Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zeph Michaelis, Mimi Stark, Sarah Braveman, Fred Sica, Robert Uricola, Ira Rubin, Sam DeFazio, Andrea Martin, Peter Bernuth, Catherine Scorsese, Charles Scorsese, Steven Prince
Written by: Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin, Lawrence D. Cohen, Julia Cameron
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 135
Date: 05/26/2020

Scorsese Shorts (2020)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Marty Favors

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'd heard of these short films for ages, ever since I became a fan of Martin Scorsese's, but have never before had the chance to see them. Now the Criterion Collection has bundled five films, with a total running time of 135 minutes, into one great package.

The first two are black-and-white, 16mm student films, and they play that way. They have enthusiasm and a willingness to experiment, and they even have humor, but they show little of the Scorsese that was to come. What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963) is about a man who becomes obsessed with a picture on the wall and finds temporary distraction when he meets a real girl. (It has a great ending.) Then, It's Not Just You, Murray! (1964) tells the story of a balding mobster (Ira Rubin) who looks back at his early days, and credits his best friend Joe (Sam De Fazio) as the key to his success; little does he know that Joe isn't really his friend.

Then comes the bizarre The Big Shave (1967), in color. The six-minute short simply depicts a man shaving before the bathroom mirror, continuing to shave over and over, until he's a bloody mess. Some say that the film is an allegory for the Vietnam War.

The best two, both documentaries, are saved for last. In the 49-minute Italianamerican (1974), Scorsese interviews his parents, presumably to watch his mother make her special meatballs and sauce in the kitchen. But ultimately, he simply records them telling stories about their lives, and the lives of their families, as Italian immigrants in America. His mom, Catherine, should be well-known to Scorsese fans for her small, memorable roles in The King of Comedy, GoodFellas, and others, and her appearances on David Letterman's show. She's a delight, and her husband Charles is a perfect foil for her, as they bicker about the small details in the stories. This is a lovely film.

Finally, we get the longest, the 55-minute American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (1978). A friend of Scorsese's Prince made a small impact as "Easy Andy," the gun salesman who shares a solo scene with Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. In real life, he's a raconteur, with incredible stories to tell about his life as an addict, working for Neil Diamond, and other bizarre adventures. One story in particular about an adrenaline shot inspired Quentin Tarantino in the making of Pulp Fiction, and Richard Linklater incorporated another of Prince's stories into Waking Life. Loose, and shot seemingly around a living room over the course of one evening, the documentary is absolutely riveting. As with My Dinner with Andre, you may find afterward that you actually remember "seeing" some of Prince's vivid stories.

The fine transfers include uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray. Bonuses on the disc a new conversation between Scorsese and film critic Farran Smith Nehme, a new discussion among filmmakers Ari Aster and Josh and Benny Safdie, and a public-radio interview from 1970 with Scorsese. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri, plus storyboards, treatments, and correspondence from Scorsese's archive.

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