Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido Anselmi, a director whose new project is collapsing around him, along with his life. One of the greatest films about film ever made, Federico Fellini’s 8½ (Otto e mezzo) turns one man’s artistic crisis into a grand epic of the cinema. An early working title for 8½ was The Beautiful Confusion, and Fellini’s masterpiece is exactly that: a shimmering dream, a circus, and a magic act.
Criterion’s Blu-ray release for Federico Fellini’s 8½ is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (the DVD looked closer to 1.78:1 to me.) The transfer is presented in 1080p.
The transfer doesn’t look to be the same one used for the basis of the DVD, this one offering a number of improvements over that previous edition, which was impressive in its own right. This one does look quite a bit sharper with a higher amount of detail (though this would be expected for a Blu-ray) and contrast is also better with strong blacks and a distinct gray level.
If I have one issue with the transfer it’s that it looks a little too smooth at times, as though it’s had some DNR applied. Grain is present but there are moments, especially in close-ups in brighter sequences, where grain isn’t as prominent and faces look a touch smoother than I would expect. It’s not glaring but it’s there and once you notice it you can’t shake it. In the end this is a very minor issue and probably my only real grumble as the digital transfer is still remarkable otherwise.
The print itself is also in near perfect shape with very few print flaws. Some transition sequences can look a little fuzzy or a frame can jump but that’s about the worst of it. Despite some minor issues the Blu-ray does offer a sharp, rather dazzling image and is still worth upgrading from the DVD for this reason alone.
The lossless mono track has a surprising amount of range to it and comes off sharp and incredibly clear. Like a good chunk of Italian cinema from the time it does look like the dialogue was recorded post production and some it can look out of synch with the picture, but it doesn’t sound out of place. Some music can come off a tad harsh, but otherwise the sound quality is clean with no distortion or any damage.
Criterion has ported everything over from their original 2001 2-disc DVD special edition and even added a little more, making for an impressive, if almost suffocating, selection of supplements.
First up is a hit or miss audio commentary by critic and Fellini friend Gideon Bachmann, and NYU professor Antonio Monda, with excerpts from an audio essay by Bachmann (if I understand correctly) read by actress Tanya Zaicon. It’s a decent scholarly track, with all participants recorded separately, but it’s bizarre set up can drag it a bit. The essay Zaicon reads from has some great insights and notes about the film, giving a great analysis of the many layers, but Zaicon’s reading really hampers it. Monda offers some more insight but I never found much of his material altogether that engaging because it also has a too “prepped” feel. Bachmann’s actual contribution may have been my favourite since it’s looser and freer and he also has more to say about Fellini himself, offering actual stories about the man. It has it’s up and downs but I recommend it, especially for newcomers to the film.
In the remaining supplements, under “Supplements” on the fly-out Blu-ray menu, you’ll first come across an introduction by Terry Gilliam, part of a short-lived series Criterion called “The Janus Films Introduction Series” that is found on a few early DVD releases. At 7-and-a-half minutes Gilliam talks about how it captures the art of making films, and even offers some insight into it and specific sequences that have influenced him (like the opening dream sequence and the Saraghina bit.) He’s very energetic as usual but cohesive and is obviously very passionate about the film and Fellini’s work in general.
Next is Fellini: A Director’s Notebook, which originally appeared on the DVD edition. This 51-minute piece has been restored for this Blu-ray edition, though I can’t say for the better. While colours have been corrected (I didn’t realize the opening titles were supposed to be red) and damage has been cleaned up, contrast and brightness looks to have been pumped to extremes. Sometimes it’s blindingly bright washing everything out. The only thing good that has come from it is that sequences that were originally hard to see are seeable now. Still, I can’t really say it’s much of an improvement and I may actually prefer the presentation on the DVD, despite this being presented in 1080p (not 1080i, which is what Criterion usually presents their supplements in.)
Getting past the ghastly image presentation the “documentary” is still a rather good one, directed by Fellini for NBC in 1969. In it he reflects on his work (finished, unfinished, upcoming,) the nature of filmmaking, sneaks in possible influences and looks at the people that interest him. It’s very “Felliniesque” and is still a rather cool feature. Also included as a sub feature is a Fellini letter, which is a letter to Peter Goldfarb, covering his intentions for this program (his idea of what film is.) It’s a great read and a very nice inclusion from Criterion.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray (at least for now) is the 52-minute documentary The Last Sequence. Its intention is to cover an alternate ending involving Guido seeing all the women from his life in the luxurious dining car of a train. It collects together various participants (or children of participants) who try to recall the sequence, though with very little success (Claudia Cardinale, for example, remembers shooting the scene but not much else about it—she doesn’t even remember if she had speaking lines in it.) Anouk Aimee recalls the scene being dark with a “sense of death” and that she prefers the ending that was used (which was originally shot to be used for the film’s trailer. ) It almost sounds like only one person saw the finished ending; late actress Caterina Boratto (her daughter Marina fills in for her in this documentary) who was devastated when she saw that ending wasn’t used. We hear sound recordings of trains that were intended for the sequence (which were ultimately looped and used to create the wind sound effects at the beginning) and hear recollections of the set and costumes, but unfortunately we don’t get to see the sequence, apparently long lost and destroyed by Fellini (it’s explained it was common for him to destroy things he didn’t want around.) We do get photos, though, tossed about the documentary. It’s a decent doc but it’s presentation can be kind of labourous. It doesn’t completely focus on the ending, gathering audio interviews from Fellini, who talks about like, film, and women, and then Mastroianni, who talks about working with Fellini. The documentary can seem a tad unfocussed at times because of these intercuts, and they play over still images that flash by too quickly. I did like it, though, and found it rather fascinating.
The remaining features have all been ported over from the DVD edition.
Nino Rota: Between Cinema and Concert is a 47-minute documentary on the life and career of Rota, gathering interviews with those that knew him. It looks at his career in music and film, and focuses on select scores, including ones for The Godfather, The Leopard, and, of course, 8 ½ and Fellini’s other films. Other than ones presented from 8 ½ all film clips are replaced by stills (even for The Leopard despite Criterion having released that film, showing they didn’t come back to correct this.) Certainly worth watching, and filled with some great excerpts from Rota’s music.
Criterion then includes a few interviews. First is a great, rather personal interview with Sandra Milo, who of course not only worked on a couple of Fellini’s films by was also his mistress. She’s quite forthcoming and honest, talking about her personal and working relationship with him, not really holding back. She recalls everything fondly and is quite a lively charmer throughout the interview.
The next interview is with filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, who worked on the set of 8 ½. She recalls the chaos of the experience (Fellini was obviously unsure of what kind of film he was making) and Fellini’s effect on others, further pushing their creativity. Compared to the Milo interview it’s a little dryer (Wertmüller is nowhere near as bubbly of course) but it’s a nice insightful one.
A little different is the interview with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who talks about the lighting and photography in the film, despite having nothing to do with the film. He talks about the look of the film and black and white photography in general, concentrates heavily on the lighting and of course praises cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo, creating yet another insightful addition to the supplements.
The supplements then conclude with a 3-minute American theatrical trailer and two still galleries: One featuring a small selection of photos by Gideon Bachmann, and another lengthier one featuring general production photos (with a good number of interesting notes.)
Thankfully Criterion has also pulled over the entire booklet from the DVD release. I, Fellini presents an excerpt from a series of interviews with Fellini performed by Charlotte Chandler, this segment of course focusing on 8 ½ and his uncertainty about the film. An essay by Tullio Kezich recalls the odd journey of the film, while Alexander Sesonske writes about how the film is about itself, and then the booklet concludes with another excerpt from the interview with Chandler, with Fellini talking about his feelings on making films. It’s a solid booklet and I’m happy Criterion was able to pull the whole thing over.
The commentary is okay, somewhat disappointing, but the remaining supplements (including the new addition of The Last Sequence,) which together cover the film extensively, make up for whatever the track is lacking.
Criterion starts off 2010 with a great Blu-ray release. I’m not a true fan of Fellini’s work, but I’ve always been incredibly fond of this film and, despite a couple of small issues, this is easily the best the film has looked on home video: Quite stunning. The supplements are extensive (and exhausting at times) but certainly worth going through, offering some great insight into the film and Fellini. Even if you own the DVD it’s worth upgrading to.