Scorsese: My Voyage Through Italian Cinema is a 7 disc box set that gives the viewer a small taste of Italian cinema. This collection combines films from the greats such as Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Michelangelo Antonioni. By all means this collection makes only a small dent in the genre as the films of Roberto Rossellini, Cesare Zavattini and Giuseppe De Santis do not appear in this set, (these directors are also considered to be among the major figures in Italian Neorealism). Fear not as Scorsese indulges the viewer in his 246 minute look at Italian films titled My Voyage to Italy. My Voyage to Italy showcases many films that do not appear in this set, and apart from that is a very interesting watch as Scorsese muses about the profound affect many of these films had on him as a child and how many of these films have inspired his own films.
I have seen many of the films in this set before so it was a delight to watch them all again, but what I really appreciated was Scorsese’s personal documentary My Voyage to Italy. At around 4 hours, the major works of Roberto Rossellini take up about half of the documentary. De Sica, Fellini and Visconti’s work are also looked at in great detail. I really enjoyed hearing Scorsese talk about his family life in New York and the effect watching these films had on his family and how his Grandparents would react to such films as Paisà which depicted the Italian campaign during World War II, and even Scorsese’s own adoration for The Iron Crown – a fantasy film. Furthermore, Scorsese discusses the reputations and careers of said directors and I found these parts to be really informative and interesting. Scorsese never acts as though he is above those new to Italian cinema; he delivers his musings with complete adoration and a genuine want to spread his love for these films and to inform younger generations of these masterpieces. He delivers his opinions in such an enthusiastic and invigorating tone that you’ll want to run out and make a neorealist film yourself, but you can’t because you don’t know anyone who is really dirt poor except your friend on payday because he spent all his money on alcohol.
The films in this set consist of:
La Terra Trema (1948), dubbed Visconti’s ‘purest excursion’ into neorealism. The film is about a community of poor Sicilian fishers who are exploited by wholesalers, one family tries to get out of this cycle and in the process risks everything. The actors in the film were non-professionals and are credited as “Pescatori Siciliani” (Sicilian Firshermen) which contributes to the documentary (it was originally supposed to be a documentary) like tone of the film as these people were basically living their lives on screen. Directed by a Marxist aristocrat (and lifelong member of the communist party) Visconti delivers a raw pseudo-political film that reflects the reign of World War II and Mussolini’s regime. The film deals with many topics such as exploitation of workers , hardship, community and tragedy. La Terra Trematransports the viewer to a time and lifestyle that we could never fathom, and in it we experience true and uninhibited empathy and can reflect on what neorealism was all about- the demand for change.
Next is I Vitelloni (1953) , a major influence on Scorsese’s Mean Streets and supposedly his favourite film (Kubrick touted it as his too). I Vitelloni is an autobiographical comedy/ character study of five young men who live (in other words are trapped) in a small town in Italy. They are all frustrated – sexually and emotionally- and their discord towards their current situations leads to all kinds of frivolous and morally repugnant behavior. This film is a transitional film between Fellini’s neorealism and surrealism periods and is lighthearted (in some ways), unconventional and a film that is so simple yet rich in characters and plot. Although not as allegorically complex like some other Fellini entries, its a great film about small town life, friends and the reality of growing up. Think of it as an Italian Clerks or Slacker, same dilemmas, same issues, different time period.
The Bicycle Thief (1948), based on a novel, The Bicycle Thief tells the story of a father and his son in post-war Italy. The father has had his bicycle stolen and it is imperative that he has this bicycle so that he can work (hanging posters) and provide for his family. The Bicycle Thief is a distressing film which always makes me well up, in fact I don’t think there is a Di Sica movie that hasn’t made me cry (namely Umberto D) . The Bicycle Thief was awarded an honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Film and is on the Vatican’s Best Films list for portraying humanistic values. Di Sica’s films and Neorealism were attacked by Italy’s Minister of Culture who accused such films of airing the county’s ‘dirty laundry’ in public but as they say never underestimate the power of ___ (film), because like hundreds of other films, The Bicycle Thief has been widely regarded as one of the finest films ever made. Italian filmmaker Ricardo Freda also attacked Neorealism and stated that its “perpetually anchored in sordid human misery”. But it’s in the confinements of Neorealism, such as: nonprofessional actors, location shooting, documentary style and the subjects mainly to do with the poor and working class, that we experience purity and beauty in misery and tragedy. Cinema goers want to experience human emotions, connections, and that is something that Disney (unless they are about animals), Jennifer Lopez romantic comedies and Michael Bay films can not provide us with. We watch fantasy, horror films, romance and drama because we want to experience something. So I say skip past the sugar-coated Hollywood crap and watch some Neorealist films and experience truth and pain vicariously in a pure manner, go on, be miserable for a day. If anything these films will make you appreciate how lucky you are. Maybe in the between 1940-1960 these films were harder to swallow, but to be without them today would be a huge injustice
L’Avventura (1960), L’Avventura does not really fit in with the aforementioned films, but in all respects is still a great piece of Italian cinema. The first in a trilogy of films all revolving around ‘alienation’,L’Avventura is about a woman named Anna who goes missing whilst on a boat trip with her rich friends. Anna’s boyfriend and her best friend try to find Anna, and in the process become lovers. Well known for its metaphors, slow pacing and deep character studies , L’Avventura has received mixed criticism and many find it inaccessible. It is a film for thought rather than entertainment. L’Avventura has also been cited as an early feminist film.
8½ (1963), what is there left to say about the glorious 8½? First a little history. The title refers to the number of films Fellini had previously made which consist of (according to Wikipedia): “six features, two short segments, and a collaboration with another director, Alberto Lattuada. The latter three productions accounted for a “half” film each.” The film is long and difficult for many, but is deeply rich in the movement of the camera and the lighting and is definitely the most lavish film in this collection. To quickly outline the film: Guido (Marcello Mastroianni / Fellini’s alter-ego) is a director who is working on his new film. He encounters many struggles with his wife, mistress and hired help and each of these people presents an obstacle. Guido retreats into his dreams to cope, and therein finds inspiration. To some the film is quite chaotic, dreams and reality are indistinguishable, yet I feel this is nothing a few viewings of the film wouldn’t fix. 8½ is a kaleidoscopic, allegorical, psycho, undulating, oozing film but ultimately it should be viewed as a piece of art, and entertainment second. I can go on and on about this film but 8½ needs to be seen, possibly even 3 times before you can really say you hate it. It might be long, it might be strange, but it is also magnificent and surreal and everything art should be.
This set is great value at $70, most of these films retail individually for $25-$35 and is a great set for anyone who is a fan of foreign cinema or for anyone who wants to gain insight into Italian cinema. If you hate movies that are black and white because they are boring, you should think again, not only are all of these films stylish and entertaining, they offer some great human emotion, open up your mind to history, compassion, love, culture and most of all tell amazing stories. Films like these are not popcorn flicks, they are meant to be treasured and every single film will resonate with you in its own way if you give them a chance. Simply a must have.
- That’s Life Documentary
- Audio Commentary
- The Lost Ending Documentary
DIRECTOR(S): Various | COUNTRY: Italy / USA | YEAR 2008 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Umbrella Entertainment | RUNNING TIME: 876 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: various | REGION: 0 and 4 | DISCS: 7