La dolce vita
The biggest hit from the most popular Italian filmmaker of all time, La dolce vita rocketed Federico Fellini to international mainstream success—ironically, by offering a damning critique of the culture of stardom. A look at the darkness beneath the seductive lifestyles of Rome’s rich and glamorous, the film follows a notorious celebrity journalist (a sublimely cool Marcello Mastroianni) during a hectic week spent on the peripheries of the spotlight. This mordant picture was an incisive commentary on the deepening decadence of contemporary Europe, and it provided a prescient glimpse of just how gossip- and fame-obsessed our society would become.
After a long legal dispute over who owned the rights to Federico Fellini’s famous La dolce vita, Criterion—licensing the film from the lawsuit’s victor, Paramount—releases the film in a brand new Blu-ray edition, giving the film a 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation on a dual-layer Blu-ray. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1.
Taken from a new 4K restoration the image is pretty much what I would have expected: a sharp, highly detailed image that retains a filmic quality. Fine object detail is excellent, producing great textures in both close-ups and long shots alike. Despite the fact the almost-3-hour film is packed onto one disc with a number of supplements I didn’t detect any unruly artifacts, and film grain, though fine, still looks to be naturally rendered. I suspect contrast has been boosted a bit, and I felt there was some crushing in some of the darker scenes and some whites border on blooming, but black levels are still mostly good and gray levels and tonal shifts are appealing.
The restoration work has cleaned up a number of flaws and the print is near-immaculate, with a few minor blemishes remaining and a few instances where the image looks a little blurry (source issues, not transfer related) but these problems are very few. In all, compared to the previous Kino Lorber DVD, which looked pretty good for a standard-definiton transfer, Criterion’s new release offers a hefty improvement.
Despite the music coming off edgy and distorted during some of the louder moments the lossless linear PCM mono track is not too bad. Dialogue is at least clear and distinct and the lower volume music cues sound a bit cleaner and smoother. It’s just when the audio becomes busy and loud the track’s age shows and it can distort and crack a bit. The restoration job has also been thorough and no damage—such as drops and pops—appears during the film’s runtime.
For such an iconic film I’m rather stunned at how little is actually on here for supplemental material, but I appreciated that at least there is a decent amount of scholarly material, all of which should help one’s appreciation of the film.
The first scholarly supplement is ::kogonada’s visual essay The Eye and the Beholder. It’s similar to the essay he did on Criterion’s release for King of the Hill, focusing on one moment in the film, dissecting it, presenting possible meanings to this moment, and explain how this moment marks a transition of sorts for the director. The moment ::kogonada focuses on is the final shot of the film, where the young girl Paola is suddenly looking at us, breaking the fourth wall. While he naturally compares the moment to similar sequences found in The 400 Blows, Summer with Monika, and Breathless, he also offers up an alternate reason as to why Fellini does this by suggesting it’s something along the lines of a transition to a point-of-view shot from Mastroianni’s character, Marcello. For evidence of this he examines a few other sequences that play with the “point-of-view” particularly one sequence where Marcello, from his point-of-view, enters Steiner’s apartment and Steiner at first appears to be making eye contact with us, the viewers, when suddenly the camera starts to veer out and the eye contact from Steiner meets Marcello who is now on screen. He explores possible reasons for this trick, suggesting a spiritual detachment of sorts. Admittedly I’m not sure what to make of the conclusions the essay comes up with but I had fun with the feature and picked up a few things I didn’t fully notice before. It runs a fairly brisk 9-minutes.
From the archives Criterion next presents us with a 30-minute interview with director Federico Fellini conducted in 1965 for a program on NBC. After talking about the development of his career and his feelings about interviews in general, he covers the films he made that he’s most fond of (8 ½, La strada, and Juliet of the Spirits) and his inability to analyze his own films. He also talks a little about influences, not pointing out any particular films but the medium as a whole along with other art mediums and Catholicism. Somewhat surprising is that he isn’t too familiar with modern cinema (at the time of course) and only singles out a few directors he is familiar with: Bergman, Kurosawa, and Hitchcock, to whom he offers the most praise. It’s edited a little odd (though the interviewee and Fellini are filmed together at the beginning, they are then filmed separately and it almost looks and sounds like the interviewee was edited in later) but it’s an enjoyable interview with Fellini being fairly open about his work.
Criterion then provides a new 7-minute interview with the assistant director on La dolce vita, Lina Wertmüller. It’s a fairly humourous interview as she recalls Fellini’s personality, calling him a “big kid” and going into detail about his fondness for “asses.” She then talks a little about the friendship between him and Mastroianni before getting into the possible meaning for the film’s ending. It’s incredibly brief and I’m hoping Criterion maybe has more material featuring her, possibly being saved for another Fellini release, since she’s a hoot and fairly open.
Scholar David Forgacs then talks about La dolce vita, principally concentrating on it in how it represents the time period in which it was filmed and that it’s a film ultimately about a moment. It looks at the economic boom of the time, the media/celebrity culture that was developing, the changing architecture and landscape, the class divisions, and how the film presents all of these elements. Some aspects of the story were based on actual incidents and he goes into detail about these, while also examining Fellini’s compositions within the film. It’s a fairly nice, focused feature, running about 14-minutes.
A little less focused though still rather interesting is a 16-minute interview with Italian journalist Antonello Sarno. Sarno, in front of his rather huge DVD collection, talks a bit about the production and how it was a big even in Rome, drawing crowds that came to view the filming. He also talks about the fashions, the physical appearances of the actors, and compares it to other films like The Great Beauty and Woody Allen’s Celebrity. Though somewhat all over the place he covers quite a bit of the material about the film and its impact.
The disc then closes with a couple of supplements: an audio interview with actor Marcello Mastroianni, conducted by Gideon Bachmann and recorded in 1963, covering Mastroianni’s work with Fellini, running about 48-minutes; and then a gallery called Felliniana, which presents under 50 photos of posters, lobby cards, and press books for the film, along with magazine and soundtrack covers, all from various countries. The large foldout insert features a lengthy essay by Gary Giddins, who offers a nice write-up on the film and then breaking down its episodic nature.
Again I was taken back a bit by the fact there really isn’t a lot of material to be found here per se, especially considering the stature of the title, but I enjoyed that the supplements were more scholarly in nature and they will probably offer a lot of great insight into the film for those coming new to it.
Despite the slight disappointment this isn’t a jam-packed two-disc edition, Criterion’s Blu-ray still delivers a solid presentation and some worthwhile supplementary material. It comes with a high recommendation.