The Martin Scorsese Collection Martin Scorsese

The Martin Scorsese Collection Martin Scorsese
The second Martin Scorsese DVD box set in a year showcases a fascinating diversity of films that orbits around one of his greatest accomplishments: the unflinching portrayal of the life of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. Of the four films (Boxcar Bertha, New York, New York, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull), it's not the musicals that seem out of place, it's Scorsese's 1972 Roger Corman-produced period piece Boxcar Bertha. Based on a true story, Boxcar chronicles a railroad crook and a band of renegades who pull a Robin Hood on behalf of union workers. Stars Barbara Hershey and David Carradine both do good work, and even in its infancy the directing is regularly notable, but Bertha feels clipped and stilted; Scorsese's storytelling skills remained underdeveloped. For all its ambitious high concept, I just can't get behind New York, New York, which aspires to merge the glossy studio look of old Hollywood with the looser, more casual acting style of Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli, all in the context of a bickering musicians love story/musical. Some may find the deliberate artifice elegant, but the characters are unlikeable at best; at a running time of close to three hours, they're intolerable. Faced with the daunting task of editing New York, New York, Scorsese instead jumped on an opportunity to film The Last Waltz, the Band's final concert in San Francisco in 1976. It quickly turned into a much bigger project than he'd anticipated, but the final result is one of the best and most artful concert films ever made. Fascinatingly, it was in filming and editing the musical numbers in both New York, New York and The Last Waltz that Scorsese finally connected with a project De Niro had been bugging him about for several years: the life of Jake La Motta. In constructing a narrative structure for The Last Waltz — choreographing the songs precisely by lyrics and musical movement in three-minute bursts — he realised how he could film a boxing movie with a similar approach. Other than Raging Bull, The Last Waltz gets the most loving tribute here: unseen footage and a featurette combined with two commentaries, one by Scorsese and guitarist Robbie Robertson; the other with other band members and hangers-on. Raging Bull is indeed the masterpiece not just of this period but of Scorsese's and De Niro's career. Its unflinching portrayal of La Motta reveals his passions and his flaws; his violent behaviour wasn't contained inside the boxing ring, by any stretch. De Niro is supported by the film debut of Joe Pesci, as La Motta's older brother, and the chemistry between them boosted both careers. Raging Bull couldn't get a more loving DVD tribute than this: almost two hours of documentary chronicles the stages of production; De Niro and La Motta are compared shot-by-shot; and newsreel footage of La Motta's fights showcase how accurately they're portrayed in the film. Scorsese's battles to shoot in black and white, and the studio's objection to De Niro gaining 60 pounds for the film's dénouement are all detailed. The film itself gets three full commentaries, of which Scorsese's is the most revealing and La Motta's is the most heartbreaking. Raging Bull remains a particularly difficult film to watch — rarely has a protagonist so unsympathetic been thrust into the film spotlight so beautifully — but every single second of it compels you to not look away. A testament particularly to Scorsese's power as a director, considering he fully admits to knowing nothing about sports, and particularly dislikes boxing. Plus: deleted scenes and commentary on New York, New York. (MGM)