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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Gangster > Musical > Rockumnetary > Concert > Boxing > Scorsese - The Martin Scorsese Film Collection (MGM)

Scorsese – The Martin Scorsese Film Collection (MGM)


                                         Picture:     Sound:     Extras:     Film:


Boxcar Bertha (1972)             C+            C+            D          C+

New York, New York (1977)     C+            B-             B+        B+

The Last Waltz (1978)             B              B              B          B

Raging Bull  (1980)                 B              B-             A-        A-



Martin Scorsese is a director’s director, one of the most cinematically literate of all filmmakers and has been a huge crusader for both filmmaker’s rights and film restoration.  It has been a long time for his work to be truly appreciated, though those in the know have always respected him.  His work is often misconstrued, but now two DVD boxed sets of his films on DVD have arrived on the market.  Following Warner Bros. mixed set of his classics like Who’s That Knocking On My Door?, Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (each in Dolby 1.0 Mono!?!), After Hours and Goodfellas, MGM has followed with an equally competent set called Scorsese – The Martin Scorsese Film Collection.  It takes one of his very early works and adds three of his most personal.


Boxcar Bertha (1972) is not always considered the beginning of Scorsese’s work as auteur, but it is a competent independent work on a low budget with good actors.  An attempt to cash-in on the success of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde (1967), Barbara Hershey and David Carradine are good together as two lovers who are on the take.  However, its low-budget limits are somewhat overcome by Scorsese’s ambitions, but this is usually not considered his first full-fledged film, but it was his second after 1969’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door?  His next two films would be at Warner Bros., followed by Columbia Pictures, and the first of those is Mean Streets.  That is considered the beginning of Scorsese as Auteur, but this film has hints of the direction he was heading into.  It should also be noted that though Bonnie & Clyde comes to mind every time the film is mentioned, Robert Altman’s 1974 film Thieves Like Us with David’s brother Keith Carradine is also worth noting in its look and feel more so than Arthur Penn’s classic.


New York, New York (1977) is the first big-budget Scorsese epic, a tribute to, goodbye to and salute to the Hollywood Film Musical.  Originally made for United Artists, Liza Minnelli is cast as the singer who is alone at a V-Day party when she is approached by a almost politely persistent Robert DeNiro, who wants her number and turns out to be a saxophone player.  She is just as persistent in saying no, but all this turns out to indicate is that they are a match.  Too bad part of that match is a huge capacity for dysfunctional behavior, which will haunt them throughout the film.  The usually cinematically literate references fill the long, but always fascinating picture.  There are many deconstructive moments of the Classical Musical that bring a darkness to the film that gives in a certain ominous quality that makes it fascinating, a Backstage Musical that goes more backstage than any other.  Minnelli’s intertexual representation in place of her mother, the late Judy Garland, is the darkest thing of all.  She gives one of the best performances of her career and her singing is underappreciated.  The title song was actually snubbed by the Academy Awards, but is one of the most remembered movie songs of the 1970s belatedly, especially thanks to Frank Sinatra.  The film just happened to open against Star Wars and died too quickly.  This special edition was previously issued as a 12” LaserDisc boxed set, and this DVD has everything from it, plus a sound upgrade exclusive to this disc.  You do not even need to be a Musical fan to appreciate the first true Scorsese epic, something he would not attempt again until his almost-as-underrated Casino in 1995.  Fans of old Musicals and Hart To Hart will recognize Lionel Stander, who was Max on that show, and appeared in his share of films before being sadly blacklisted.  One of them was the 1938 version of A Star Is Born, which this film owes much to.  The film is ageless in its serious examination of dysfunctional relationships and the kinds of misery couples will agree to in order to have a “happy” relationship, for which Scorsese seems to believe The Musical has more problems with and is built more on than any other type of filmmaking.  This is an unrecognized minor classic, where the love the people have is as artificial as this fantasy version of New York.  Thanks to the Earl MacRauch/Mardik Martin screenplay (from MacRauch’s story), the film takes the long road in all this and goes all the way.


The Last Waltz (1978) is what we may safely call the last authentic Rockumentary, as Scorsese films the last performances of Robbie Robertson and The Band, breaking up for what was supposed to be their final time together.  Scorsese had done the montage editing on Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock (1970) and that became a signature of such films, split-screen included.  He forgoes such form for an outright pursuit of what is happening here and a final farewell to the music of the counterculture.  The guest stars are stunning and it is also one of the great concert films, as The Band is joined by Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Neil Young, The Staple Singers, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood and Bob Dylan.  Even if you do not like Rock and Blues, the film exceeds any music genre in the achievement it is in capturing a music act about to hang it up in an era and cycle of Rock about to succumb to Disco and Star Wars.


Raging Bull (1980) is often considered one of his masterpieces, if not his absolute masterwork.  Some people have wrongly criticized it for lacking a “journalistic” edge in telling us about the life of boxer Jake LaMotta, but that would have made it like any other formula biopic.  One of the biggest claims to fame the film continues to have is being a great black and white film, and it certainly is one of the last (give or take some brief color shots) in a time where real monochrome film stock was still being produced.  More important, it is a complex character study that furthered the legacy of Robert DeNiro as one of America’s all-time greatest actors.   As for the film itself, it is very multi-faceted, and deceptively so, considering it is a boxing film and about character as much as anything.  From ethnicity, to class division, to human sexuality, to La Motta’s inability to integrate into society, the Paul Schrader/Mardik Martin screenplay uses all those themes to take this film beyond the conventional biopics of the past.  This is why it is considered one of the best films of Scorsese’s career and one of the best of all of the 1980s.  This side of America and Italian America in particular, had never been committed to film so well.  Now, it is a full-fledged classic that still too few people have seen.


Except for the 1.66 X 1 image on New York, New York, all the titles in this set are anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 and the two more recent films have been remastered to some extent.  Laszlo Kovacs, A.S.C., who went out of his way with Scorsese to make sure it had a three-strip Technicolor look, though the actual process at the time was discontinued four years earlier, shot it.  If it were not for that consistency, this would be the worst of the four transfers, as it recycles the analog professional NTSC master used on the LaserDisc where the colors and image looked more natural.  Boxcar Bertha has cinematography by John Stephens, while the cinematographers on The Last Waltz are Michael Chapman, A.S.C., who is joined by Kovacs, A.S.C., Vilmos Zsigmond, A.S.C., David Myers, Bobby Byrne, Michael Watkins, and Hiro Narita.  This was the first documentary shot in 35mm.  It took all of them to get the coverage Scorsese and the film needed.  That leaves Chapman shooting the monochrome stocks (and a few color shots) on Raging Bull, which is improved, but still has some issues.  The white still looks a bit blown out and the DVD can still only capture all the subtleties of the black and white so much. 


Dolby Digital is the only sound signal on all four titles.  Boxcar Bertha has fairly good Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, while the other three titles come with Dolby 5.1 as their best sound.  The Last Waltz and Raging Bull were Dolby Stereo theatrical releases, but Waltz was recently upgraded to DTS, Dolby and Sony Dynamic Digital Sound for recent theatrical re-releases.  As a result, it has the best sound of all four films here, though Rhino/Warner Bros. also issued a DVD-Audio of the soundtrack that offers 5.1 Dolby and MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) that exceeds this DVD-Video.  Too bad MGM could not have included that with this title, at least in this set.  Raging Bull always had great sound design and the music by Pietro Mascagni is underrated.  That leaves previously monophonic New York, New York remixed in 5.1 from its original 3-track monophonic sound master.  Considering how poor Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono can be, this was a welcome upgrade and the only new extra on that disc.  Also, Liza Minnelli does some of the best music work of her entire career here.


Though Boxcar Bertha only has its original trailer, New York, New York has one of the fine scholarly audio commentaries before the major studios discovered such an extra full-fledged for DVDs and they became dumbed down.  Scorsese is joined by Carrie Rickey, though they are never together.  Instead, the commentary cuts back and forth in their observations and this holds up very well.  An introduction by Scorsese, stills gallery, original theatrical teaser, original trailer and some alternate and deleted scenes.  That is 15 in all, and all of which are worth checking into.  The Last Waltz has two audio commentaries, one with Scorsese and Robbie Robertson, the second with many of the other musicians from the film, plus some music scholars to boot.  A photo gallery, the long original theatrical trailer, a TV spot, “Archival Outtakes Jam 2” with 5.1 option, and a Revisiting The Last Waltz featurette in 1.33 X 1 that was made recently.  It is terrific and lasts 22 minutes.


Raging Bull originally had an elaborate 12” LaserDisc set from The Criterion Collection, but this DVD offers different extras.  That set offered the original theatrical trailer, a Scorsese/editor Thelma Schoonmaker audio commentary, archival interview and fighting footage of La Motta, the shooting script, original storyboards, and a stills section.  This is the only double set here and offers much of the same extras.  DVD 1 has that commentary by Scorsese/Schoonmaker, joined by a La Motta/Schrader/Martin storyteller’s commentary and Cast/Crew commentary brand new to this set.  With those three and the audio options, we can see why no DTS is on the film.  They are all outstanding must-listens.  DVD 2 has a La Motta Defends The Title newsreel, four new featurettes (Before The Fight, Inside The Ring, Outside The Ring, After The Fight) a shot-by-shot comparison of DeNiro and La Motta amusingly dubbed DeNiro vs. La Motta and The Bronx Bull is an outright making-of documentary.  That is a stunning set of extras, but a great film calls for that.  As for that screenplay, well, you can always buy the shooting script on line, right?


All included in a sturdy double slipcase box, Scorsese – The Martin Scorsese Film Collection is one of the nicest multi-film DVD collections we have seen to date and is of serious reference quality that belongs in every serious film collection.  This is also one of the best releases MGM has issued to date.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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