Judge Brett Cullum is waiting in the wings, surrounded by freaks.
The movie that looks at television through the eyes of Fellini.
Originally Ginger and Fred was a project filmed by Frederico Fellini for an Italian television station named RAI Uno. It lacks the depth of the director's feature films. Still, we have two of his best known actors with Marcello Mastroianni (8 1/2) and Giuletta Masina (the real life Mrs. Fellini, La Strada) taking on lead roles and showing flashes of brilliance. There's enough magic to make the small feature an endearing find on DVD. For Fellini completists this is a treasure, and for neophytes it's an accessible foray into the unique world of the celebrated Italian director.
Facts of the Case
Amelia (Masina) and Pippo (Mastoianni) wowed the world with their impersonation of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers thirty years ago, and now they are being asked to appear on television one more time. They have been booked on a variety show which features celebrity lookalikes, a levitating friar, a cow with what looks like eighteen teats, dancing dwarves, and transvestites. Yep, it's a Fellini film. Contrasted with the three ring circus of Frederico's television satire is a gentle tale of aging, and what it means to have integrity in art and entertainment. The main sequence of Ginger and Fred is the distinguished pair waiting in the wings surrounded by freaks.
Fellini fans will have reason to celebrate this American release of Ginger and Fred. The 1986 television production hasn't been seen in the region on DVD, and now we finally get a chance to experience the film remastered and cleaned up from previous VHS copies. It's one of the most accessible titles in the audacious catalog of Frederico Fellini. Ginger and Fred's satiric look at television seems almost prescient twenty years later as reality TV dominates the airwaves. Televised freak shows have become the norm, and Ginger and Fred predates that trend well. The start of the film feels overstuffed with alot of characters and motivations thrown out quickly, but the latter half settles into a sweet and bizarre extended parade of oddities and carnival acts. Basically this is America's Got Talent without Brandy or "The Hoff" judging fictionalized as the Italian We Are Proud to Present. There's not much to the story, but we get two sympathetic characters and a freakshow to make up for that. It is the ultimate irony that Fellini chose television as the vehicle for his indictment of the medium.
Marcello Mastroianni and Giuletta Masina make the televised film work, because we instinctively care about them. Both actors were past their prime when the project was in production, but they retain the charm and grace to pull you in easily. Ameila and Pippo seem to be giving it their all for an uncomprehending public, and the challenge to the film viewer is to recognize and admire that quality from the actual performers. Pippo the male dancer has had a tough time previous to the reunion. He has suffered a mental breakdown, and Amelia contains her nervousness of seeing him again. Contrasted with the other guests on the show, we mourn the fact Ameila and Pippo get no respect from anyone affiliated with the program. They are treated like cattle, literally when you consider one of the guests is a cow with a bizarre number of teats.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is the first Region One NTSC transfer of Ginger and Fred available on DVD, and it has less extras than what was delivered with the PAL release by Infinity Arthouse in 2006. That's not as big a crime for this Warner Brothers bare bones release when you realize the earlier foreign distributor's extras were not centered around the film (more the director and actors), but all we get from the US edition is a theatrical trailer. Where Warner Brothers trumps the Infinity release is in the transfer. This American release has warmer tones in the color scheme, and it looks brighter than what was previously released. Now both editions are not delivered in the correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio for some reason, but Warner Brothers has tightened up some shots to eliminate the reveals of lighting equipment the foreign edition had. Extra room on top of the shots has been reduced although side to side the picture is still a touch too wide. They have also improved the digital translation by correcting aliasing problems found on the PAL conversion. It looks much better, although neither edition delivers the show as it was originally intended. Consumers will have to choose either a PAL edition with more extras, or a better transfer from Warner Brothers.
It's both a Valentine to and swipe at television's cruelty; however, Ginger and Fred is an easy film to like. Fellini and his actors may not deliver a vicious parody like Network, but they wrangle out a graceful treatise on aging stars as time and taste marches on. This is a great treat on DVD, and Warner Brothers delivers a nice transfer even if they skip any extras.
Guilty of being a Fellini film, though one that is softer and easier to fall in love with.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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