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Feature: Video release fetes Scorsese

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Aug. 13, 2004 at 6:09 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Warner Home Video is set to release a DVD collection of five films by Oscar-nominated director Martin Scorsese -- including the 1990 crime drama "GoodFellas," ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 greatest American movies of all time.

In addition to a newly remastered two-disc edition of the Oscar-nominated film, The Scorsese Collection also includes a two-disc special edition of "Mean Streets" and the DVD debuts of "After Hours," "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and Scorsese's first feature film, "Who's That Knocking on My Door?"

Although he has never won the directing Oscar, Scorsese is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers in American history. Last year -- when he received his fourth directing Oscar nomination for "Gangs of New York" -- Scorsese was honored with the Directors Guild of America's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Film critic Roger Ebert has compared Scorsese with such legendary greats as Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles -- who both went without a directing Oscar in their fabled careers.

"He's the director that even the other directors would place first," said Ebert. "No one has made more or better movies in the past 30 years."

Irwin Winkler -- one of the producers on "GoodFellas," who took home a Best Picture Oscar in 1976 for "Rocky" -- agreed that Scorsese is the greatest American director working today.

"I don't think there's anybody better," said Winkler in an interview with United Press International.

And there are a lot of great ones around, right?

"No," said Winkler. "There's probably a dozen really great ones."

Paul Sorvino, one of the stars of "GoodFellas" -- and an accomplished sculptor -- compared Scorsese to one of the great master painters of the 17th century.

"It's like having Rembrandt here," Sorvino told UPI. "I don't think there's a better director in the world."

This from a man who has worked with some of the top directors of the past three decades -- including William Friedkin, Oliver Stone and Warren Beatty.

Scorsese has also been nominated twice for screenwriting Oscars -- once for "GoodFellas" and once for the costume drama "The Age of Innocence" in 1993. Sorvino said he knew "GoodFellas" was special the first time he read the screenplay, written by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, and based on Pileggi's bestseller "Wiseguy."

But the first time Sorvino saw the finished movie, he wasn't so sure.

"I thought it was a bore and I thought I was awful in it," he said. "My kids were watching it with me, and I said, 'I'm no good and I'm boring everybody.'"

Winkler said Sorvino wasn't the only one who didn't like the movie.

"They booed us off the screen at a screening in Orange County somewhere," said Winkler.

What, in particular, did the audience find so objectionable?

"They didn't like the movie," said Winkler. "It was so violent in the beginning, and a lot of people walked out. They needed the critics to tell the audience they were seeing something special."

Eventually the movie found an audience and went on to earn four Oscar nominations -- including Best Picture and Best Director.

Sorvino even came around.

He said his daughter Mira -- who went on to win the Supporting Actress Oscar in 1995 for "Mighty Aphrodite" -- told him the movie was wonderful. And he said his son Michael -- an actor whose credits include "Gods and Generals" and "Summer of Sam" -- had tears in his eyes.

"I came out of the funk about three hours later and I came to the realization that it was a great movie," said Sorvino, "and I was pretty good in it."

Sorvino -- who also trained as an opera singer and still performs in concert and records music CDs -- said the movie played something like an opera.

"It carries on and goes in different places emotionally, and it's got size to it," he said. "There's heavy wings beating about it throughout. It goes from gratuitous violence to softness to sweetness to more violence and a heavy deal at the end."

In addition to "GoodFellas," Scorsese has two other pictures on the AFI's Top 100 list: "Raging Bull" (1980) and "Taxi Driver" (1976). Both starred Robert De Niro, who headed an all-star cast in "GoodFellas" that including Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco in an Oscar-nominated performance, and Joe Pesci in his Oscar-winning turn as the psychopath Tommy DeVito.

Sorvino said that while the "Godfather" movies were mythic and fabulist, "GoodFellas" showed the true underbelly of the world it described.

"Marty in his genius completely and forever disabused us of the notion that the 'Godfathers' were the way it is," he said.

As with "The Godfather" movies in the 1970s and the HBO series "The Sopranos" now, "GoodFellas" has come in for criticism for its depiction of a culture of crime populated by Italian-Americans. Sorvino raised the now-familiar defense that the story could just as easily be told about gangs of other ethnic orientations.

"It could have been Chinese people -- it could have been anyone," he said.

So what accounts for Hollywood's fascination with crime stories about these characters in particular?

"They're picaresque," said Sorvino.

The "GoodFellas" special edition comes with commentary by Scorsese and some members of the cast and crew. It also has a feature in which directors such as Jon Favreau ("Elf"), Joe Carnahan ("Narc"), Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") and Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption") discuss the influence of "GoodFellas" on their work.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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