Structurally the film is simple. Scorsese walks the viewer through the history of Italian cinema up to Fellini by way of his personal experience of those films. It is as though a good friend who, as a deeply passionate connoisseur of great art, is giving you a personally guided tour through his favorite museum. What is particularly interesting to me are his descriptions of watching many of those films as a child on a 16″ black & white television screen, often with several generations of his family around him, and often watching very poor quality prints of the films. And yet, those films still had a powerful effect on him.
I have to admit my favorite section of the film is Scorsese’s description of Italian Neo-Realist cinema.
“If you ever have any doubt about the power of movies to effect change in the world, to interact with life, and to fortify the soul, then study the example of neo-realism. So what was neo-realism? Was it a genre, was it a style, was it a set of rules? Or, more than anything else, it was a response to a terrible moment in Italy’s history. The neo-realists had to communicate to the world everything their county had gone through. They needed to dissolve the barrier between documentary and fiction, and in the process they permanently changed the rules of moviemaking.”
I have had the pleasure of seeing many of the films he discusses, yet there are many more I have not seen. My own personal response to Scorsese’s own personal journey is to consider doing my own close examination of neo-realism, beginning with the earlier films and working my way forward. All in all, I recommend the film.