A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES

U.K. / U.S.A.

1995

 

Directors / Writers: Martin Scorsese & Michael Henry Wilson

Production Co.: British Film Institute / Channel 4, in association with Miramax Films

Producer: Florence Dauman

Cinematography: Nancy Schreiber, Francis Reid, William G. Webb & Jean-Yves Escoffier

Supervising Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker

Editors: David Lindbolm & Kenneth I. Levis

Sound: Beau Baker, Raoul A. Bruce, Sarah Chin, Linda Coffey, William Flick & Tom Paul

Music: Elmer Bernstein

Titles: Saul Bass

 

Martin Scorsese

Gregory Peck

Billy Wilder

Clint Eastwood

Howard Hawks

George Lucas

Francis Ford Coppola

Brian De Palma

Fritz Lang

André De Toth

Douglas Sirk

Nicholas Ray

Sam Fuller

Orson Welles

Elia Kazan

Arthur Penn

John Cassavetes

 

Part One: 73 minutes

Part Two: 79 minutes

Part Three: 74 minutes

 

226 minutes total

 

Betacam-SP or VHS video

Colour and Black & White

English

  Certificate

 

 

 

Scorsese's passionate advocacy and a juicy array of extracts make this compulsory viewing.

- Derek Elley, Variety

 

a coherent, structured attempt to put a huge subject into a manageable framework, copiously illustrated with an astonishing array of clips and helpful comments from Marty's pals

- Tom Charity, Time Out, 21/5/95

 

 

To celebrate the centenary of cinema in 1994, the British Film Institute commissioned Martin Scorsese to front and co-write a TV documentary examining the history of American movies.  It was a major coup for them, since it's no exaggeration to say that there is no one on earth better qualified to talk us through the fascinating story of movies in the US than the little guy from New York.  Not only has he produced some of the best Yank films ever made (obviously), he has done it, crucially, both within the Hollywood system (Cape Fear) and outside it (Taxi Driver).  Add to that his film school background and his obsession with the art, commerce and history of filmmaking and you've got the perfect man for the job.  It's amazing he had the time...

 

Scorsese co-opted the opinions of legends like Billy Wilder, Gregory Peck and George Lucas, while using old interviews with King Vidor, Howard Hawks and Frank Capra to build up a picture of how America came to dominate the worldwide movie industry, and exactly what it's like to work within it.

 

With a nod to all the major movie genres (westerns, gangster stories, musicals), most space is taken up examining the complex relationships that go into getting a film to the screen, dissected from Scorsese's personal perspective and including such chapter headings as The Director as Illusionist, The Director as Smuggler and The Director as Iconoclast.  What emerges is a typically erudite and brilliantly well-informed history of the US cinema.

 

- Philip Thomas, Empire, 12/97

 

 

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, a three-part TV anthology of movie clips, is a cornucopia of rare gems, pristine prints and snappily spot-on comments (Ars celare artem: art that disguises its art).  Though Scorsese is filmed as a respectably blue-suited talking head, his dark deep eyes, fast keen rap and quick sharp tight smiles rivet us all right.  His gimlet insights and bold swipes start thoughts in many directions.

 

From his movie-brat image, you might expect a wild harvest of guilty pleasures.  And the BFI's blurb for the programmes leads on 'personal' (a word now regaining lost ground from 'political').  However, though Scorsese doesn't come on like 'the judgement of history', or the voice of God or tomorrow morning's opinion poll, his selection suggests a solid consensus to me.

 

He stresses non-auteurial creation "by the system": producers as poets, teamwork, studio policies, genres, restlessly changing audience demands.  The key auteurs he divides into 'storytellers' (such as John Ford) who work with the system and make it work for them, 'illusionists' (such as DeMille and Borzage) whose cinematic virtuosity serves their poetic vision, 'smugglers' (Sirk, Nicholas Ray) who insert their social criticisms quietly, and 'iconoclasts' (Griffith, Stroheim, Kubrick) who defy the system, or change it.

 

- Raymond Durgnat, Sight & Sound

 

 

"Film is a disease," Scorsese quotes Frank Capra at the start of his documentary: "Iago to your Psyche."  He was infected young.  As a boy, he used to pore obsessively over a book on cinema he discovered in New York Public Library, and remembers being awestruck by Duel in the Sun.  His survey is far from comprehensive: he barely touches on Hollywood comedy and doesn't acknowledge such avant-garde filmmakers as Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren.  Nevertheless, the almost religious fervour with which he approaches his subject makes this trip round his "imaginary museum" an exhilarating experience.  He frequently shifts the focus away from the obvious, big-name directors onto less heralded but equally fascinating figures.  Thus, Allan Dwan is given almost as much weight as D.W. Griffith, while Jacques Tourneur, Sam Fuller, André de Toth, Phil Karlson and Ida Lupino are all discussed at length.  Sometimes his enthusiasms are a little hard to fathom (is Barry Lyndon really such a masterpiece?) but he is never patronising or dogmatic.  As he admits, "I still consider myself a student."

 

- Sight & Sound, 10/96

 

 

We don't have the luxury of the 13-hour Kevin Brownlow / David Gill Hollywood series - which I think is quintessential - so this is just one aspect of a journey that I could take through American movies.  It's like a little museum: I say we'll stop at this display and another display.  Then maybe we'll pass up two others and go on to that one later.  But it's difficult because there are so many things to show.  For instance, I can't let this clip from Force of Evil play, because I have to keep it moving and make the points I want to make.  The programme is subtitled A personal journey through the movies, and I'm trying to direct it towards an audience of younger filmmakers and students who may not be aware of certain kinds of pictures or of trends in American movies that interest me a great deal.

 

- Martin Scorsese, Sight & Sound, 2/94