BluRay/DVD Reviews

I VITELLONI

By • Aug 30th, 2005 •

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(Criterion) 1953. 107 mins. B&W. AR 1.33:1

I put this DVD on, sat back, and was absorbed into the screen as if I were in Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME. I don’t think the liner notes, eloquent though they are, begin to do the film’s visual seductiveness justice. The town as a character – Fellini’s awareness of his other role as ‘scenographer’ – is detailed beyond palpability; it became more real than the city and room I live in. The astonishingly vivid tones revived by Criterion’s High Def transfer and immaculate clean-up are a gift we can never thank the company for sufficiently.

(Oddly enough, though image and sound are better than what this film has ever delivered in 35mm, one can’t help but notice the jiggling between many of the shots, or the bounce into soft focus and back at times when transitions are coming. Those defects, time related, I’m sure, to the deterioration of the negative, appear to be challenges with which some future technology will be able to deal. But one must be thankful for what gifts one has clearly received.)

George Lucas credited I VITELLONI with being the inspiration behind AMERICAN GRAFFITTI, his best film. It’s there in between the frames of DINER, and of most subsequent films which dealt with the melancholy coming of age of rootless adolescents and young men. It is both the paradigm and the pinnacle of that genre, and fifty years haven’t made it in the least inaccessible, though the group I saw it with couldn’t quite get over the wardrobe – business suits and overcoats – that all the young men wore. Time would change that style of dress completely before long.

Fellini, this early in his career, was heavily influenced by Chaplin. Mind you, I’m not basing this on any conversations I’ve had with him, just on watching the work. Particularly Chaplin’s melancholy LIMELIGHT, which came out the year before, seems to have a kinship with the forlorn seaside town which the characters inhabit. Nina Rota’s music, also, though fully in bloom, borrows from LIMELIGHT, MONSIEUR VERDOUX, and MODERN TIMES, and I doubt one note of those cues were inadvertent.

Criterion moves in mysterious ways. Over the years they periodically drop a Fellini in our laps, not in any order I can divine, but each a breathtaking thrill, with its renovation, its supplementary treats, its step forward in completing the catalogue of the director’s work.
I loved seeing LA STRADA last year, though I found Ms. Masina’s performance closer to Harry Langdon than to Chaplin, the latter having so often been the fond comparison. And the year before it was NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, which is, for me, arguably the director’s masterpiece. Arguably because there exists for perusal 8 1/2, AMARCORD, and LA DOLCE VITA. The latter is my favorite Fellini, but that doesn’t make it the best, if you know what I mean.

Now, with all this Felliniana extant, I think a good collection also needs a good documentary, and the one getting all the hype is FELLINI: I’M A BORN LIAR, released by First Look. It is directed by Damian Pettigrew who, territorially, has penned a book by the same name, published by Harry Abrams, Inc. Both are chock full of interviews and visual info. Fellini makes himself both available and evasive to both mediums. And are you ready for this…I prefer the book. The film was viewed by the committee, and comments varied widely (and wildly, I might add). From an ecstatic appreciation of the film as truly visionary in its treatment of its subject matter, to the very mundane comment, “You’d think with all his money he could trim the hair out of his ears.” Myself, I felt a bit lost: the interviews are conducted without the usual courtesy of identifying the subjects, and that bothered me. Obviously I knew Terence Stamp and Donald Sutherland (and appreciated the fact that the director allowed for other than just laudatory comments), but in other instances I had no idea who I was listening to, and so was at a loss for context. And Fellini, for all the magic of his presence, seemed to be putting us on to some degree, and I found myself wondering just how much even as I was trying to concentrate on what he was saying.

How about you get them both? There are writers who play down Fellini’s talent, and certainly the best possible world allows for all opinions. But I’m scratching my head trying to think of a half dozen filmmakers who have used the medium as imaginatively as he has, or who have bent it so malleably on the anvil of their will. Later in his career he slipped a bit, didn’t hit the high notes as resonantly, but I have eleven of his films in my DVD collection, and I don’t think I’m nearly finished gathering his better work into my shelves.


Special features:
High definition transfer with vastly improved picture and sound. VITELLONISIMO – a documentary featuring interviews with Leopoldo Trieste, Franco Interlenghi, AD Moraldo Rossi, etc. Stills, posters, the trailer. New English subtitle translation.

Cast:
Franco Interlenghi
Alberto Sordi
Franco Fabrizi
Leopoldo Trieste
Riccardo Fellini
Leonora Fuffo.

Credits:
Directed by Federico Fellini.
Music by Nino Rota.
Edited by Rolando Benedetti.
Cinematography by Otello Martelli, Luciano Trasatti, and Carlo Carlini.
Screenplay by Fellini and Ennio Flaiano.

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