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The Martin Scorsese Film Collection DVD Review

The Martin Scorsese Film Collection

August 10, 2005

Director: Martin Scorsese,
Starring: Barbara Hershey, David Carradine, Barry Primus, Bernie Casey, The Band, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Robert De Niro, Liza Minnelli, Lionel Stander, Mary Kay Place, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarity, Frank Vincent, ,

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DVD Review

Martin Scorsese is one of the world’s greatest filmmakers living today. At first, this may seem like so much over-inflated hype, and to be sure, he would be the first to avoid this title, but think, for a moment, about a handful of the films this man has done: Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1989), and GoodFellas (1990). All of these films have received numerous awards, they are studied extensively in film classes all over the world, and have been well-received critically, while also gradually developing a loyal following of admirers consisting of not only of discerning cineastes but other filmmakers who are inspired by both the content of his films and the style in which they are presented. Scorsese has made several films that are generally regarded as landmark works that continue to entertain and inspire future generations.

Following on the heels of the Warner Brothers box set last year, MGM has released their own with four Scorsese movies: Boxcar Bertha (1972), New York, New York (1977), The Last Waltz (1978) and Raging Bull.

Early in his career, Scorsese met legendary B-movie mogul, Roger Corman in 1971. Corman originally wanted to Scorsese to direct a sequel to Bloody Mama (1970) but instead offered him Boxcar Bertha, a story based on a woman who traveled by train across the United States during the Depression. A young actor by the name of Barbara Hershey was cast in the starring role and her working relationship with Scorsese proved to be so good that he later cast her as Mary Magadalene in his film version of The Last Temptation of Christ. What is essentially a low-budget Corman film, Boxcar Bertha is given a bit of class by Scorsese’s skillful direction. And the whole experience taught the filmmaker valuable lessons on how to shoot a film fast and on schedule.

New York, New York features a bittersweet love affair between two musicians: saxophone ace Jimmy Doyle (De Niro) and Francine Evans (Minnelli), a talented singer. However, their creative collaborations are far more successful than their romantic ones. Despite Scorsese’s intention of paying homage to the old Hollywood films he loved, he still infused the film with his trademark cynicism: love does not triumph and this proved to be quite an un-Hollywood conclusion.

Scorsese had grown up listening to big band music and for a long time he was interested in making a film where he could indulge in his love of this period of American film. To this end, he shot New York, New York in the style of musicals made in the late ’40s and early ’50s. However, that is also part of the problem of Scorsese’s film: there is too much of other directors’ personal style and not enough of his own. New York, New York ends up looking and feeling like an encyclopedia of other directors’ work. Scorsese wanted a realistic relationship juxtaposed with a fantasyland world. Unfortunately, the weak script forced the director and his actors to compensate by improvising. Constant rewrites also resulted in a weak ending that pleased no one.

While working on New York, New York, Scorsese was approached by musician Robbie Robertson to document, on film, The Band’s farewell concert in San Francisco over a long weekend. The director was a fan of their music and agreed. It started off as a simple idea: let’s do a farewell concert. Then, The Band started inviting friends and people that they had played with over the years and it grew into an epic gig with the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters and Neil Young joining in on the fun. The result is one of the best concert films ever made.

One’s enjoyment of The Last Waltz really depends on how you feel about The Band. However, on a technical level it is a masterpiece as Scorsese shoots the concert dynamically with multiple cameras, snap zooms and hand-held camerawork that really captures the excitement of a live concert. He intersperses interviews with the members of The Band in-between songs that gives one a little insight into their individual personalities as they recount some amusing anecdotes of life on the road. Scorsese doesn’t rely on the usual concert film cliches, like reaction shots of the audience (i.e. people singing a-long).

His next film, Raging Bull, came at just the right time. Having come off the commercial and critical flop of New York, New York and a rather unpleasant stint living in Los Angeles, the filmmaker was ready to not only leave the city but the country as well. It was obvious that a change was needed. He began to re-examine his own love of film and filmmaking.

Returning to the familiar setting of gritty urban dramas, Scorsese’s Raging Bull is an uncompromising look at the brutal life of famous boxer Jake La Motta (De Niro) in and out of the ring. The film also shows how he treated both his opponents in the ring and his friends and family outside of the ring in the same stubborn and harsh manner. We get a ringside seat to Jake’s turbulent relationship with his brother Joey (Pesci) and his long-suffering wife, Vickie (Moriarty). Raging Bull is a powerful portrait of a self-destructive man who never truly succeeds in life because he is own worst enemy.

There is real sense of immediacy, of being trapped in the ring with the fighters and this is what makes the boxing sequences so memorable in Raging Bull. One almost feels like they should be dodging the punishing blows along with the boxers. This sensation of being right in the middle of the action harkens back to the kinetic pool room fight scene in Mean Streets where the viewer is transplanted into the middle of a senseless brawl. But where that sequence was almost comical in nature, the fights in Raging Bull are nothing short of brutal. They are almost painful to watch as Jake is often pummeled relentlessly by his opponents or the tables are turned and he is the one dishing out the punishment. This is visceral cinema at its very best.

Special Features:

Included with each DVD is a theatrical trailer for its corresponding movie.

New York, New York features a fine collection of extras, including an audio commentary by Scorsese and film critic Carrie Rickey, who proceeds to put the movie into context and gives a brief run-down of the down-beat musical sub-genre. Scorsese is a great talker with an encyclopedic knowledge of film, making this a must-listen for fans.

Scorsese introduces the movie and describes it as a love affair between two creative people. He wanted to recreate the artifice of old Hollywood movies but with realistically behaving characters a la the films of John Cassavetes.

Also included are 15 alternate takes/deleted scenes totaling 19 minutes that involved a lot of improvising between the actors.

There is a “Photo Gallery” that contains a decent collection on the set pictures, French lobby cards, posters, storyboards and stills of the cast and crew.

There are two audio commentaries for The Last Waltz. The first one features Scorsese and Robbie Robertson. The veteran musician’s comments are screen-specific as he offers fantastic observations about the music and the musicians in a conversational tone that is very engaging as if you are sitting in his living room watching it with him over drinks. The second track features a number of participants: journalist/screenwriter Jay Cocks, music critic Greil Marcus, the film’s executive producer Jonathan Taplin and others. Taplin talks about how he got Scorsese and Robertson together while the former was making New York, New York, while Marcus examines the songs and their significance on this informative track.

“Archival Outtakes: Jam 2” is 12 minute informal jam session that occurred towards the end of the concert with members of The Band, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Neil Young and others. It’s great to see these legends rockin

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 95%

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