Widescreen (1.85:1) Enhanced for Widescreen Televisions
Dolby Digital Surround Sound
English and Italian with English Subtitles
Running Time: 246 Minutes
This documentary originally hit theaters in 1999.
Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese hosts this intimate look at Italian Cinema from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. Scorsese highlights some of his favorite films and directors from the era and goes into great detail about how they shaped not only his work but the cinematic art form as a whole. The documentary features brief scenes from each of the films and Scorsese narrates along the way. He also goes into great detail about his family and Italian heritage and gives a rich back story about why these films had the impact they did.
My Voyage To Italy is rated PG-13 for some images of violence and sexuality.
I have to start out by saying that this DVD is going to appeal primarily to film students. It’s an incredible lesson in film history and I’d be willing to bet that it’s required viewing in some film school classes. It’s valuable because it gives a thorough look at Italian Cinema and delves deeply into its revolutionary approach to the art form. However, it’s a safe bet that if you mention “neorealism” to general audiences looking for popcorn flicks, their eyes will glaze over. Despite this, Martin Scorsese still manages to make the subject not only interesting, but appealing. You may find yourself looking for 1940’s Italian films to view after seeing this.
I’m not terribly familiar with foreign films and I have to admit that I’ve never had an interest in Italian Cinema, but I found myself very impressed with the films that Scorsese had to share. They seemed way ahead of their time. One series of films was reminiscent of Band of Brothers. It featured a group of American soldiers making their way across Italy pursuing the Germans. Along the way they encounter local villagers, snipers, and other hazards. But the creators also go out of their way to focus on small, human stories. For example, a scene between an American soldier and an Italian girl is particularly touching as they develop a friendship, then they are both killed by the Germans. (Tragedy seems to be another theme of the style.)
Another film shows a black M.P. befriending an orphan in the streets of Italy. It covers prejudice, racism, and other such things and for the 1940’s it was definitely ahead of its time. Yet another film shows the Germans from another perspective as it follows the tale of a young German boy dealing with the hardships of living in his destroyed city and his culture falling completely apart. Who would have thought that you’d see a film sympathetic to the Germans in the 1940’s? Again and again you are introduced to Italian films with deep, dark topics that seem way ahead of their time.
The films also have impressive looks to them. Most are dramatically shot with interesting camera angles and lighting and they are generally shot outdoors in real locations. So many films from the US from that era look bad because they were shot on indoor sets. The Italian films of that time look much better because the locations are real. That combination of dark subject matter and realistic backgrounds make up the “neorealism” movement of Italian Cinema that eventually carried over to the rest of the world. Some of the epic films with grand sets later on are even more stunning and reminiscent of Gladiator.
Besides highlighting the Italian films, Scorsese gives a rich background as to why these movies were important to him. He talks about how his family, who were Italian immigrants, saw the films as connections to their homelands. As they saw the postwar movies featuring the trials and tribulations of Italy, they felt intense guilt and regret that they weren’t there back home to help. He also talks about the area in New York that he grew up in and how it shaped him as a young man. Normally this kind of stuff might be dry and boring, but Scorsese’s passion about it pulls you in and grabs your attention.
As the documentary progressed to the 1960’s, I found the films to get weirder and weirder and more surreal in content and they eventually turned me off. As I lost interest in the film, I lost interest in the documentary. And at over 4 hours long, it’s a heck of a lot to take in. Still, if you give My Voyage To Italy half a chance, you may find yourself hooked by it. It’s like a Cliff Notes to Italian Cinema.
There are no extras included on this DVD.
The Bottom Line:
This is required viewing for film students and it may be an interesting documentary for others to check out, especially if they’re fans of Martin Scorsese.