Many rereleases and "special editions" of films already available on DVD turn out to be more than a little superfluous. Not so with Amarcord, which was the fourth title Criterion brought out in the 1990s. Advances in telecine technology have made possible a markedly richer, sharper presentation--explained and permissibly bragged about in one of the extras on disc 2--that alone justifies Criterion's 2006 release. Now Giuseppe Rotunno's color cinematography is richer, more breathtakingly gorgeous than any 35mm print '70s audiences could have seen after it had clattered through the projector gate a few times. But there's also a warm and illuminating new 45-minute documentary, Fellini's Homecoming, that should deepen anyone's understanding of and affection for the movie and its creator.
Several lifelong friends of Fellini's--including "Titta," the real-life counterpart of one of the teenage chums in the film--reminisce about the youth and hometown they shared, and about Fellini himself. There's nothing tearily nostalgic or idolatrous in their tone or what they have to say; he and they maintained their friendship throughout his life, and apparently never stopped razzing one another. They portray the mutual estrangement of the town of Rimini and its most celebrated son: how people sniffed that during his rare visits he was never seen on the main street--and how, for his part, Fellini himself avoided the main street precisely because he didn't want to seem to be strutting his celebrity. There's also testimony from Amarcord's great cameraman Giuseppe Rotunno about Fellini's re-creation of Rimini entirely in the CinecittÃ studio, the director's fear that even this fabrication would look "too real," and Rotunno's own insight that "deep down he was afraid of being reabsorbed by the past."
Elsewhere, in an audio-only feature accompanied by stills, film critic Gideon Bachmann, a friend (and friendly gadfly) of three decades, interviews Fellini about his working methods and presses him as to whether there is one particular "phantom" the director pursued through all his films ("What is this madman saying?" Fellini protests, to a probably imaginary bystander). Fellini refused to look at dailies because he didn't want to find out that the film he was making wasn't the one he carried in his head. He also prized "obstacles," including uncooperative producers, because they forced him to be creative: "I am very afraid of ideal conditions." Bachmann also interviews Fellini family members.
The audio commentary on the film itself, by two scholars who have written books on Fellini, is far less satisfying. Their insights about sexuality, misogyny, the nature of fascism and so forth are undoubtedly valid, but most of it comes across as academic bloviating--something Fellini would have parodied with relish. But scholar Sam Rhodie's essay "Federico of the Spirits," printed in a monograph with Fellini's pre-Amarcord notes "My Rimini," succinctly defines Fellini's aesthetics overall and those of this film in particular. There are also a charming video remembrance by actress Magali Noël, a hasty and entirely happy substitution in the key role of "Gradisca"; a deleted sequence, visually striking but without sound; the usual collection of stills, theatrical trailer, and (not so usual) radio ads for "i"Amarcord; and an optional, English-dubbed soundtrack for the reading-impaired. "i"--Richard T. Jameson