One hundred years after his birth, Federico Fellini still stands apart as a giant of the cinema. The Italian maestro is defined by his dualities: the sacred and the profane, the masculine and the feminine, the provincial and the urbane. He began his career working in the slice-of-life poetry of neorealism, and though he soon spun off on his own freewheeling creative axis, he never lost that grounding, evoking his dreams, memories, and obsessions on increasingly grand scales in increasingly grand productions teeming with carnivalesque imagery and flights of phantasmagoric surrealism while maintaining an earthy, embodied connection to humanity. Bringing together fourteen of the director’s greatest spectacles, all beautifully restored, this centenary box set is a monument to an artist who conjured a cinematic universe all his own: a vision of the world as a three-ring circus in which his innermost infatuations, fears, and fantasies take center stage.
Disc numero 12 in Criterion's large box set, Essential Fellini, presents Amarcord in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. Instead of reusing the old high-definition master used for their 2006 DVD and 2011 Blu-ray editions, Criterion is instead using a more recent (from 2015 I believe) 4K restoration, which was scanned from the 35mm original negative.
Though there are a couple of caveats I have to admit this new presentation does offer a notable improvement over the previous Blu-ray edition, which I was certainly happy with at the time. Unfortunately, the age of that older master does show now, with the image looking a bit noisier, especially in its rendering of the grain. This new presentation improves upon that aspect significantly, grain looking far more natural and cleaner, which in turn leads to better details, the finer textures of the buildings and interiors being quite striking. The background field present during the sequence with the uncle midway through also looks incredible.
The new restoration also manages to remove more blemishes and the image is more stable. Where things are a little iffy are the colours, which do lean quite a bit warmer than the old presentation, though, to be fair, the colours in that presentation maybe leaned a little too cool. Yet, while there is a yellow-ish tint to the new image, that can look greener in darker sequences, it's actually not that bad, nowhere near as ugly as what appears on most of the colour films in Criterion's Varda set or other recent 4K restorations I've come across. Whites actually still look white, they're just a bit warmer, and the snow in one sequence still looks like snow and not like everyone decided to relieve themselves in it, like how the snow appeared in Jane B. par Agnès V. in that aforementioned Varda set (my apologies but that presentation really irritated me). Blues pop up and they look blue, not cyan (and oddly some of the sky shots in this presentation look bluer than what was present on the old disc), while the slightly boosted yellow hue seems to intensify the reds to a wonderful degree: Gradisca's red jacket really pops. Blacks appear to have been impacted a bit, though, with some muddy looking ones popping up in places, and this could be a side effect of the warmer look. The blacks could crush a bit in the old presentation, but I'd probably still give the edge to the blacks on that disc. On top of all of that, it's worth mentioning a couple of sequences also look to be tinted differently, with the movie-theater "flashback" sticking out most: previous releases tinted it a heavier blue, but the filter has been toned down in this edition.
The colours threw me a bit at first, and that may have thrown off the blacks a bit (maybe), but I have to admit I was far more pleased with this presentation, which still looks quite a bit cleaner and more photographic when all is said and done.
I actually didn't notice much of a difference between the lossless mono presentation found on this disc and the one found on the old disc, but then, as I've admitted before, I'm not very good at determining subtle improvements or differences between audio tracks. At the very least it sounds just as good as what was on that one. Dialogue was dubbed post-production and it can be obvious, but again it doesn't sound detached from the film, and fidelity is decent. Nino Rota's amazing score still sounds fantastic, with great range and clarity. There is no damage to speak of.
Criterion is definitely reusing the same Dolby Digital English-dub they've used on previous editions, though. While it's ultimately serviceable it's far more flat in comparison. Again, I'd stick with the Italian track.
Criterion technically ports everything over from their individual Blu-ray edition (outside of a restoration demonstration that doesn't relate to the newer restoration used for this release), though things get shifted around a bit to make room for a new feature. From the old material, things start off again with the same audio commentary (that first appeared on the 2006 DVD re-issue) featuring film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke. I sampled it this time around but my feelings are the same, and find it to be a surprisingly energetic (even fun) academic track. The two talk about the film and how elements of Fellini's life inspired aspects of it. They do cover his career, along with the careers of the film's cast, and talk about the film's popularity. They also, of course, talk about the flights-of-fancy found throughout and also touch a bit on the film's presentation of Fascism and offer some historical context. While the track certainly didn't blow me away (it covers the information you'd expect a scholarly track would), just having the two there, feeding off of each other, keeps the track moving along at a good beat, even if they can take some of the fun out of the film with their observations. Still worth a listen if one hasn't listened to it yet.
Also here (yet again) is the 44-minute documentary Fellini's Homecoming, which features interviews from various friends and acquaintances that have known him either personally or through work over the years. Participants talk about knowing Fellini and point out where some of the items in the film come from in his personal life. Those involved in the film's production in one way or another also reflect on the making of it. There are a few surprises in here (specifically that the tobacconist was based on a real individual, though exaggerated in the film) and a couple of amusing anecdotes, but it's hindered by the fact it's almost completely a talking-heads doc, which makes it a bit stale.
An interview with Magli Noël, who played Gradisca, is included next, the feature looking to have been recorded many years ago (no date was included). Here she talks about how she got the role and the frustrating screen test she had to get through after dropping everything and flying to the set location. She gives some details about her character and what she knew of the actual individual on whom the character is based, ultimately calling her character a 'loose woman.' She also talks a little bout Fellini's style and what it was like to work with him. Brief and quick (at over 15-minutes), and filled with some decent information not covered elsewhere in the set, it's worth viewing.
Next up is decent sized gallery of Fellini's Drawings. Navigating through it using your remote, Criterion presents about 14 of Fellini's drawings of the various characters in the film with comparison photos to the 'finished product', so to speak. Though Fellini's drawings are exaggerated I was surprised by the fact that the actual actors in the roles aren't that far off.
Felliniana is another gallery of sorts, divided into two sections. First we get a rather large photo gallery featuring production photos, poster art from around the world, lobby cards, and press books in a variety of languages. Also found in this section are radio ads, four to be exact, running a total of two-and-a-half minutes. Interesting to listen to but the 'tag line' ('Amarcord means remember; you'll remember Amarcord') gets a little insufferable when it's repeated again and again.
Criterion then presents a 3-minute deleted scene which unfortunately lacks audio. They do provide a note on the scene (taken from a novelization that includes it) and explain it's about the retrieval of a ring that one of the aristocrats lost down the toilet or sink. Cool little find and it's in surprisingly decent shape, though is obviously a standard-definition upscale.
The old features then close with the same awful American theatrical trailer that actually sucks the fun out of the film.
Outside of that restoration demonstration (again, referring to that older restoration, not the one used on this release), the disc is missing the Gideon Bachmann interviews with Fellini and friends found on the old Blu-ray. It's not missing entirely from the set, though, Criterion instead placing that feature on another disc, the disc featuring The White Sheik. Though I can't imagine that feature being too taxing and taking up too much room on the disc (it was audio that played over a series of static photos), they may have moved it to spread things out and make more room for an additional feature that was more specific to the film, The Secret Diary of "Amarcord," a 1974 documentary around the making of the film created for Italian television.
Criterion starts the 45-minute program off with a note warning about the opening sequence of the "documentary," which makes use of a deleted scene where the character Patacca confronts an Asian man and spews a number of racist things at him. Considering the character's toxic "machismo" personality I wouldn't have expected any less from him, but Criterion's note feels the need to point out that Fellini gave this material to one of the more horrible characters in the film because it's a criticism of racism and he's not endorsing what the character is saying in any way (they also point out what the name "Patacca" translates to, though they leave out one of the more severe ones I came across, which starts with a "C" and rhymes with "hunt"). While I think most would find this obvious, the sequence is cringey (and I can see why Fellini cut it) so I get their wanting to add the note.
At any rate, any scenes from the film incorporated into this end up all being deleted scenes, which is a great little bonus for what is already a fascinating, if somewhat baffling "making-of." The feature goes over the film's general production and development, showing behind-the-scenes footage, the best of which would be in the make-up room where the actors are morphed into Fellini's vision (it's stated that Fellini sees actors as being "extendible"). There's an interview with Sandra Milo, who was up for the role of Gradisca, and she talks about Noel's performance a bit awkwardly.
What ends up being odd about this "documentary" is that a lot of it is obviously staged and it comes off as a quirky little film itself since it feels like that actors and interviewees are playing themselves through the filter of a Fellini film. Because of that it's hard to tell if the interviews are for real or not, outside of Fellini who is obviously giving a show (like he always does). Still, it's a wonderful find with the bonus of some more deleted scenes on top of the one already included in the release, and I'm surprised Criterion didn't include it before. Its simple addition ends up adding a lot of worth to an already solid set of extras.
Though the new presentation has some "cons" to match the "pros" I'd still say the image offers an upgrade over Criterion's previous solo Blu-ray edition for the film, giving it a more photographic look in the end.