Catalog-dependent MGM ladles on the extras for “Raging Bull” in its latest Martin Scorsese Collection, an uneven boxed set that showcases the helmer’s weaknesses as readily as his considerable strengths. Scorsese’s struggles against deadlines, the Hollywood establishment and narrative bloat percolate through the supplemental material for “New York, New York,” “The Last Waltz” (which Scorsese started work on secretly because he was behind on “New York, New York”) and even the taut “Raging Bull,” which the helmer undertook during a period of deep despair over his craft.
Released a few weeks before the helmer’s latest Oscar showdown — against a boxing pic, no less — the set provides uneasy foreshadowing for this year’s Academy Awards. Will Marty be denied once again?
“He’s not Oscar material,” a British critic posits admiringly in one of the older “Raging Bull” featurettes, going on to predict, “When he does get an Oscar, it will be a career Oscar.”
This sentiment could hardly be music to the ears of Harvey Weinstein or “Aviator” producer Graham King; no doubt they’d rather the felicitously timed set, with its handsome “Raging Bull” 25th anniversary edition, spur Acad voters into giving Scorsese the Oscar that many feel he was robbed of back then.
“Raging Bull” certainly stands the test of time. It still packs a wallop — and is considered such an important film it’s amusing to hear producer Irwin Winkler say, in one of the four new featurettes, that UA gave the brutal pic the greenlight because the crowdpleasing “Rocky” did so well at the B.O.
“New York, New York” doesn’t fare as well: It’s hindered by some of the same weaknesses that undermine the far more successful “Aviator.” Both times, Scorsese spent considerable time and effort replicating earlier filmmaking techniques only to see each pic bog down in the latter third. Witness the extended “Happy Endings” in the earlier musical and Howard Hughes’ descent into madness in “The Aviator.”
In his “New York, New York” commentary, Scorsese enthuses about lifting neon from old big-band movies and speaks proudly of the interminable “Happy Endings,” which was trimmed at one point for good reason.
One wishes Scorsese would spend less time recreating the technique of earlier eras and more tightening the narrative.
“New York, New York” did give us the showstopper title tune and the helmer valuable experience directing musical numbers that he would apply to “The Last Waltz,” then “Raging Bull’s” fight sequences. In fact, Scorsese likens the pic’s fights to musical numbers in one of the latter’s three commentary tracks.
“The Last Waltz” special edition is a reissue on the skimpy side — the packaging lacks even a rudimentary chapter list — but still remains a powerful artifact of ’70s rock. A bare-bones “Boxcar Bertha” disc rounds out the set.