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Martin Scorsese is more than a movie director. He’s also a film scholar and a cinephile. He has served as executive producer on a number of indie productions, and he’s lent his expertise to revivals like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

Marcello and Fellini are just two of the subjects Scorsese covers in 4 hours of Italian cinema
Marcello and Fellini are just two of the subjects Scorsese covers in 4 hours of Italian cinema

Like these other non-directing projects, My Voyage to Italy is a labor of love (although he actually does direct, and also speaks on-camera). Like A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies, My Voyage to Italy is his introductory class on a nation’s cinema. It’s also an homage to his influences and loves. Finally, it’s a list of recommendations to fellow movie-lovers.

Scorsese tells about growing up in New York and watching Italian movies on Friday nights, on a little black-and-white TV. He remembers watching with his Sicilian grandparents, who came to this country in the early 1910s. He loved American movies because they were escapism, but Italian neorealism was an entirely different take on what a movie could be, and that fascinated him. “It’s amazing to think now and realize that on the same day I might have seen a Roy Rogers picture, I went home and saw Paisan on TV,” he says. He also became aware of his Italian heritage watching these post-WWII movies, marveling that but for the determination of his grandparents who emigrated, he too might have been like that Italian war orphan on-screen.

The 246-minute program fills up two DVDs. Scorsese works chronologically from Italian neorealism, through the more nuanced works of Antonioni and Fellini. Thankfully, it’s the kind of entertainment you can pop in and watch for half an hour at a time, learning about one movie or one director at a time. You’ll want to keep a notepad and pencil handy (or your Movie Habit rent list) to write down all the recommendations Scorsese throws at you.

Frankly, I found Scorsese’s American Movies documentary to be more informative and more interesting. Some of the Italian movies he recommends seem to be more personal and emotional recommendations rather than serious and important works. But even as I write this I think of “trashy” westerns that Scorsese loved in American Movies, so perhaps it’s just a matter of heritage. Nevertheless, My Voyage to Italy is insightful and entertaining.

If you decide to rent this title instead of buying it, be sure to reserve it for several days, because it may take that long to digest it all.