Judge Daryl Loomis always pays his debts with a hammer to the face.
Our review of Amarcord: Criterion Collection, published September 5th, 2006, is also available.
Uncle Teo's up a tree!
A lot of the early releases in the Criterion Collection, impressive though they were at the time, were in need of more work; technology had simply advanced too much since they began releasing DVDs in 1998. While Amarcord got its second look in 2006, it's appearance on Blu-ray is incredible. Where the SD release showed marked improvement, its Hi-Def counterpart is jaw-dropping.
Facts of the Case
A year in the life of Rimini, a tiny Italian seaside town is four seasons of joy, pride, love, and heartache. As the children of the Biondi family grow up and the elders start to age, Fascism quickly makes its presence felt throughout Italy. The town, before an almost timeless place, begins to realize its place in the world and people who thought nothing would ever change see a life outside their sleepy village.
Judge Gibron already did a great job in discussing the 2006 Criterion release of Amarcord, so read that for his in-depth analysis. I'll discuss two things, one I like and one I do not, as well as this superior Blu-ray presentation.
The year that transpires in Amarcord could well be called The Year that Everything Happens. Inspired by thoughts of his youth after a near-death experience, Fellini created an abstract caricature of his hometown and a pure representation of the artifice of memory. Within these two hours of marginally related vignettes, wholesale changes occur to almost everyone we meet, as though everything inside this tight framework is of monumental importance. For the sake of expediency, I can appreciate spring-to-spring bookends, but every moment is so charged with nostalgia that even the tragedies feel like fond memories, and it's off-putting. This goes a long way to explaining my distaste for Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso and Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful, both of which share plenty of commonality with this film. That same thing also drives home how great a film Amarcord is, because I despise those other films. I wish there was more of a story to hold onto. Some of the characters are interesting enough and I laugh at a few jokes, but mostly I have to get by on how beautifully the film is made, which is no small thing. Memory is an inherently nostalgic thing, but I will forever have trouble with the artificiality of the film.
Within that same notion of memory, however, lies Fellini's treatment of Fascism. Nearly everything in the film, happy or tragic, is met in the end with some kind of scatological joke and the rising totalitarian party is not spared. The director looks at them as fools, and the town looks all the dumber for their passive acceptance of the regime and their nationalistic fervor over things they don't begin to understand. Nobody would mistake Amarcord for a political film, but he subtly inserts these notions into his caricature; by the townspeople's reactions, creeping Fascism seems like the most natural thing in the film. This comes out most strongly in the vignette about Il Rex, a massive ocean liner returning from its American voyage. While a behemoth of the seas, the boat's arrival elicits an emotional outpouring worthy of Il Duce himself to celebrate Italy's contribution to the world. I would call the idea of crying and blowing kisses to a boat absurd, but I've seen footage of Mussolini rallies. Most interestingly to me is how active the Fascist party still was when this came out in 1973. In much the same way that Pier Paolo Passolini made waves with his shocking Salo, the blatant ribbing of the Fascists in Amaracord must have rubbed some very important, very mean people the wrong way. As always, good show for that.
For all the high expectations Criterion sets for itself, they continue to meet and exceed their past efforts. The Blu-ray for Amarcord, predictably, is phenomenal; their painstaking efforts to make decades-old films look nearly new have not gone to waste. This is one of the most beautiful image transfers they've ever put together. Pause the film on any frame and you find a wealth of depth and color with near-perfect detail all to way to the farthest reaches of the frame. It is the same transfer as Criterion's 2006 SD edition, which marked an incredible improvement over their 1998 release (number four in the collection) and, again, we see a big step up in the Hi-Def edition. If you look really hard, you'll be able to catch a few tiny instances of damage, but the transfer is completely free of digital noise and with an almost perfect grain structure. The film looks as cinematic as it ever has. The beauty of this transfer becomes ever more apparent when we see the short restoration featurette, which compares the original release to the current (as of '06); just looking at shots of blue sky and brick walls are revelatory in their sharpness. The mono audio track is serviceable, but only so much can be done with one speaker. All the dialog, sound effects, and especially Nino Rota's beautiful, lilting score (one of the best of his storied career) all sound clear and bright. I generally dislike broader remixes of old films, so I have nothing to complain about here.
The supplemental features are fantastic, but if you have the '06 edition, there is nothing new for you here. Nonetheless, there's enough here to satisfy to satisfy even the most ardent Fellini fan. We start with the audio commentary featuring Italian film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke, which is one of the more informative and interesting commentaries you'll come across, as they argue for the more serious aspects of the film rather than just the nostalgic flight of fancy it is often presented as. More personal is Fellini's Homecoming, a 45-minute look at the director and his work in the context of his life and upbringing in the village that serves as setting inspiration for Amarcord. It's high quality work that lends a lot of insight into the feature presentation. More than an hour of interviews with the director, friends, and family give an even more personal account of the film and the man behind it. A deleted scene gives us another dose of scatological fun, but it has little importance to the film. A five minute demonstration of the restoration process (with a little extra footage specifically for the Hi-Def transfer) is an eye-opening look at the painstaking work that goes into making these films look so great. Galleries of promotional material and Fellini's drawings of the film's characters close out the disc. Finally, Criterion's all important booklet, which provides an excellent essay on the film by Sam Rohdie and a piece by Fellini himself, called "My Rimini," which gives autobiographical background that gives some of the real life stories we find in the films.
The problems I have with Amarcord do not surprise me; I do not share a nostalgic world view and cinematic representations of it tend to annoy me. That said, it really is a beautiful film full of energy and life. Most importantly, Criterion's Blu-ray is a phenomenal presentation, worthy of a film of this stature, and an absolute must-have for film collectors.
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