Video Digest: October 6, 2006

All over Scorsese: "The Big Shave"; "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?"; "It's Not Just You, Murray!"; the mean streets come to Sesame Street; the return of Leonardo DiCaprio

The Departed is the kind of double-crossing, wiseguy mini-epic for which I will gladly fork over my $15. Plots twisting into gun barrels, brains and blood splashed across the lens—well, it’s enough to turn a girl off murder forever. But not even criminals do this stuff better than Martin Scorsese. I don’t want to bag on the man’s elegant period-piece phase—The Aviator had its charms, and Gangs of New York might have gotten better during the part I slept through—but it’s awful great to see Scorsese back in a familiar place where, as Henry Hill says in Goodfellas, “Your murders come with smiles.”

Say what you will about the sea of refuse that can occasionally be YouTube, but it does feature Scorsese’s fabled early work. Here is the squirm-inducing 1967 short, “The Big Shave,” made when the man was 25 years old. It would be encouraging to young filmmakers to say these are embarrassing initial efforts that merely show potential. They’re not. They’re classics.

And his 1963 NYU student film, “What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” It’s fun to place spot-the-influence with this and the next short—I spy Truffaut! And Fellini!—but I was also pleased to find a dash of screwball-era Woody Allen.

From 1964, “It’s Not Just You, Murray!” covers territory we’ve come to expect from Scorsese: the New York underbelly, Italian muddahs, back-stabbing low-lifes, and a neat bag of film tricks. Great deadpan line from Part 2: “I refuse to answer on the grounds it may incriminal me. On the grounds I may discriminate myself.”

Part 1

Part 2

By the way, that is the late Catherine Scorsese playing Murray’s mother in Part 1. One of the more charming aspects of Scorsese was his adoration for his mother, who famously appeared in Goodfellas and several other films, including his documentary italianamerican. He even brought her on Letterman, where she made pizza: “Robert De Niro loves it, he says I make the best pizz-er in the whole world.” And who’s gonn-er argue with De Niro?

There has always been something sweet about Scorsese. He even lent his voice to a children’s film, Shark Tale. But it’s hard to imagine him directing for kids. In this parody, the mean streets come to Sesame Street.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that The Departed also signals the return of Leonardo DiCaprio. (Where did he go? Eh, maybe the bar?) I’ve been a DiCaprio fan for a long time. But my favorite DiCap role will always be when he played that young and charming drifter, accused in a climactic scene of a crime he did not commit. What was that called again? Oh, yes: Growing Pains.

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