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.
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, so let's look at Criterion's first and latest editions.
1998 Criterion DVD top; 2011 Criterion BD bottom.
The DVD's AR is 1.82:1, which the blu-ray corrects 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 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.

Criterion gives us the original Italian mono track, and also an English mono dub, with optional English subtitles.  The blu-ray bumps up both tracks to lossless LPCM.
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.
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.  But if you're shopping for movies to fill out your collection, you might want to focus on other titles for now and see if a 4k option pops up in the next couple years.  There still doesn't seem to be a UK Amarcord release, so maybe Arrow or somebody will pick it up (hint, hint).

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