La dolce vita
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 7 in Criterion's Essential Fellini box set presents the director's international hit La dolce vita, presented here in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. Criterion appears to be using the exact same master that was used for their previous Blu-ray edition, and I'm still quite happy with what we get. This is what I wrote:
Taken from a new 4K restoration the image is pretty much what I would have expected: a sharp, highly detailed image that retains a filmic quality. Fine object detail is excellent, producing great textures in both close-ups and long shots alike. Despite the fact the almost-3-hour film is packed onto one disc with a number of supplements I didn’t detect any unruly artifacts, and film grain, though fine, still looks to be naturally rendered. I suspect contrast has been boosted a bit, and I felt there was some crushing in some of the darker scenes and some whites border on blooming, but black levels are still mostly good and gray levels and tonal shifts are appealing.
The restoration work has cleaned up a number of flaws and the print is near-immaculate, with a few minor blemishes remaining and a few instances where the image looks a little blurry (source issues, not transfer related) but these problems are very few. In all, compared to the previous Kino Lorber DVD, which looked pretty good for a standard-definiton transfer, Criterion’s new release offers a hefty improvement.
The disc features the same soundtrack:
Despite the music coming off edgy and distorted during some of the louder moments the lossless linear PCM mono track is not too bad. Dialogue is at least clear and distinct and the lower volume music cues sound a bit cleaner and smoother. It’s just when the audio becomes busy and loud the track’s age shows and it can distort and crack a bit. The restoration job has also been thorough and no damage—such as drops and pops—appears during the film’s runtime.
Interestingly Criterion stirs up the supplements a bit, moving some material from this disc to make room for some new content. The audio interview featuring Gideon Bachmann and Marcello Mastroianni has been moved to the disc holding Intervista. The rest of the supplementary material from the solo Blu-ray has been ported over, though:
From the archives Criterion [includes] a 30-minute interview with director Federico Fellini conducted in 1965 for a program on NBC. After talking about the development of his career and his feelings about interviews in general, he covers the films he made that he’s most fond of (8 ½, La strada, and Juliet of the Spirits) and his inability to analyze his own films. He also talks a little about influences, not pointing out any particular films but the medium as a whole along with other art mediums and Catholicism. Somewhat surprising is that he isn’t too familiar with modern cinema (at the time of course) and only singles out a few directors he is familiar with: Bergman, Kurosawa, and Hitchcock, to whom he offers the most praise. It’s edited a little odd (though the interviewee and Fellini are filmed together at the beginning, they are then filmed separately and it almost looks and sounds like the interviewee was edited in later) but it’s an enjoyable interview with Fellini being fairly open about his work.
The first scholarly supplement is ::kogonada’s visual essay The Eye and the Beholder. It’s similar to the essay he did on Criterion’s release for King of the Hill, focusing on one moment in the film, dissecting it, presenting possible meanings to this moment, and explain how this moment marks a transition of sorts for the director. The moment ::kogonada focuses on is the final shot of the film, where the young girl Paola is suddenly looking at us, breaking the fourth wall. While he naturally compares the moment to similar sequences found in The 400 Blows, Summer with Monika, and Breathless, he also offers up an alternate reason as to why Fellini does this by suggesting it’s something along the lines of a transition to a point-of-view shot from Mastroianni’s character, Marcello. For evidence of this he examines a few other sequences that play with the “point-of-view” particularly one sequence where Marcello, from his point-of-view, enters Steiner’s apartment and Steiner at first appears to be making eye contact with us, the viewers, when suddenly the camera starts to veer out and the eye contact from Steiner meets Marcello who is now on screen. He explores possible reasons for this trick, suggesting a spiritual detachment of sorts. Admittedly I’m not sure what to make of the conclusions the essay comes up with but I had fun with the feature and picked up a few things I didn’t fully notice before. It runs a fairly brisk 9-minutes.
Criterion then provides a new 7-minute interview with the assistant director on La dolce vita, Lina Wertmüller. It’s a fairly humourous interview as she recalls Fellini’s personality, calling him a “big kid” and going into detail about his fondness for “asses.” She then talks a little about the friendship between him and Mastroianni before getting into the possible meaning for the film’s ending. It’s incredibly brief and I’m hoping Criterion maybe has more material featuring her, possibly being saved for another Fellini release, since she’s a hoot and fairly open.
Scholar David Forgacs then talks about La dolce vita, principally concentrating on it in how it represents the time period in which it was filmed and that it’s a film ultimately about a moment. It looks at the economic boom of the time, the media/celebrity culture that was developing, the changing architecture and landscape, the class divisions, and how the film presents all of these elements. Some aspects of the story were based on actual incidents and he goes into detail about these, while also examining Fellini’s compositions within the film. It’s a fairly nice, focused feature, running about 14-minutes.
A little less focused though still rather interesting is a 16-minute interview with Italian journalist Antonello Sarno. Sarno, in front of his rather huge DVD collection, talks a bit about the production and how it was a big even in Rome, drawing crowds that came to view the filming. He also talks about the fashions, the physical appearances of the actors, and compares it to other films like The Great Beauty and Woody Allen’s Celebrity. Though somewhat all over the place he covers quite a bit of the material about the film and its impact.
[The old content then concludes with] a gallery called Felliniana, which presents under 50 photos of posters, lobby cards, and press books for the film, along with magazine and soundtrack covers, all from various countries.
Criterion then throws in the fourth and final episode of the four-part interview between Fellini and Andre Delvaux for the program Second Look, the other three found elsewhere in the set. This one runs a bit shorter than the others at around 31-minutes, and focuses its attention more on La dolce vita. It starts off with Delvaux asking about the scandal the film caused and whether he intentionally looked to cause a scandal, Fellini obviously disappointed Delvaux is asking about such a thing (he didn't and mentions he thought the reactions were "childish and infantile), before moving onto interviews with others, including journalist Camilla Cederna talking about the religious groups (and "the aristocrats") that objected to the film and some sequences in it. The segment also includes interviews with author Alberto Moravia (who talks about the aspects he liked about Fellini's film, including its representation of the bourgeoisie), screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, and actors Yvonne Furneaux and Marcello Mastroianni. Italian Neorealism gets touched on, with Zavattini explaining at one point how Fellini's films can flirt with it but aren't really Neorealist and explains why, and Fellini talks a bit about the film industry in Italy after the war. The segment (and series) then concludes with the two talking at the beach. Each of these segments are great on their own, but all together they offer a well rounded and in-depth look at Fellini's earlier work, and they're probably the set's strongest newest additions.
The best new addition specifically for this film, though, is a 52-minute episode from the program Once Upon a Time, an interesting series that not only offers an in-depth look at the making of the film its covering (through new and archival interviews) but also places it in the context of the time it was released (or period represented within the film). Criterion has included episodes on some of their other releases, so why they didn't include this one for La dolce vita with their initial edition is beyond me but here it is, starting things off with first explaining the economic climate of Italy (going through a resurgence and gearing up for hosting the Olympic games) and how this in turn led to growth in the Italian film industry after the war. Details about the actual film and its production are served up through archival interviews, including ones with Fellini (which appear to mostly come from that Second Look program) and Mastroianni, along with new ones with the likes of Anouk Aimee. It also touches on controversies around the film and gets into the influences behind aspects of the film, from its representation of tabloid journalism to the film's striptease sequence. Like the other programs I've seen it's thorough and entertaining, and it may now be my favourite supplement on here.
As I was revisiting the supplements on this disc I recalled being a little underwhelmed by the supplements initially, especially since the film was a huge get for Criterion at the time (Paramount had just won a lawsuit around distribution that had held the film up for years, too). But I found the set of features here, thanks to a couple of superb new ones, far more satisfying.
The presentation appears to be the same as what was available on the previous Criterion Blu-ray, but this disc packs on a couple of new supplements that offer further insights into the film and its impact.