Fellini Week, Day 2: Amarcord

Let's shed a little color onto the proceedings!  For Day 2 of Fellini Week, we're moving ahead a decade or so to 1973's Amarcord.  Fellini obviously made multiple truly classic and famous films in black and white - after all, we were just looking at one - but when I put myself in the world of Fellini, I see bold colors, larger than life characters and lavish, even exaggerated imagery.  And that's certainly the world of Amarcord.

Update 6/4/21: Adding the Essential Fellini boxed set edition.
The title roughly translates to "I Remember," and indeed, it plays like a personal memoir.  Not that it claims to be an authentic re-creation of Fellini's actual childhood.  And how much actually comes from Fellini's experiences, or even his childhood friends', versus pure fiction has long been the subject of debate.  But certainly the point is more to evoke a universal sense of nostalgia and a child's world view than any kind of documentary experience.  It's the story of not just any one character, but an entire town as it weathers the seasons of a single year.  If that doesn't sound interesting enough, this happens to be during the period of fascist occupation, and it's a fascinating look at how that transforms everything for the politically ignorant residents, and yet how life remains somehow ever-constant and unchanging.
Now, Amarcord was one of Criterion's earliest DVDs (spine #4), from 1998, back when they were still non-anamorphic.  So they re-released this as a special (and anamorphic) 2-disc DVD release in 2006.  And in 2011, they made a proper blu-ray out of that 2006 version... both of which are also numbered 4.  I skipped the middle stage and held out for the blu, but then I updated again for the 2020 disc in the Essential Fellini collection, which is another further improved version.
1998 Criterion DVD top; 2011 Criterion BD mid; 2020 Criterion BD bottom.

The DVD's AR is 1.82:1, which the blu-rays correct to a more precise 1.85:1, revealing a little more info along the edges, particularly on the right.  And remember, being non-anamorphic means it's actually a smaller picture, so instead of being the average 720 pixels, it's more like just 500-510 wide.  So it's even lower resolution that your standard DVD, and that shows in the compression artifacts all over the shop; look how noisy they make the second picture when you click through to full size.  The original blu-ray's booklet tells us the HD scan is from the interpositive, not the original negatives, so the image isn't quite as lifelike as it probably could be with those elements in hand.  But the grain looks natural (especially for a 2011 scan) and the image feels pleasingly filmic.  The colors have been touched up, though they're not wildly different than the DVD, they are a little more distinct.

The 2020 blu-ray, on the other hand, is a new 4k scan of both the 35mm OCN and the internegative.  It's still 1.85:1, and the framing has only shifted by a tiny increment; but the colors have obviously been thoroughly reworked.  Detail is slightly sharper and grain is clearer and more defined.  This is a better scan, but it's harder to call the colors - are they adhere closer to, or farther from, the original vision?  In the end, we'll probably just have to judge with own tastes (the new edition tends towards more separation, which I kind of prefer), but when in doubt, I think most of us will feel safer erring towards the new 4k.

Anyway, Criterion consistently gives us the original Italian mono track, and also an English mono dub, with optional English subtitles.  Both blu-rays bump the Italian tracks to lossless LPCM, though the English tracks are still lossy.
The original Amarcord DVD was barebones apart from a brief restoration featurette and the trailer, but I guess Criterion knew it would have a hard time selling most of their users on a new edition in 2006, when most people don't even know what "non/anamorphic" means.  So happily they turned it into a 2-disc set and packed it with extras.  And everything from that 2-disc set has been carried over to the blu-ray.  Specifically, that includes... a chatty but informative audio commentary by critics Peter Brunette and Frank Burke, a forty-five minute documentary that interviews some of his collaborators and historians including a lot of speculation and educated guesses about how much of Amarcord is taken from Fellini's own childhood, an interview with Magali Noel who plays Gradisca [above], an intriguing deleted scene that's unfortunately missing its audio, a vintage audio interview with Fellini, a collection of biographical "Friends and Family" audio interviews (including his mother), a gallery of Fellini's drawings, a new restoration featurette, the trailer, radio spots and a 68-page booklet with notes by Sam Rhode and an essay by Fellini himself.
The 2020 disc keeps almost all of that.  They drop the restoration featurette now that it's out of date, and the audio interviews have been moved to another disc in the set (but they're still around!).  Everything else is untouched.  And more importantly, they've added a new, 45 minute documentary, The Secret Diary of Amarcord!  Well, new to this set; it's actually a vintage Italian TV doc from 1974.  It includes a lengthy scene deleted from the film (and not the silent deleted scene included as a previous special feature), followed by Fellini discussing why he removed it.  Then it's followed by a ton of great behind the scenes footage and interviews.  Even if some of it does seem a little phony in a stagey sort of way; this is a very welcome addition.
So if you've still got the old 1998 DVD in your collection, you've simply got to upgrade.  Barebones is one thing, but a non-anamorphic at the end of 2019 is untenable.  But with that said, if you haven't upgraded by now, you may want to hold your horses.  While yes, we've just seen that Criterion's 2011 blu is clearly the best option we've got, in the years since, the film has been restored in 4k and released on blu in a couple other countries, including Italy and Japan.  Unfortunately, neither of those editions are English-friendly, so they're not really on the menu unless you're fluent in those languages.  One year later, and now we've got our 4k restoration, with a new vintage documentary to boot!  So there's no longer any reason to hold off upgrading.  No, the 2020 version isn't available separately (as of this writing), but the whole set is worth it.  Amarcord is just one of the reasons.

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