January 13, 1992 12:00 PM

by Mary Pat Kelly

Here is America’s leading auteur, film by film from What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (nine minutes, NYU film school, 1963) through the nerve-racking slam-bang of Cape Fear.

Providing narrative bridges and comments, Kelly, author of an earlier study of Scorsese’s work, portrays her longtime friend through the voices of his parents, friends, teachers, coworkers and actors, among them Paul Newman, Nick Nolte, Ellen Burstyn and such Scorsese regulars as Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci.

Most impressive are the long chapters devoted to Mean Streets (1973), Raging Bull (1980) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Scorsese’s most controversial work. But Kelly is overzealous in her defense of such mixed blessings as New York, New York (1977): “Audiences are enthusiastic…. The amazing first scene is a triumph of acting and editing.”

She digs up tidbits such as that Scorsese’s script for Mean Streets was once sent to low-budget-action producer Roger Corman—and that Scorsese seriously considered Corman’s proposal to make the movie with an all-black cast. Simply dopey, though, is an account of Francis Coppola, at the Sorrento film festival with Scorsese in 1970, seeking “hole reinforcers” for his three-ring binder.

Martin Scorsese: A Journey is both exhausting and exhilarating. Exhausting because its focus is so narrow and because, in the great scheme of things, making movies is not the most important thing in the world. Exhilarating because Scorsese’s single-minded passion almost persuades you that it is. (Thunder’s Mouth Press, $21.95)

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