There's a strong personal element in Scorsese's four-hour paean to the greats of Italian cinema. As the grandson of Sicilian immigrants, watching Italian movies as a child was a way of discovering the old country he never knew. These charming reminiscences add an extra level of engagement to his avowedly didactic purpose of enthusing a new generation about Neo-Realism and beyond. Filmed on the rooftop of the family's Little Italy home, he muses on his own childhood memories of Blasetti's historical spectaculars before providing an eloquent and sincere illustrated lecture on Rossellini, De Sica, Visconti, et al. Leading on through Fellini's I Vitelloni
(an influence on Mean Streets
, he says) and the modernism of Antonioni, he closes with the triumph of 82
, his deft narration supplying the context for each clip, and editor Schoonmaker's unobtrusive wipe dissolves compacting the original material while preserving the essence of wonderful scene after wonderful scene. While it might have been even more fascinating to have him venturing forward in time to engage with Bertolucci and Pasolini, Scorsese's insightful comments and obvious admiration (for Rossellini in particular) help us get even more out of a string of art house classics we thought we knew already. A feast and an education.