Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Scorsese, My Voyage to Italy-review

The other day was so damn cold that I decided not to budge from home. Fortunately, I had the two discs of Martin Scorsese's My Voyage to Italy on hand, so I settled in for the afternoon and watched all five hours.

This is a documentary the director made about his personal experience with classic Italian film (he goes no further than 1963), starting as a young Italian-American in New York. He goes into depth about Rossellini, De Sica, Visconti, Fellini and Antonioni. The commented scenes for the chosen movies are extensive. For the novice who has not seen these classics, there will be a problem with spoilers- you will know the plot and the ending of each film. If avoiding spoilers is important to you (it is to me), you should not watch this.

I would of course hesitate to challenge Scorsese in his assessment of technical prowess in filmmaking. But I was irritated by what I saw as an inexplicable overestimation of Roberto Rossellini, complete with a tone of breathless veneration when discussing his colleague. And his idea that neo-Realism was the "truth" is greatly misguided. Rossellini had an axe to grind, and how, as I've already stated in my review of Paisa'. Quite simply, the Roman director's view of Italy and the Italians in World War II misrepresents their role and shows it in a distorted light, flattering to his compatriots. It's almost as if the actions of the Allies were incidental, and the Italians liberated themselves by themselves. Not to mention the implicit idea that they had little or no responsibility to begin with. Lots of Italians still believe this, to this day. I was surprised that Scorsese fell for it.

Just when you thought that he had stopped with the Rossellini, he pops up again, with two works, Stromboli and A Voyage to Italy, both of which I have seen, and both of which I can do without. To bolster what he knows will be a minority opinion regarding the latter, he says that umpteen French directors and critics believed that the film was one of the best in film history. The French also think Jerry Lewis is a genius.

The disproportionate amount of time dedicated to RR could have been used to present directors such as Pasolini and Olmi. Generally, besides fleeting mentions, the five hours only cover the Big Five mentioned above. A major shortcoming. Italian filmdom is much bigger and complex than that.

So. The over-long documentary will be of interest primarily to those who admire Scorsese and want his own personal take on the Italian classics. I did not think that Scorsese shone as a film critic e.g. the comments on the notoriously difficult Antonioni were mediocre. Those who have not seen the major classics and do not want their viewing influenced by the director's opinions (and giving away of plot) can pass on this.

(In the photo, the little co-protagonist of The Bicycle Thief, who should have won an Oscar)