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Review: Witness the Birth of a Cinematic Legend with Criterion's 'Scorsese Shorts'

by Greg Vellante
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 26, 2020
Review: Witness the Birth of a Cinematic Legend with Criterion's 'Scorsese Shorts'

I wonder what Martin Scorsese's New York University professors thought of the filmmaker's early college films. Were they aware they were witnessing the birth of a cinematic legend? Probably not, but there's plenty of promise in Scorsese's early works, which you can now find aggregated in the stellar new release from The Criterion Collection - "Scorsese Shorts."

Films like "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?" (1963) and "It's Not Just You, Murray!" (1964) illustrate the director's staples, such as push-in zooms and feverishly meticulous voiceover, but they're certainly a bit rough in their juvenility. Regardless, these works are an exciting look into a developing artist who would go on to create some of the most indelible works of cinema history. The first glimpse of true genius occurs in the scrupulously crafted "The Big Shave" (1967), which uses gruesome imagery of a man shaving his face until he's gushing blood in order to criticize America's involvement in Vietnam.

You could consider these three shorts (clocking in at 10 minutes, 16 minutes, and 5 minutes respectively) more like B-sides to this fantastic collection of five shorts. The other two, "Italianamerican" (1974) and "American Boy" (1978), are the centerpiece works of this compilation, representing striking documentary profiles that dig into the power of storytelling and human idiosyncrasies. With a running time just shy of an hour for each, these documentaries occurred in the midst of Scorsese's history-making contributions to 1970s cinema, and they're wholly representative of his fascinations as a filmmaker.

"Italianamerican" is a 49-minute exposé of Scorsese's parents, with a simple setup of Marty interviewing them in their home, learning everything from how his mother makes her special tomato sauce recipe to compelling stories about his grandparents and their struggles to survive during their journeys to America. "American Boy," the cornerstone of this collection, profiles Steven Prince - a wild, free-wheeling conversationalist who retells accounts of his dabbles with danger, drug addiction, and his relationship to his parents.

This is a must-have for any collector and Scorsese admirer, as they showcase the early potential of one of the finest American directors to ever step behind the camera. Bonus features include a new conversation between Scorsese and film critic Farran Smith Nehme, as well as a discussion on Scorsese between 21st-century filmmakers Ari Aster ("Hereditary," "Midsommar") and Josh and Benny Safdie ("Good Time," "Uncut Gems"). In the accompanying booklet, you'll find an essay by critic Bilge Ebiri and storyboards, treatments, and correspondence from Scorsese's archive.

"Scorsese Shorts"

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