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Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Federico Fellini's 8 ½

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Dec 28, 2009.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Well-Known Member
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    Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ (Blu-ray)

    Directed by Federico Fellini

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1963
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 138 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: PCM 1.0 Italian
    Subtitles: English
    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 39.99

    Release Date: January 12, 2010
    Review Date: December 28, 2009
     
     
    The Film
    4.5/5
     
    Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ is the director’s fantasia of smoke and mirrors, a mostly surreal extravaganza that features a fascinating central character, a collection of unforgettable images, and a parade of some of the world’s most fascinating if sometimes underdeveloped female characters. Though partly autobiographical (the title refers to the six completed features and three partial ones he had previously directed), the story of 8 ½ isn’t really what makes it one of the cinema’s most seminal surrealistic achievements. It’s a circus of sights and sounds (of course it’s a circus: it’s a Fellini film) that compels one to keep watching. Even in some of its clumsier moments, it’s never anything less than mesmerizing.
     
    Celebrated Italian film director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) has suffered something of a nervous breakdown in the planning of his next film and heads to a seaside spa for ostensibly some rest and relaxation that will hopefully recharge his depleted creative batteries. There’s no escaping production meetings (his producer, screenwriter, production designer, and casting agent are all there waiting for some kind of inspiration from him) or a progression of women in his life, both in memory (his mother, a whore from his youth) and in reality including his discontented wife Luisa (Anouk Aimee), his bubble-headed mistress Carla (Sandra Milo), and the next film’s captivating star Claudia (Claudia Cardinale). His desperate search for a muse to inspire him from among this panoply of both real and imagined women forms the crux of the film’s narrative line.
     
    The freewheeling script by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi effectively blends its present day story of the exhausted and dispirited Guido searching for a hook to spur him on with his new film with haunting memories from his past and a succession of surreal dreams featuring many of the people from his life from the past and the present. Director Fellini mounts such a display of images that you’ll finish the film wanting to replay scenes just to bask in their evocative beauty and power: the whore Saraghina’s unforgettable rumba, the partially constructed launch pad set that seems like a stairway to heaven, the steam bath sequence, and the film’s dreamlike opening featuring Guido’s struggle to be liberated from his car while spectators gawk and a bus filled with the arms of headless people surrounds him. Fellini uses the film partly as a platform to denounce critics’ opinions of his films as lacking love stories or of dwelling too much on the idea of spirituality, and while the press conference that climaxes the movie is noisy and detached and obvious, there’s no denying the hypnotic effect of the film’s entire cast in white and black prancing around a circus ring, an image which sears itself into our brains. A cynical but knowing look at the creative process in limbo, 8 ½ remains one of the greatest films about making (or in this case not making) movies ever made.
     
    Marcello Mastroianni excels as the talented but frustrated Guido. As more a reactor here to the people and events that conspire to thwart his imagination in creating something great for his next movie, Mastroianni holds the screen while others around him do much of the heavy emoting. Anouk Aimee, the loyal wife Luisa who finally reaches the breaking point with her husband’s lies and dalliances, is unforgettable while Sandra Milo makes her few scenes as the rather gaudy mistress Carla count beautifully. Claudia Cardinale is heart-stoppingly gorgeous as the girl of the director’s dreams and, in effect, the star of the movie he hopes to direct. Scores of actors make effective walk-on appearances as they weave in and out of the troubled Guido’s consciousness.
     
     
    Video Quality
    5/5
     
    The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Black levels are rich and deep aided by an unusually accurate grayscale rendering that occasionally blows out the whites in the early dream sequences (but likely filmed that way). Details on skin and clothes are revelatory, and while there is a single slight black scratch in the early going, it’s not enough to pull down the overall ranking from being that of reference quality. The pale white subtitles are usually easy to read with only occasional exceptions. The film has been divided into 27 chapters.
     
     
    Audio Quality
    3.5/5
     
    The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 audio track is typical of the period of the film’s production, but the recording has been cleaned of crackle, hiss, pops, and flutter so that only pure sound (post-dubbed) remains. The Nino Rota score combines memorable original music with classical and pop standards in a most effective blend that aids the movie’s unforgettable images in becoming even more iconic.
     
     
    Special Features
    5/5
     
    The film is introduced by writer-director Terry Gilliam in a 7 ½-minute tribute, praising the movie and comparing many of its facets to techniques Gilliam himself has strived to achieve during his directorial career. It’s presented in 1080i.
     
    The audio commentary has been compiled from a critique of the film read by actress Tanya Zaison along with reminiscences by critic Gideon Bachmann and film professor Antonio Monda. For a film this symbolically dense, this commentary is extremely useful and very informative, a must listen.
     
    Fellini: A Director’s Notebook was a 1969 special filmed for NBC in which the director tours the sets for the film The Voyage of G. Mastorna which he had abandoned (and which he never would complete), discusses his upcoming project Satyricon while he offers viewers a tour of Rome and some insights into the classical period portrayed in the film, lets us take part in some casting sessions for faces and figures for his movie, and has a tongue-in-cheek encounter with Marcello Mastroianni. This 51 ¼-minute scrapbook of Fellini’s thought processes is offered in 1080p, but the film itself is in pretty terrible condition.
     
    “The Last Sequence”  is an intriguing compilation of photos, audio and video interviews with many of the people connected to 8 ½ in trying to piece together the original train sequence finale for the movie (replaced by the circus ring finale) since the actual footage no longer exists. It runs 50 ½ minutes in 1080i.
     
    “Nino Rota: Between Cinema and Concert” offers a sensational tribute to Oscar-winning film composer Nino Rota about whom little was known until this 2001 documentary was created. It runs 47 ½ minutes in 1080i.
     
    Extended interviews with Sandra Milo (26 ½ minutes featuring clips from Juliet of the Spirits), Fellini assistant and later award-winning director Lena Wertmueller (17 ½ minutes), and Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (17 ½ minutes, most of which praises the exquisite work of cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo) are offered in 1080i.
     
    The film’s theatrical trailer (which gives a good idea of the amount of clean-up necessary for the film to look so impressive today) in 1080i runs 3 ¼ minutes.
     
    Two photo galleries may be stepped through. One offers candid shots from critic Gideon Bachmann while the other is the official stills and backstage shots package for the movie.
     
    The enclosed 29-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some stills from the movie, excerpts from a two part interview with director Fellini by Charlotte Chandler, a brief biographical sketch of the director by his biographer Tullio Kezich, and a short critique of the film by film professor Alexander Sesonske.
     
    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
     
     
    In Conclusion
    4.5/5 (not an average)
     
    Federico Fellini’s 8 ½  is a work of cinematic art now being given its optimal presentation on Blu-ray with striking picture and sound quality and the generous host of special features ported over from the movie’s original DVD release. With the current theatrical release of the film’s musical version Nine now occupying screens, seeing the original in this splendid rendition becomes even more essential. Highest recommendation!
     
     
    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC
     
  2. dpippel

    dpippel HTF Premium Member
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    Thanks for the great review Matt! I've been looking forward to this release and it's good to know that Criterion gave it the once-over it deserves. Looks like my wallet just got a little lighter thanks to you. Dammit.
     
  3. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Thanks, Matt! Sounds like Criterion's usual excellent presentation. I will be watching 8 1/2 soon with wife and family because of the potential of us seeing Nine down the road. We'll be viewing the SD Criterion release however, which has been in my collection for awhile...unwatched.

    If it turns out to be to my liking...I'll consider the upgrade.
     
  4. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Well-Known Member

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  5. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    I've read several professional reviews that have been all over the place about Nine.

    Never a good sign. But if it gets others in my family to sit down and watch 8 1/2 with me...
     

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