Essential Fellini

Variety Lights


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Synopsis

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.

Picture 8/10

The Criterion Collection upgrades Alberto Lattuada’s and Federico Fellini’s Variety Lights to Blu-ray, presenting it on the first dual-layer disc of Criterion’s latest director-centric box set, Essential Fellini. The presentation comes from a new 4K restoration, which was in turn sourced primarily from the 35mm original camera negative, with a first generation combined dupe positive filling in where the negative could not be used. The picture has been encoded at 1080p/24hz.

Criterion’s previous DVD edition (long out-of-print) sported a disastrous video presentation. Damage could be pretty heavy but that was the least of its problems: it was interlaced and was bombarded with ghastly artifacts, from jagged edges to ghosting. While less-than-stellar at the time on a standard 4:3 CRT television, it’s unwatchable now.

This new presentation is a wonderful and substantial upgrade over that DVD, and I think it helped me appreciate the film a bit more: whereas I was fairly indifferent to it initially, I found it far more charming and entertaining, even visually pleasing this time around. There are spots here and there throughout the film that can look a little dupey (lacking texture, looking a little fuzzy, shows some fading), but I’ll attribute that to the alternate sources that had to fill in where the negative was less-then-optimal. Outside of these few moments the new restoration and encode looks incredible, adding details to the picture that I hadn’t really noticed before o(those costumes are more impressive looking here) and managing the film’s grain far better than the DVD could ever dream of doing, giving this picture more or a film-like look. Gray scale also offers a drastic improvement: where the DVD’s presentation was harsh, with heavy blacks and whites and very little in-between, the grayscale here looks far better with smoother, with more natural looking blending. Blacks are also not as heavy, allowing for more shadow detail, and whites no longer bloom.

Restoration work has also removed most of the damage that was there previously. Some minor marks remain, along with some minor pulses and shifts in the frame, but it’s all quite easy to overlook as a majority of the picture is incredibly clean without a single mark ever popping up. It's a substantial improvement I regret this isn’t the way I initially saw the film.

Audio 6/10

Criterion’s disc presents the film’s soundtrack in lossless PCM. It’s also an improvement over the previous DVD, sounding cleaner and sharper on the whole. But it’s still pretty flat and lacks much in the way of fidelity and range. It sounds fine but that’s all I can say about it.

Extras 6/10

Outside of an insert the previous DVD included nothing supplements wise. For this edition (again, found in their Essential Fellini box set) Criterion throws on a couple of new features. There’s the first part of a four-part interview with Fellini for a program called Second Look, with the other parts dispersed throughout the rest of the set. Hosted by filmmaker Andre Delvaux for Belgian television in 1960, this 34-minute episode focuses on Fellini’s early years, including his work as a cartoonist at “The Funny Face Shop.” The program’s highlight, though, is probably when they get Fellini’s former colleague—simply introduced as Mr. Guasta—to talk about his work and personality.

The format of that previous interview is admittedly a little dry, but Fellini feels a bit loose and the introduction of his former colleague helps, but I still preferred the other feature on this disc, the 101-minute documentary Fellini: I’m a Born Liar, directed by Damian Pettigrew in 2002. The format of this documentary can be a bit stale at times as well, admittedly, as its comprised primarily of interviews conducted with the director over the years, talking about his craft, his thought process and so much more, including his thoughts on how “total creative freedom” is actually crippling and why he needs some sort of opposition to motivate him. What makes this documentary more engaging is that it has plenty of behind-the-scenes footage mixed in, taken from a lot of his films—including from Amarcord, Casanova, 8 ½, And the Ship Sails On, and more—as well as interviews with plenty of those that have worked with him. Some of the more fascinating interviews come from actors who worked with him, all with differing thoughts on the man, with Roberto Benigni loving how Fellini actually treated him like an actor, Terence Stamp more amused by his personality and way of directing (his impersonation of Fellini can be priceless as well), and Donald Sutherland sounding to have been beyond frustrated with him, which probably came down to Fellini being more interested in the look of things (including his actors) rather than their performances. Sometimes intense, it's an incredibly engaging documentary on the man.

Unfortunately there isn’t anything around Variety Lights itself, which would have been nice, with it unfortunately seeming, upon a cursory initial examination of the set, that Criterion didn’t want to produce much in the way of new material for it, just digging up pre-existing things instead. At the very least the two features they did include here are substantial and entertaining.

Closing

A great way to open the set, getting a wonderful new presentation for a film that looked awful in Criterion’s previous release, accompanied by a couple of solid supplements featuring interviews with the director and those that worked with him and knew him.

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Year: 1950-1987
Time: 1683 total min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Licensors: Intramovies  |  Paramount Home Entertainment  |  Cristaldi Films  |  Gaumont  |  Cineteca di Bologna  |  Studio Canal  |  BetaFilm  |  Corinth Films  |  Istituto Luce  |  MGM Home Entertainment
Release Date: November 24 2020
MSRP: $249.95
 
Blu-ray
15 Discs | BD-50
1.33:1 ratio
1.37:1 ratio
1.85:1 ratio
2.35:1 ratio
English 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Italian 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, a feature-length documentary from 2002 by Damian Pettigrew that provides an unorthodox introduction to Federico Fellini's life and work and features extensive interviews with the director himself   First episode of Second Look, Andre Delvaux's 1960 series of interviews with Federico Fellini for Belgian television   Interviews from 2002 with actors Brunella Bovo and Leopoldo Trieste, and Fellini friend and collaborator Moraldo Rossi   Archival audio interviews of Federico Fellini and his friends and family, conducted by critic Gideon Bachmann   Vitellonismo, a 2004 documentary featuring interviews with actors Leopoldo Trieste and Franco Interlenghi, assistant director Moraldo Rossi, Fellini biographer Tullio Kezich, Fellini friend Vincenzo Mollica, and former director of the Fellini Foundation Vittorio Boarini   Second episode of Second Look, Andre Delvaux's 1960 series of interviews with Federico Fellini for Belgian television   Presentation of I vitelloni ephemera from the "Felliniana" archive of collector Don Young   Trailer for I vitelloni   Introduction for La strada from 2003 by filmmaker Martin Scorsese   Audio commentary from 2003 for La strada by Peter Bondanella, author of The Cinema of Federico Fellini   Federico Fellini’s Autobiography, a documentary originally broadcast on Italian television in 2000   Trailer for La strada   New audio commentary for Il bidone by Fellini scholar Frank Burke   Interview from 2013 with filmmaker Dominique Delouche   Giulietta Masina: The Power of a Smile, an hour-long documentary from 2004   Third episode of Second Look, Andre Delvaux's 1960 series of interviews with Federico Fellini for Belgian television   Interview from 1999 with filmmaker Dominique Delouche   Audio interview from 1998 with producer Dino De Laurentiis   Trailers for Nights of Cabiria   Interview from 2014 with filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, an assistant director on La dolce vita   Interview from 2014 with scholar David Forgacs about the period in Italian history when La dolce vita was made   Interview from 2014 with Italian journalist Antonello Sarno   Interview from 1965 with Federico Fellini   Presentation of La dolce vita ephemera from the "Fellinana" archive of collector Don Young   Video essay for La dolce vita from 2014 by filmmaker Kogonada   Fourth episode of Second Look, Andre Delvaux's 1960 series of interviews with Federico Fellini for Belgian television   Documentary from 2009 by Antoine de Gaudemaron on the making of La dolce vita, featuring archival footage and interviews with actor Anouk Aimée and assistant director Dominique Delouche, among others   Introduction to from 2001 by filmmaker Terry Gilliam   Audio commentary from 2001 for , featuring film critic and Fellini friend Gideon Bachmann, and NYU film professor Antonio Monda   The Last Sequence, a 2003 documentary on Fellini's lost alternate ending for    Nino Rota: Between Cinema and Concert, a 1993 documentary about Fellini's longtime composer   Interviews from 2001 with actor Sandra Milo, filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro   Rare photographs for from Bachmann's collection   Gallery of behind-the-scenes and production photos from    U.S. theatrical trailer for    4K restoration for Toby Dammit, Fellini's contribution to the omnibus film, Spirits of the Dead, based on tales by Edgar Allan Poe   Fellini: A Director's Notebook, a film by Fellini from 1969, newly restored in 4K   Reporter's Diary: "Zoom on Fellini," a behind-the-scenes documentary   Familiar Spirits, a 1969 interview with Federico Fellini by actor Ian Dallas   Trailer for Juliet of the Spirits   Audio commentary from 2014 for Fellini Satyricon featuring an adaptation of Eileen Lanouette Hughes’s 1971 memoir On the Set of “Fellini Satyricon”: A Behind-the-Scenes Diary   Ciao, Federico!, Gideon Bachmann’s documentary shot on the set of Fellini Satyricon   Archival interviews with Federico Fellini   Interview from 2011 with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno   Documentary from 2014 about Fellini’s adaptation of Petronius’s work, featuring interviews with classicists Luca Canali, a consultant on the film, and Joanna Paul   Interview from 2014 with photographer Mary Ellen Mark about her experiences on the set of Fellini Satyricon and her iconic photographs of Fellini and his film   Presentation of Fellini Satyricon ephemera from the "Felliniana" archive of collector Don Young   Trailer for Fellini Satyricon   Audio commentary for Roma featuring Frank Burke, author of Fellini’s Films   Deleted scenes from Roma   Interview from 2016 with filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino   Interview from 2016 with poet and Fellini friend Valerio Magrelli   Presentation of Roma ephemera from the "Felliniana" archive of collector Don Young   Trailer for Roma   Audio commentary from 2006 for Amarcord by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke   The Secret Diary of "Amarcord," a 1974 behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the film   Deleted scene from Amarcord   Fellini's Homecoming, a documentary from 2006 on the relationship between the director and his hometown   Interview from 2006 with actor Magali Noël   Fellini's drawings of characters from the film   Presentation of Amarcord ephemera from the "Felliniana" archive of collector Don Young   U.S. theatrical trailer for Amarcord   Fellini racconta: Diary of a Film, a behind-the-scenes documentary from 1983   Fellini's TV, a 2003 Italian television documentary on Fellini's work in television advertising during the 1980s   Fellini racconta: Passeggiate nella memoria, an Italian television documentary produced in 2000 and featuring several interviews with a late-in-life Fellini looking back on his career   At Home with Federico Fellini, a 1987 interview with Federico Fellini on the importance of Franz Kafka's unfinished novel Amerika to Intervista   Audio interview from the early sixties with actor Marcello Mastroianni by film critic Gideon Bachmann   Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember, 193-minute documentary featuring the actor talking about his life as an actor   Deluxe packaging, including two lavishly illustrated books with hundreds of pages of content: notes on the films by scholar David Forgacs, essays by filmmakers Michael Almereyda, Kogonada, and Carol Morley; film critics Bilge Ebiri and Stephanie Zacharek; and novelist Colm Tóibín, and dozens of images spotlighting Don Young’s renowned collection of Fellini memorabilia