FELLINI-LOVER'S FANTASY

Two-disc reissue of Amarcord rekindles the passion

Amarcord: The Criterion Collection
Studio: Criterion Collection
WorkNameSort: Amarcord: The Criterion Collection

We can never be pleased with last year's model. Such is the marketing trick behind 'double-dipping,â?� the incessant reissuing of previously released DVDs with new supplemental material, which makes fans buy the same product twice to keep up with the collector-geek Joneses. Even the highbrow Criterion Collection has double-dipped, albeit for more artistic and educational purposes than most mainstream DVD distributors.

When Criterion launched its DVD production line in 1998, simply having the film in a decent-looking transfer was worth the purchase. This is why the early Criterion editions were mostly bare-bones affairs, with a short essay and a theatrical trailer if you were lucky.

But in today's media-saturated environment, a beautifully restored image is no longer sufficient. Movies like Bounce and Final Destination 3 now get deluxe two-disc treatments, and Criterion has come to understand the power of the DVD extra as a way to add prestige to an already important line ' and sell a few more copies while they're at it.

We're in the midst of what looks to be a significant revamping of many of Criterion's early titles. The company has already reissued classics including The Wages of Fear and M in newly enhanced, bonus-heavy versions. This week sees the release of the second edition of Federico Fellini's Amarcord, and Playtime and Seven Samurai are next on the list. Considering that so many masterpieces are still not available on DVD, why continue to mine for the same gold?

One look at Amarcord tells all. The hours of bonus material make for one of the most diverse and comprehensive assessments a cinephile could hope for. The movie is a poetic, joyous, episodic re-imagining of Fellini's adolescence in the Italian provincial town of Rimini, circa 1930s. Presumably concerning Fellini's memories of the town, the film soon shatters any notion of realism and indulges in the kind of delirious fantasy that had become his wont after La Dolce Vita.

For a film that analyzes Fascism, family, sexuality, femininity and death, Amarcord is incredibly funny, perhaps the comic zenith of the director's career. It puts the 'artâ?� in 'fart jokesâ?� on numerous occasions, and the movie feels so light and accessible that its deep symbolic and aesthetic baggage may go undetected. Its free-form diversions into pure fantasy make perfect sense in the context of the filmmaker's malleable cinematic universe ' the kind of carnivalesque dream world that has injected the term 'Fellini-esqueâ?� into the cultural vernacular. But Amarcord will also strike a chord with casual fans who have never seen 8 1/2 or Juliet of the Spirits.

This collection's extras, too, seem tailored to reach all potential demographics. There's a new interview of production memories from Magali Noël, who played the film's seductive diva, Gradisca. She radiates warmth and admiration when discussing her relationship to the director and his peculiar working methods, but the interview serves merely as disposable trivia.

On the other end of the spectrum, UCF cinema studies professor and Fellini Lexicon author Sam Rohdie provides a typically dense, intellectual and occasionally obtuse essay on the film from a strictly theoretical point of reference.

An archival interview with Fellini conducted by documentarian Gideon Bachmann is one of the most fascinating, if sometimes banal, features on the disc. Fellini struggles through most of the interview with hesitant, broken English, and unless speaking in his native tongue, the interview is tough going.

It reveals the director's modesty, though; he says he's not an ambitious filmmaker and that making movies is simply his vocation. He seems uncomfortable deconstructing his artistry, and his defensive responses frequently confound the interviewer, whose questions about Fellini's creative methodology fail to yield the kind of Godardian philosophical pontificating he may have been aiming for.

More audio interviews with Fellini's family and friends provide a thorough understanding of the director's youth. These reflections do tend to overlap with the DVD's best feature: the 45-minute documentary Fellini's Homecoming, in which friends and film scholars find the perfect balance between trivia and theory.

A brilliant commentary from Peter Brunette and Frank Burke (both of whom have written texts on Fellini) places the film in even deeper feminist, sociological, political and artistic contexts. A soundless deleted scene, a collection of movie stills and radio ads, the trailer and Fellini's 43-page essay 'My Riminiâ?� round out the exhaustive extras.

Amarcord: The Criterion Collection proves that the number of interpretations of Fellini's work is limitless, and it's a testament to his brilliance. What most can agree on is that Fellini had to create his own artificial world to get to the truth, and that's the great paradox of Amarcord, a deceptively simple work that proves to be as hard to pin down as our own memories.

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