Film review: Scorsese Shorts (15)

PUBLISHED: 15:40 24 June 2020 | UPDATED: 15:40 24 June 2020

Scorsese Shorts is a collection of Martin Scorcese's early work from the 60s and 70s

Scorsese Shorts is a collection of Martin Scorcese's early work from the 60s and 70s


A fascinating portrait of America’s foremost working director as a film student and documentary maker

Scorsese Shorts is a collection of Martin Scorcese's early work from the 60s and 70sScorsese Shorts is a collection of Martin Scorcese's early work from the 60s and 70s

This collection offers a portrait of America’s most acclaimed working director as a 60’s film student and a 70’s documentarian.

The shorts are a lot of fun and The Big Shave, an allegory about Vietnam in which a man cuts himself shaving - a lot - is probably his first notable work. You’ll probably find the two documentaries more rewarding though.

The two early award-winning student films are the youthful Scorsese, the asthmatic boy from Little Italy, hanging out with his arty Greenwich Village mates and brandishing all those foreign film influences. Of course, student films are the pits. The only thing worse than student films are award-winning student films.

These two though are quite charming. They are tres-pretentious but have a humour and that trademark Scorsese zip, which shakes off most of the preciousness.

What’s A Nice Girl is an almost Borgesian tale of a writer obsessed with a dull photo, while Murray is an early dabble in the world of organised crime with a Fellini ending.

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Scorsese gained prominence as part of the rebellious New Hollywood of the early 70s but once said he would have been happier in the old studio system, making the best of whatever projects were handed to him.

It seemed an absurd idea from a director known for projecting a very personal vision onto the screen, but these two show why he might think that: they have nothing much to say but they say it audaciously.

It gets overlooked, but Scorsese has an impressive record for making documentaries and generally knocks one out between feature films.

Italianamerican, made after Mean Streets, and American Boy, after New York, New York, are two of his earliest and best-loved. The first is with his parents Charlie and Catherine in their apartment reminiscing about their lives in Manhattan’s Little Italy. The second is an evening with Steven Prince, who featured in Taxi Driver, selling De Niro guns out of a briefcase.

Both are basically extended interviews. In the first, the subjects largely refuse the director’s attempts to control them; in the second, Scorsese makes clear how he is marshalling events, getting Prince to tell the same anecdote three times until it’s the way he wants it.

It’s impossible to watch Italianamerican without falling in love with Catherine Scorsese, the perfect Italian mama. No disrespect to Charlie, who is great too but she really knows how to grab the camera. Charlie doesn’t want to be seen playing up for the cameras, but is aware of her scene-stealing.

Prince is an enthralling if less endearing subject. It is never clear what his role in the film/music business is other than being Neil Diamond’s tour manager, but he seems well connected and his anecdotes are funny and chilling with tales about heroin addiction and killing an attempted robber while working in a gas station.

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