September 19, 2006
For those of us who have watched washed out, faded prints of Federico Fellini’s Amarcord (1973) on public television, this new transfer, by the folks at the Criterion Collection, is a revelation. The colours have never looked more vibrant and Nino Rota’s score has never sounded better.
Drifting puffballs signal the end of winter and the arrival of spring and also begin the film itself. The Italian seaside town (much like the one in Fellini’s equally autobiographical I, vitelloni) ushers in spring with a huge bonfire with people dancing and a band playing that generates a rowdy, carnivalesque atmosphere. Fellini uses this scene to introduce his large, eccentric cast of characters before settling into an episodic structure with vignettes that are not linked in any logical way. Sam Rohdie’s essay included in the liner notes points out that “each of the numbers in the film is a circus act, and the actors are the circus clowns.” And so, for example, we get a parade of grotesque teachers: the nearly blind woman teacher, the cruel, unforgiving male teacher and the old school marm with a bullet bra.
There is a real preoccupation with bawdy humour with numerous fart jokes and practical jokes that involve urine and another about masturbation. Fellini is certainly upfront about bodily functions and sex, like when one teenager confesses to his local priest that he touched a woman inappropriately at the cinema. The filmmaker also gleefully satirizes fascism when a teenage boy daydreams at a rally for Mussolini that the dictator offers to marry him and the girl he has a crush on. A huge flower arrangement styled like El Duce even talks to him.
Amarcord’s production values really shine in the Grand Hotel vignette with opulent sets like the ornate elevator doors and the vibrant blue strips of fabric that run down the staircases or the jewel-encrusted harem with the wives clad in all sorts of different coloured veils. This is complimented by beautiful cinematography, like in a segment that takes place at sea with one moment occurring during an absolutely stunning sunset that bathes everything in warm light. Later that night, the people in boats spot a massive ocean liner known as the Rex. It is so large that the boat seems to take up most of the sky, its portholes like stars. Another impressive image features a couple of teenage boys dancing by themselves through the fog-enshrouded streets of the town as chilly winds herald the coming of winter. The whole town turns out for the first snow as it blankets everything for four days, falling in the form of big, dreamy flakes.
Amarcord is a bizarre, slices of life movie as Fellini essentially transforms the comfort movie into an art film. There is a playfully attitude as characters address the camera and very absurd situations, like when the uncle of the film’s central family climbs up a tree, refuses to come down and repeatedly yells, “I want a woman!” Yet, for all of their fantastical touches, his films are very personal, much like Terry Gilliam’s work, who, coincidentally, greatly admires Fellini’s films (8 1/2 is his favourite movie of all time). If Amarcord adheres to any kind of structure, it is the cyclical nature of the seasons, ending as it began with the end of winter ushering in the beginning of spring all over again.
The first disc features a deleted scene that has no sound and involves a countessa losing her ring down the toilet and the journey into the sewer to retrieve it.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
There is an audio commentary by film studies professors Peter Brunette and Frank Burke. They talk about the notion of community that the film examines and how it disperses by the film’s end. They also discuss, in detail, how Amarcord represents masculinity and femininity and how women are always in the service of the men. They speak very knowledgably about Fellini and his thematic preoccupations as they thoroughly analyze this film.
The second disc includes “Fellini’s Homecoming,” a documentary that examines Fellini’s relationship with his hometown Rimini through interviews with some of his friends and film scholars who recall affectionate anecdotes of the man, painting a fascinating portrait.
There is an interview with actress Magali Noel who played the voluptuous Gradisca. She talks about what a craftsman Fellini was and recounts an anecdote about filming the Rex scene. She talks about her character and what it was like to work with the filmmaker.
“Fellini’s Drawings.” The director got his start as a cartoonist and continued to sketch his characters during the pre-production phase. Included is a collection of colourful character sketches juxtaposed with stills of the actual actor or actress.
“Felliniana” is a collection of behind the scenes stills and various movie posters from all over the world. Also included are radio ads promoting the movie.
“Gideon Bachmann Interviews.” Bachmann was a close friend of Fellini’s for over 30 years as well as a radio broadcaster and he interviewed the director, his family and friends over the years. Included are these interviews with Fellini who speaks in a relaxed manner about his filmmaking philosophy and many other topics very intelligently and eloquently. Bachmann talks to people like Fellini’s mother and his sister who paint a vivid portrait of the director’s early life.
Finally, there is an excellent “Restoration Demonstration” that takes a look at how the transfer has improved since its initial 1998 DVD release with side by side comparison and voiceover narration explaining how this was achieved that is very interesting and doesn’t bog one down in impenetrable technical details.