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 three of Criterion’s box set Essential Fellini features I vitelloni, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a newer 4K restoration, which was scanned from multiple film sources: a 35mm fine-grain master positive, a 35mm positive print, and a 35mm preservation negative.
Compared to Criterion’s previous DVD edition—that didn’t look all that bad—this presentation offers a substantial upgrade, presenting a far cleaner and more photographic looking image, but its evident that the source materials were in rough shape, and the jump between the different sources is evident as the quality fluctuates. The image is stable and clear most of the time, delivering a sharp and highly detailed image, but the picture can suddenly take on a dupier look or suddenly begin to pulse and shift. There are also a number of moments where the picture goes from sharp to blurry, jumping back and forth, as though the elements may have warped. This can get a bit heavier in the latter half of the film.
Outside of that there are a few marks but not much else, a majority of the damage found on the previous DVD edition now gone. Film grain is present and rendered decently enough outside of the blurrier moments, and this helps deliver the finer details, which can really pop during the sharper moments of the film.
The digital presentation is also clean, no artifacts to speak of, and gray levels are cleaner and more distinct in this presentation thanks to improved contrast, which also makes the blacks less heavy.
There are still a few issues due to the available elements, but this new presentation still offers a significant improvement over the old DVD.
The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural presentation sounds a bit cleaner than what was on the DVD, but it’s still flat and edgy, the music coming off particularly harsh. About what I expected, though.
Criterion replicates the supplements from their DVD edition for the most part, starting with the excellent 2004 35-minute documentary Vitellonismo, featuring interviews with actors Leopoldo Trieste and Franco Interlenghi, assistant director Moraldo Rossi, Fellini biographer Tullio Kezich, friend to Fellini Vincenzo Mollica, and Vittorio Boarini, former director of the Fellini Foundation. After explaining the meaning of the word “vitelloni,” the featurette edits together the interviews to cover the making of the film, from how Fellini was able to get it made despite his previous film bombing before those who knew him well get into the elements from his life that would influence plot points in the film, and even some of his other work. There’s also some interesting back story behind how Vittorio De Sica was almost cast as the actor in the film (that was ultimately played by Achille Majeroni), but he became concerned about a specific characteristic of the character and turned down the role. It’s nothing but talking heads, but there’s a more personal feel to it and the participants can keep things amusing.
Not on the previous DVD edition is the next episode from the television program Second Look’s four-part interview with Fellini, the first part appearing on the disc for Variety Lights. In this 31-minute episode Fellini and host Andre Delvaux start to get into his film work, beginning with his work with Roberto Rossellini on Rome, Open City and Paisan, and then co-directing Variety Lights with Alberto Lattuada. While I vitelloni gets a mention (eventually) it would have probably made more sense for this particular episode to have appeared on the The White Sheik’s disc: there is a lot here around that film and what probably led to its eventual failure. Star Alberto Sordi—who was apparently box office poison at the time of the film’s original release—appears here to talk about the film a bit, and is amused at how the film is highly regarded at the time of the interview (1960) but was a “non-success” initially. Surprisingly we also get interviews with filmmaker Alberto Lattuada (who was supposed to direct The White Sheik and he recounts how the film would have differed if he had done it), cinematographer Otello Martellim, actors Peppino De Filippo and Leopoldo Trieste, and screenwriter Ennio Flaino. Thanks to the wider range of participants this episode proves to be less stale in format compared to the initial episode and the series is making for an excellent addition to the set so far.
Criterion then carries over the film’s original theatrical trailer and the stills gallery. The stills gallery, featuring photos of program books, photo books, lobby cards, and posters, is presented as a self-playing video and is not an indexed, navigable stills gallery like on the DVD. The gallery here also drops the film stills that appeared on that disc. Why they were dropped I can’t say.
Despite some source issues this new presentation still offers a significant upgrade over the previous DVD edition released by Criterion. It also carries over most of the features from the DVD while also adding an excellent archival interview with the director and those that worked with him on his early films.