In 1955, the British Film Institute commissioned 18 TV documentaries from 18 different nations and regions to commemorate "The Century of Cinema." The series includes a range of works running from banal clip-and-interview episodes (Stig Bjorkman's Scandinavian segment) to such idiosyncratic works as one by Nelson Perira, in which the entirety of Latin-American cinema (with but a single exception) is represented by outre 50-year-old melodramas from Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
But it is of course the three-part American entry, grandly titled A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, that will for obvious reasons receive the most attention. Our genial host is in one sense an ideal instructor, most passionately involved with the films of his childhood and youth (1946-62), but interested in everything, and anxious to share with us his glories: Westerns, gangster films, musicals (part one), silent films, '30s films, epic films, noir (part two). Missing in action? Comedies, fantasies, Hitchcock.
Well, it's a personal journey, after all. Yet aside from his opening recollection of seeing Duel in the Sun as a four-year-old, and some comments at the end of part three comparing the movie theater to a church, Scorsese actually says little about his evident obsession with those good old movies. (Perhaps his own films are more eloquent testimony to this.) In any event, part three is the least interesting when it should be the best, covering as it does the 1960s, when Scorsese was beginning his own career. Alas, Scorsese officially ends his film in 1970, although occasional forays into the '90s are made throughout the series. It is in part three that we find the most depressing segment: some unconvincing praise by Scorsese pals George Lucas, Brian DePalma and Francis Coppola of modern computer-generated effects, which look pretty pathetic after nearly three hours of beautiful cinematography from films past. Will Jack or Mission Impossible inspire today's four-year-olds to make movies? This seems doubtful.
The Museum of Fine Arts will show all three parts of A Personal Journey on both Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. It's not to be missed.
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A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies.
Directed by Martin Scorsese. With Martin Scorsese.
180 minutes, with an intermission.