Scorsese's family is of Sicilian descent. In the late 1940s he was first introduced to the films of Italy by subtitled movies on a 16-inch television. Though his family was watching bad, overly dark prints, everything essential came through.
Scorsese speaks about the powerful effects of the Italian documentary-like neorealist films like Rossellini's "Rome, Open City." His grandparents wept as they saw the hardships of the country they left behind. At the other extreme from neorealism were the Roman epics like "Fabiola." These costumed historical films inspired the young Scorsese to draw sketches from imaginary epics that he calls his first storyboards.
Putting this "Voyage" at a level above the usual documentary on film history is the inclusion of extensive scenes from many of the selected films, allowing Scorsese to give penetrating comments on the story arc, themes and the directors' styles, discussing the complete film rather that just a selected clip. This is particularly effective for seldom-seen films like Rossellini's English-language collaborations with Ingrid Bergman, which Scorsese considers to be unfairly neglected.
Scorsese also covers Vittorio De Sica's evolution from being the Italian Cary Grant to the director who "made the camera disappear" with the "powerful simplicity" of "The Bicycle Thief" and "Umberto D." Luchino Visconti is described as a count and a communist with an operatic sense of drama. Scorsese says that the Italian film closest to his own life is Federico Fellini's 1953 "I Vitelloni"; this story of immature young men in a small town inspired Scorsese's own early masterpiece "Mean Streets." The dramatic immediacy of Fellini's "spiritual epic" "La Dolce Vita" is contrasted with the poetic isolation of Antonioni's "L'Avventura" and "Eclipse."
Scorsese concludes this outstanding "Voyage" with scenes from Fellini's "8 1/2," explaining why it is "the purest expression of love of cinema," adding that his Italian voyage is not over yet. Narrated by Martin Scorsese. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by Martin Scorsese, Suso D'Amico Cecchi, Raffaele Donato and Kent Jones. Produced by Barbara De Fina, Giuliana Del Punta and Bruno Restuccia. No distributor set. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 243 min.