Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
3.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Fellini Satyricon

Street Date:
February 24th, 2015
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
March 5th, 2015
Movie Release Year:
1969
Studio:
Criterion
Length:
129 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

The world of cinema is home to many notable and famous filmmakers, but very few are so much larger-than-life that their name actually shows up cemented within a movie's title. Legendary Italian director, Federico Fellini, is one of those rare filmmakers. Not just simply christened 'Satyricon,' his 1969 dreamlike excursion into Ancient Rome is officially titled 'Fellini Satyricon,' and though this qualification might have originally been added for mere legal reasons, it immediately lets audiences know exactly what to expect. Serving as an important stepping stone in the director's evolving style, the film features an otherworldly journey into the past, creating a decidedly unique vision of history extravagantly skewed and distorted into an unmistakably "Felliniesque" experience.

Very loosely inspired by Gaius Petronius' first century Latin satire, the episodic story follows the exploits of a young Roman man named Encolpius (Martin Potter) as he attempts to traverse a strange ancient world in order to reunite with his frivolous lover, Gitone (Max Born). Throughout his journey, he is occasionally joined by his contentious ally, Ascyltus (Hiram Keller), and together the duo embark on a series of dangerous, erotic, surreal, violent, and farcical adventures.

As filtered through Fellini's distinctly warped lens, the Ancient Rome in 'Satyricon' bears little resemblance to the real world. Instead, the director creates a strikingly surreal impression of reality, breathing mad, insatiable life into a darkly parallel universe of his own; a kind of post-apocalyptic Rome littered with bold decadence and oozing sexuality. This strange, moody, and bizarre atmosphere is engendered through impeccable production designs that clash bold colors against drab hues, and ethereal compositing that basks many scenes under a fiery orange sky. As the runtime evolves, we bear witness to a faintly science fiction past both decaying and struggling to be reborn -- all amongst a constant cacophony of ravenous moans and cackles.

A mixture of carefully framed wide shots and potent close-ups present a sumptuous aesthetic ever so slightly off-balance, charged by a crazed but very deliberately crafted mania. Fellini often employs non-professional actors purely for their unique appearances on-screen, and here the cast's expressive faces and bodies become a frequent focal point for the camera, revealing a carnival of innocent beauty and grotesque desires. Several standout sequences provide visually rapturous imagery, including a particularly notable series of tracking shots early on. As we move through a seemingly never-ending brothel, the camera continually tracks past open doorways, offering startling peeks into a perpetual carousel of carnal escapades, made all the more overwhelming thanks to the constant motion of the frame.

These arresting visuals all serve a loosely evolving plot of increasingly disjointed misadventures, enlightening satirical themes related to sexuality, class, brutality, and art. An outrageous banquet, enslavement on a pirate ship, a battle against a "minotaur," a few stories within stories, and a desperate quest to cure a rather pesky case of erectile dysfunction are all among Encolpius' numerous violent, sensual, and humorous exploits.

Unfortunately, some of these episodes prove to be much more engaging than others, and certain segments tend to drag out longer than they need to (the banquet, especially), resulting in sporadic pacing issues. With that said, this irregular narrative structure also goes on to enhance the director's surreal and disorienting intentions, helping to create a dreamlike sense of storytelling that rejects traditional drama, plot, and development in favor of something much more primal and hypnotic.

Tossing any lingering vestiges of conventional filmmaking aside, in 'Satyricon,' Fellini fully embraces his penchant for grotesque madness and fantastic imagery -- resulting in a "documentary of a dream" that transforms Ancient Rome into a cinematic wonderland of horrors and spectacles. A first century circus of celluloid delights, the movie offers a genuinely powerful visual experience. And though it lacks the more personal touch that elevates the director's true masterpieces ('La dolce vita,' '8 1/2,' 'Amarcord'), the film still fully earns the "Fellini" in its title.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Criterion presents 'Fellini Satyricon' in their standard clear case with spine number 747. The BD-50 Region A disc comes packaged with a pamphlet featuring an essay by film scholar Michael Wood.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Sourced from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, the movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Richly filmic and nearly pristine, this is an absolutely stunning picture that preserves the director's dreamlike imagery perfectly.

The print is in fantastic shape with only very negligible specks or a fleeting vertical present in isolated instances. A moderate layer of pleasing, natural grain is also visible throughout. Though not as razor sharp as some contemporary films, detail is very impressive, rendering fine textures in every layer of the frame, highlighting all of the film's extravagant set designs, costumes, and bizarrely memorable faces. Colors are also exquisitely rendered, mixing dark and drab hues (like those found in the opening bath house sequence) with more vibrant splashes of bold reds, oranges, and purples, fully brining the director's unique otherworldly vision of Ancient Rome to life. Contrast is also balanced well, with even whites and deep blacks. Thankfully, there are no pesky artifacts or signs of digital processing.

With a transfer supervised by director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno, 'Fellini Satyricon' comes to Blu-ray with a masterful video presentation, offering a consistently respectful and impressive image.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The audio is presented in an Italian LPCM mono track with optional English subtitles. Fueled by some appropriately strange sound design choices, the mix works well to enhance Fellini's striking visuals.

Dialogue is clean and clear throughout with a relatively full-bodied quality. With that said, all of the speech was recorded in post-production and Fellini often goes out of his way to keep dialogue noticeably out of sync with the actor's lips. This is not uncommon for many foreign films of this time period, but here the overtly detached audio adds a deliberate and suitably dreamlike quality to the track. Boisterous parties, crashing waves, and crumbling buildings all come through with solid fidelity and range, and the mix is also home to some anachronistic sci-fi effects that help bring an otherworldly mood to the runtime. Notable pops, crackles, and background hissing are thankfully absent.

Lively and wonderfully weird, the sound design creates a truly "Felliniesque" atmosphere, and this mix preserves the film's unusual ambiance wonderfully.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Criterion has put together a fantastic collection of supplements, including a commentary and a great documentary with lots of footage of the director in action. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 1.0 audio and English subtitles for the foreign language portions.

  • Audio Commentary Adaptation of Eileen Lanouette Hughes' "On the Set of Fellini Satyricon: A Behind-the-Scenes Diary" – Recorded in 2014, this commentary features a reading from Hughes' memoir about the production. Numerous details related to the film's shoot, source material, visual style, casting, and production difficulties are shared throughout. Likewise, we get lots of details about Fellini's directing style and several quotes and anecdotes from the set. Though the "recited essay" style of the track isn't as appealing as a more natural discussion might have been, this commentary is packed with great information that Fellini fans should enjoy.
  • Ciao, Federico! (HD, 1 hr) – This 1970 documentary chronicles the director at work during the filming of 'Satyricon.' Throughout the runtime we get plenty of interview material with the filmmaker and lots of amazing footage of Fellini in action on set, offering an intimate peek at his sometimes gentle and sometimes aggressive directing style. We also get to see the cast and crew deal with occasional obstacles and during leisurely guitar breaks between shots. Of course, the real highlight might be a quick set visit from Roman Polanski, where the legendary and controversial director spends his brief time on-screen raving about Disneyland. "You must come back to Disneyland," he insists to Fellini. I wonder if he ever did.
  • Fellini (HD) – In this section we get three interviews with the director: "Gideon Bachman (Audio), 1969" (11 min), "French Television Excerpt, 1969" (2 min), and "Gene Shalit, 1975" (2 min). Fellini discusses his approach to filmmaking, morals in his work, and his acceptance of his films' defects.
  • Giuseppe Rotunno (HD, 8 min) – This is a 2011 interview with the film's cinematographer. Rotunno elaborates on his collaborations with Fellini and shares stories from the set.
  • Fellini and Petronius (HD, 24 min) – In this 2014 featurette, classicists Joanna Paul and Luca Canali discuss Felini's loose adaptation of the movie's source material. The pair address details about the author, and various changes made to the original material.
  • Mary Ellen Mark (HD, 13 min) – This is a 2014 interview with photographer Mary Ellen Mark, who discusses her time on set.
  • Felliniana (HD) – This is a gallery of posters, books, and programs related to the movie.
  • Trailer (HD, 2 min) – The film's trailer is included.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no HD exclusives.

Final Thoughts

'Fellini Satyricon' offers an otherworldly excursion into a dreamlike past full of surreal satire and grotesque imagery. Visually striking and cinematically grand, this is a distinctly "Felliniesque" experience that defies traditional narrative structure. The video transfer is absolutely stunning, offering a respectful and impressive picture that preserves the movie's arresting style. Likewise, the audio track is strong as well, highlighting the unique sound design. Criterion has also included a great selection of supplements that provide an intimate peek into the legendary director's process. The movie's unconventional storytelling, and erotic and violent content won't be for everyone, but this is an undeniably fantastic release for a very unique film.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • Italian LPCM Mono

Subtitles/Captions

  • English

Supplements

  • Audio commentary featuring an adaptation of Eileen Lanouette Hughes’s memoir On the Set of “Fellini Satyricon”: A Behind-the-Scenes Diary
  • Ciao, Federico!, Gideon Bachmann’s hour-long documentary shot on the set of Fellini Satyricon
  • Archival interviews with director Federico Fellini
  • New interview with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno
  • New documentary about Fellini’s adaptation of Petronius’s work, featuring interviews with classicists Luca Canali, a consultant on the film, and Joanna Paul
  • New interview with photographer Mary Ellen Mark about her experiences on the set and her iconic photographs of Fellini and his film
  • Felliniana, a presentation of Fellini Satyricon ephemera from the collection of Don Young
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Michael Wood

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