Martin Scorsese, 1974

Scorsese is renowned for his two long term actor/director relationships, firstly with Robert De Niro and more recently with Leonardo DiCaprio stepping up to fill his place. One returning performer who has received considerably less attention for their work with the great director is his own mother, Catherine Scorsese. Often playing a character not far removed from her real life persona, Catherine has starred in no fewer than eight of his films (an equal number to De Niro) with speaking roles in everything from Goodfellas and The King of Comedy, to Casino. The roles she has fulfilled often centre around her cooking- whether it be in the back room of the convenience store in Casino or when she cooks a late night meal for Tommy, Henry and Jimmy in Goodfellas. In Italianamerican Catherine and her cooking get to take the starring role as Scorsese documents her cooking them dinner whilst along with Scorsese’s father Charles they tell anecdotes about themselves and their lives, growing up as second generation immigrants in New York’s Little Italy.

All of Scorsese’s trademarks here- the Italian family, Catholicism, New York city. Watching Charles and Catherine’s light hearted bickering you can see where the inspiration for the relationships and mannerisms of the couples in his films emerge from. Whereas Scorsese has tended to focus his narrative films on the darker corners of Italian American life with his mafia pictures and films such as Raging BullItalianamerican is a much more romanticized and sentimental view as his parents recount tales about their own parents romances, their journeys through Italy and spiritual visions they have witnessed, any hardships an immigrant family would have faced at the turn of the 20th century are all but it ignored. Where the documentary truly achieves its strength is from these stories, and Charles and Catherine’s ability to express them so well to the camera. Watching them talk and imagining Scorsese growing up in their home it is easy to see where he will have obtained his talents as a storyteller. 

One of the greatest additions in this 
vérité style documentary comes in the extremely limited closing credits, where after the brief list of names involved with the project comes Catherine’s own recipe for the tomato sauce and meatballs she cooks in the film, it’s a quaint touch on such a nostalgic film (Catherine would even go on to publish her own recipe book, titled The Scorsese Family Cookbook).

So far the only release Italianamerican has seen was on a laserdisc titled Three by Scorsese featuring alongside the best of his short films The Big Shave and his influential documentary American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (a review of which will one day follow) making it a hard film to obtain. It is a however a must for any Scorsese enthusiast, one of his easiest and most entertaining films to watch and quite possibly his best foray into documentary filmmaking yet.
words by pete bond.