Fellini Satyricon receives a Criterion Blu-ray edition, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation, created from a new 4K restoration, is delivered on a dual-layer disc.
A sharp and drastic improvement over MGM’s previous DVD edition, Criterion’s new presentation clearly renders all of the fine details Fellini has packed into the film, from the intricate particulars of the costumes to the background settings. This is easily the clearest I’ve ever seen the film, all objects looking sharp with clean edges, film grain looking clear and natural for the most part (there can be some pixilated moments), and no other digital anomalies of note (no edge-enhancement, no jaggies, no compression noise). Colours are probably the most impressive upgrade. A colourful film, with lots of rich reds and oranages and such, they could look kind of bland on previous editions that I’ve seen, but they look so much richer and purer here; a few scenes with red skylines are particularly striking. Black levels also look strong, with no issues in crushing.
The print has also been nicely cleaned up. There are a few minor marks and couple of splices but they’re rare and far between. In all this is an impressive looking transfer, the best I’ve ever seen for this film. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
MGM’s previous DVD was a barebones release, surprising considering the film’s stature, but Criterion remedies this with a rather loaded special edition here, which first features an audio commentary of sorts by Eileen Lanouette Hughes. I say “of sorts” because it’s not a commentary in the usual sense, but more Hughes reading what would probably considered a summarization or reedit of her memoir On the Set of “Fellini Satyricon”. Though she opens with an introduction, explaining how she came to the project, the rest of it is her obviously reading a prepared “adaptation” of her work, with her interjecting on occasion her own feelings about the film. She obviously rearranges things around to fit was is going on onscreen, but she talks a lot about the various sets, the casting, the general feel on set (which comes off more like a circus than a film set at times), and what it was like to be around Fellini. She gives great descriptions of everything but the best aspects of her track are when she talks about her conversations with Fellini, which range from how many orgasms a woman could have in a night, to comparisons of Satyricon to his other work (which interestingly had Fellini explain his feelings as to why the character of Steiner, in La dolce vita, did what he did, when that film didn’t fully explain it—admittedly trying to avoid a spoiler there). There’s some other interesting stories (there was a real fear that the other Satyricon production that was going on would steal from them) and a few amusing anecdotes (one actress, when asked if she had seen a Fellini film before, mentions she saw Blow Up), but I did admittedly zone out later on. Some interesting aspects but it felt more like an audio book.
Impressively the disc also features Gideon Bachmann’s 1969 documentary, the hour-long Ciao, Federico!, which he filmed on location during the filming of Satyricon. Though it captures some behind-the-scenes moments, even getting footage of the cast and crew between takes just hanging around, the film is less about the making of Satyricon and more just about Fellini himself, capturing the man at work. Though many talk fondly of Fellini you get a sense that he could probably be difficult to work with, based on footage of him getting flustered and/or angry with cast and crew because they’re not doing what he wants, while also talking negatively about some of them behind their backs. It’s fairly personal and revealing, though somewhat fragmented if energetic (maybe a nod to the structure of the film).
Criterion then gathers a few interviews with Federico Fellini, starting with an audio one with taken with Bachmann in 1969, where Fellini talks about his interest in telling stories and the difficulties in making this particular film. Another one, an excerpt from a French television program called J.T. de 20H, where Fellini briefly talks about the moral elements of the film and how its content relates to (then) modern times. The final is the most amusing one, where Fellini briefly chats with Gene Shalit in what appears to be a New York diner, with Fellini talking about what makes a good film before talking about Shalit’s hair and moustache. The interviews, all excellent, run 11-minutes, less than 2-minutes, and about 2-minutes respectively.
Criterion then includes an 8-minute interview with director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno, recorded by Criterion in 2011 (I’m trying to remember if he was maybe recorded for another one of their releases but can’t recall at the moment). Here he quickly goes over his working relationship with Fellini, talking about their work together on this film and the Toby Dammit sequence in the omnibus film Spirits of the Dead. He goes over the look Fellini would go for in his films, and his concerns that things could “look real” wanting an artificial look instead.
We then get a nice contextual supplement in Fellini and Petronius, a 24-minute segment featuring scholars Joanna Paul and Luca Canali, who was an adviser to Fellini on the film. Here the two talk about the original text (or what’s left of it) and compare it to Fellini’s vision, which actually adapts some elements fairly accurately, though he embellishes a few things and adds his own sequences. It’s a great scholarly addition for those not too familiar with the story.
Mary Ellen Mark then talks about her experience as the photographer on set. She explains how she came to be designated to the film and what it was like on set, while also sharing stories about Fellini himself, whom she loved photographing, and the people the hung around him. It’s a great first hand-account, edited with photos she took on set. It runs about 13-minutes.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer. The included insert, which is one of the big “road map” fold outs, features a lengthy essay by Michael Wood.
On the whole it’s an excellent array of supplements, nicely going over the film’s production, the original text, and Fellini’s adaptation. A nicely rounded out release. 9/10