how he saw so many of these films from Italy- how he could go from seeing a Roy Rogers western in the theater and come home to watch a Rossellini series or a De Sica feature on TV- then, he goes through a comprehensive tale of the progression of the neo-realist movement, also mentioning the silent film epics, the tragic/comedies of the 50's, and how it progressed into the "new-wave" of Antonionni and Fellini in the early 60's. Like 'Personal Journey', it's long, possibly longer than the previous, and might not be watchable in one sitting (it's a two parter as I remember it from seeing it broadcast on TV). But for the avid movie-goer, fan of neo-realism, or someone wanting to get a glimpse of a better, smarter world in cinema in these days of cineplex garbage, it's a lenghty treat. A+
MY VOYAGE TO ITALY (directed by Martin Scorsese) What is it that's so
relaxing about Martin Scorsese's voice? I don't know. I've talked to a
few different people and we all find his voice to be so comforting.
Plus he's smart. I loved his contribution to BFI's 100 Years of Cinema
(released in the states as "A Personal Journey") and I really love the
documentary "Martin Scorsese Directs" from the American Masters series.
I've watched them both over and over.
So now I can add another documentary to that list with "My Voyage To Italy". Studying the most important age in film worldwide, Neo Realism, he examines the main players and their major films in a way that is engaging without condescension or over-statistical, boredom. The guy really loves movies and he knows what's important.
His film history is just one of many alternative histories to the one championed by film critics static in their culture and prejudices. In writing about Rossellini, De Sica, Fellini and my hero Antonioni he writes about what he loves and what he sees as important. He even picks films that were seen as disasters financially and critically pointing out how their importance was more profound than such predictable criteria. For example, Rossellini's "Voyage To Italy" was a critical and financial failure but what championed by the Cahiers Du Cinema writers like Godard and Truffaut.
Scorcese's narration is smart and so loving that from anyone else you would think it pitiful. But in this situation, it's inspiring and just great storytelling.
Martin Scorsese has compiled a fascinating personal documentary in "Mio
viaggio in Italia." What makes this so compelling is the compassion with
which Scorsese renders his selections.
He admits to having discovered these films, from his childhood to adulthood, not through reading about them (as in a film textbook) but actually experiencing them in the theater. His passion for these works and their directors exudes with great enthusiasm, which becomes infectious.
The films are not superficially presented, but rather in substantial enough portions as to allow one to glean their essence--at the same time, without ruining seeing the entire work.
His interpretive commentaries reveal one who has been deeply affected by these productions, and who has given great thought to their meaning and significance.
For the film buff, this is a most engrossing journey; for the young person new to Italian cinema, this is a valuable introduction to an artistic treasure chest.
Intense and prolific filmmaker Martin Scorsese did not seem to be
satisfied with projecting the influence he drew from Italian films from
the 1940s, '50s, and '60s on his own films. So, he spends four solid
hours explaining the details and expressions of at least thirty films,
all condensed into about ten minutes each. He analyzes and discloses
trivia about each of them and pours out all of his passion into this
like water bore over his shoulders that he can't bear anymore.
For awhile, I was wondering why he would spend so much time doing this. Why make a movie wherein most of the footage is taken from other movies? Why examine a condensed version of each film from beginning to end when we may want to see these movies ourselves? Well, after awhile, I realized the point of this. Scorsese had a very important reason why he wanted to make this epic documentary. It's because these films are what made him the filmmaker he is, not to mention the person he is, and their effects have not weakened throughout time. So, he wants to perpetuate their lives. He wants to interest younger generations, such as mine, in these films and their makers.
And I'll tell you what. It works. I am now very interested in seeing a lot of these movies. I realize I have not seen nearly enough films by Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, or Vittorio De Sica. And I plan to, thanks to Scorsese's film.
This is less a documentary than a visual diary of one man's selective view of Italian Cinema of the 50's & 60's. Of course, when that man is Martin Scorsese, it demands the attention of cineastes worldwide. In the introduction, one could assume that Scorsese will give a general view of the Italian films he saw as a child and as a young adult. But soon, he plunges into a hour plus mini-documentary of Roberto Rossellini. This is certainly understandable not only because Rossellini was a seminal Italian filmmaker, but because Scorsese in fact married into the family (via his ex Isabella). From there it's on to Visconti, De Sica, Fellini and Antonioni. And, that's about all. A few other filmmakers are touched upon briefly, but those five comprise the heart of the nearly 4 hour long film. Of course, rarely has a country given the world cinema a quintet as gifted as these five men. Still, it would have been illustrative if Scorsese had donated perhaps half and hour of the picture to a survey of the other Italian filmmakers of the era. These are mere quibbles, however. For no world class filmmaker (with the possible exception of Truffuat) has ever poured out so much emotion and depth of understanding for other directors as Scorsese has here. The portrayal of Rossellini in particular will be hard-pressed to ever be equaled - let alone surpassed. A demanding, yet essential film history.
I definitely enjoyed an evening watching Turner Classic Movies listening to Martin Scorsese discuss his appreciation and affection for many of the formative films of Italian cinema, particularly the neo-realism movement and the post-war works of Rossellini, De Sica, Fellini, Visconti and Antonioni. So personal is this documentary, that it was like spending an evening with a friend sharing a mutual interest; and for those with an interest in International cinema, this is a rare treat. My suggestion is to hunt down as many of these films as you can find on video, then view them on the biggest television you can find. Among the more obscure and brilliant works discussed are PAISAN, GERMANY-YEAR ZERO, OSSESSIONE, SENSO, L'ECLISSE and I VITELLONI; along with more popular masterpieces, OPEN CITY, BICYCLE THIEF, LA DOLCE VITA, EIGHT AND A HALF and L'AVVENTURA. Superb!
There are so few people today who are interested in the great films of
yesteryear. That's sad on many levels, but one of the more ironic reasons
is that many of the directors who are so loved today could not have made
great films they did, had they not been so deeply inspired by the films of
the past. Especially by the period of neo-realism in Italian Cinema
There's no way anyone could make a bad documentary about this era, since the films themselves have such a strong impact that any clips would be fascinating. But Scorsese has given us his very personal experience of these films, and that gives each of the films some context. Those of us who can remember seeing these films for the first time can relive the experience with Scorsese, exactly as if they were seeing the films for the first time. It also makes one think back on all the most important films in our personal lives. The films that first gave the world dimension, and the films that first made us worship the potential that great cinema has.
The main directors featured are Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Lucino Visconti, Michaelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, and Scorsese lovingly takes his time showing us numerous clips from most of their greatest films. I was lucky enough to see this documentary in a cinema, and I hope others will also have that chance. Most of the films featured I'd only seen on video. Some I'd liked a lot, others I loved, but nothing prepared me for the impact of seeing those images on the big screen! But even if you can only catch this on video or DVD, do your best to see it. It's what I call "sacred cinema"!
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