AS PROVEN IN his inert, muddled Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese may now be more dynamically engaged with history than with film. Not to suggest he should go the full-on Ken Burns route, but the two-disc, four-hour Voyage (on DVD July 6) is the most interesting work he's done since Goodfellas. It's also the most long-winded. You've really gotta love Scorsese, and Italian cinema, to sit through this 2001 tribute/ documentary, which basically alternates between clips and commentary.
Standing on the roof of the tenement where he grew up at 253 Elizabeth St. in Little Italy, Scorsese explains how he first experienced Italian cinema through a dim, tiny television screen in the late 1940s. (Today, it's almost impossible to imagine Rossellini's Paisan showing on TV—so much for the promise of cable, broadband, and 200 channels.) But it wasn't all De Sica and Visconti, he confesses; he loved colorful Roy Rogers Westerns equally.
As you'd expect from such a cinephile, every passage from titles like Open City, The Bicycle Thief, and I Vitelloni is struck from the best possible print and matted in the correct ratio, with subtitles crucially in yellow to pop from the black- and-white background. Scorsese's comments aren't pedantic; he's more like the ultimate friendly, enthusiastic professor who couldn't care less about tests and grades.
Best of all, this teacher doesn't rush through his lectures. He quotes his clips at loving length. He gives us lots of biographical background on the figures in his pantheon, an approach that pays dividends when we see, for example, Rossellini's lesser-known Europa '51, starring Ingrid Bergman as a rich woman who scandalizes polite society by leaving her mansion to work with the poor (much as she did in real life, except she left her husband for Rossellini).
Yes, we can all look forward to The Aviator (Dec. 17) with Leo DiCaprio, but after that Marty might consider launching his own cable channel—call it Martin Scorsese Presents, perhaps, with him doing the introductions. Because that's the only way we're going to see Paisan again on TV.
JULY 13 BRINGS little of note to DVD. DMX stars in Never Die Alone; Bertolucci adds a commentary to The Dreamers; Meg Ryan stars in the dreadful boxing movie Against the Ropes; and The Bourne Identity is pegged to next week's theatrical release of The Bourne Supremacy. The best thing out this week is The Barbarian Invasions, although the disc doesn't have much bonus material. Brian Miller