There is hardly another film in the history of Italian cinema that is as influential and as highly regarded as the classic La Dolce Vita (1960). Directed by one of the icons in European cinema Federico Fellini La Dolce Vita follows the young reporter Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) during his search for the ultimate story. Marcello is captivated by the glimmer of aristocratic night life and often ends up experiencing what his stories aspire to describe. But he hardly ever feels satisfied...the rampant never-ending parties, the pretentious aristocratic chatter, even the seductive women which he encounters, they all feel the same, their "stories" have already been told. Until one day the beautiful movie star Silvia (Anita Ekberg) arrives in Rome.
It is not difficult to see why La Dolce Vita was such a controversial film upon its release in 1960. The bold depiction of unbridled sexuality, the brash criticism of aristocratic life, even the suggestive panorama of orgy-like scenes created a buzz between both critics and film aficionados that elevated the "sweet life" to something more than just a film. What Fellini created was a testament of an era which many still regard as one of the most productive times of the last century.
It certainly feels strange attempting to describe the beauty of La Dolce Vita and its appeal as a genre picture between film lovers. For anyone, let alone a film critic, attempting to illustrate the visual power of Fellini's masterpiece and explain why is it that almost half a century after its premiere La Dolce Vita still mesmerizes audiences around the world, is almost an impossible task. There are no parallels that could be drawn, there are no analogies that could be used, and there are most certainly no other films that could be compared to La Dolce Vita.
Much of the enigma surrounding La Dolce Vita stems from the fact that this is indeed a film that manages to juxtapose an unbelievable visual beauty with some very delicate social overtones delivering a well-intended punch at Italian aristocracy from the 60s. In addition, a marvelous and haunting music score by the legendary Nino Rota (The Godfather) compliments La Dolce Vita in a manner that one could only wish modern films will one day manage to reinvent.
La Dolce Vita is also a film built upon a number of symbolic scenes. Some openly attacking the highly criticized at the time religious and political status quo of the Italian state (the flying cross in the opening scene comes to mind), some mildly suggesting that under the veil of pseudo-morality which the incumbents have imposed the "privileged" are living the "sweet life" (the final party scene is a good example). The corruption of the soul which Fellini appears to be obsessed with is in fact a miniature replica of a country torn apart by political and social contrasts.
Recognized with a Palm d'Or during the 1960 Cannes Film Festival La Dolce Vita remains one of the few films in my library that I constantly revisit each year. I have made it a habit seeing La Dolce Vita at least once a year and it seems like each time I manage to discover something new. I know it sounds cliché but I never stopped associating myself with Marcello and his never-ending search for perfection. Somehow his journey through the brightly lit streets of Rome leading to the famous fountain scene revealing the enormous beauty of Anita Ekberg kept the little dreamer in me alive.
How Does the DVD Look?
I am aware that many of you will most likely immediately scroll down to the technical specs searching for a few concrete answers: How does this DVD compare to the previously released R1 version? Are there any significant improvements in terms of picture quality? Is it true that Koch have now delivered optional white subtitles in addition to the original yellow subtitles? How does this DVD release compare to the widely discussed R2 Medusa disc? Has the infamous "banding" issue been addressed with this presentation? And quite frankly...why is this new Deluxe Edition of La Dolce Vita so pricey...is it worthy of upgrading?
As you could see, just as you, I had some very specific questions in mind that I wanted to find an answer for. So, without wasting any time below I will attempt to be as specific as possible in addressing your concerns.
Upon announcement of the Deluxe La Dolce Vita Collector's Edition I, just as a number of other film aficionados, was impatient to find out whether or not the company distributor Koch Lorber had any plans to revisit the existing transfer which as many already know suffers from the so called banding issue. A Koch representative that often frequents the DVDTALK forum, Mr. Tim Hinsley, was not only kind enough to provide some preliminary details regarding this package but was also very enthusiastic about having the Deluxe release on the market in the near future. I have some rather mixed feelings, here's why:
The Deluxe Collector's edition of La Dolce Vita comes in a unprecedented for a European release (certainly as far as the US market is concerned I have not seen such a lavish treatment, not even some of the Criterion packages rival this one) massive black box similar to the one used for the Deluxe release of Scarface. Perhaps slightly smaller this sturdy black box engraved with golden reproduction of Anita Ekberg and a simple text reading "Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita" is indeed very, very impressive. This is by no means a cheap box made of flimsy paper that will fall apart as soon as you strip off the wrapper. With other words most definitely a deserving case for a classic film!! On the inside of the box there is a small pocket (the size of a regular envelope) which gently holds five collectable cards:
1. Marcello Mastroianni sitting in the 1958 Cadillac convertible seen in the film.
2. Marcello Mastroianni on the beach in the film's final scene.
3. Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
4. Anita Ekberg as Sylvia dancing barefoot in the club scene.
5. Anita Ekberg as Sylvia dancing with Frankie in the club scene.
On the right side of the box (the actual case) one would find a very interestingly designed cover which holds the 3DVD set to the film, the already announced 40 Page collector's booklet with essay by Italian cinema and Fellini expert, Peter Bondanella which includes rare behind-the-scenes photos from the filming of La Dolce Vita, an 11'' x 7'' Collectible Poster (gently rolled and tucked into a nest-like poster holder), and of course the 3DVD set of La Dolce Vita. This is how the Deluxe package looks on the outside. Here's how the film looks on the inside (transfer, audio, extras):
Presented in a new digi-pack style box with a new cover work which preserves the old poster used at the Cannes Film Festival La Dolce Vita indeed comes in a redesigned case which is totally different than the one previously released by Koch Lorber.
The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is enhanced for widescreen TV's. So with this said my immediate concern was whether or not this was the same transfer used for the initial release or a new, corrected print which does not suffer from the already previously discussed "banding" issue. The quick answer I have for you is NO, this is not a new transfer. I certainly still notice all of the "mild" issues mentioned previously and if you are looking for the definitive version of La Dolce Vita I suppose you would have to wait (just as me) until Koch Lorber endorses the upcoming HD-DVD format. Until then I am afraid we are still going to argue whether or not this (or the Medusa R2 disc) is indeed the best English friendly version on the market. With all of this said this is indeed a very good if not steady transfer which offers a good alternative to the existing Italian version-steady contrast, good color saturation, properly flagged transfer, and overall acceptable print that surely does not showcase any major dirt or damage. But...you still have the "banding" issue which may or may not be that distracting to you (assuming that you are viewing the disc on a standard tube and not on highly sensitive home theater equipment).
The biggest surprise here however is the new inclusion of optional white subtitles which at least for me was a major issue with the initial R1 release where the only option was the dreaded yellow subtitles. I think that not only is this the proper way to offer the film but quite frankly if there were ever a debate as to whether or not yellow subtitles should be present in this release (or any other for that matter) the issue should have been solved exactly the way it is now handled by Koch Lorber...there should have been two separate options-white and yellow.
All in all this could have been a terrific presentation of La Dolce Vita and Koch Lorber have indeed come mighty close to having a superb disc.
How Does the DVD Sound?
As you probably have already guessed the audio options for La Dolce Vita remain untouched. The disc offers the option of having the original Italian mono track, a Dolby Surround 2.0 track, and of course the upgraded 5.1 Italian track which is not present on the Medusa disc. As I mentioned above the film has been flagged properly for the US release and therefore we get a non-PAL affected sound. In addition, the restoration job that has been performed is simply superb and one should have no reservations as far as the audio options are concerned whatsoever-if you had to pick between the Italian disc and this new/old R1 version the choice is obvious. With optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Clearly this new set offers a few "extra" incentives that should raise a few eyebrows (such as "why were these not added up to the initial release??"). So, here's the actual breakdown on discs 1, 2 and 3 and the content they offer:
Disc 1 has the old introduction by Alexander Payne and an audio commentary by Richard Schikel.
Disc 2 has a total running time of approximately 60 minutes. Separated in different sections there are a number of extras:
Featurettes (a total of five featurettes each presented individually):
Fellini TV- collage of segments that could be viewed either individually or in a consecutive order by selecting "play all".
Cinecitta: La Casa di F. Fellini-
Remembering the Sweet Life-
Fellini Roma Cinecitta-
Disc 3 has a total running time of 102 minutes. The following extras are present:
Nino Rota Documentary- Certainly one of the most exciting new extras this is a new Italian documentary that follows the life of the famous composer (presented via Istituto Luce s.p.a). Presented and discussed by the famous Mario Monicelli this is indeed very worthy of seeing extra material that brings up a different side of the famous maestro.
Anita Ekberg Interview- a newly recorded interview which is NOT the widely discussed RAI-Italia piece. A very interesting piece of extra that tells a lot about the manner in which Anita Ekberg was selected to play the role of Sylvia, her supposed romance with Fellini, and history of the script to La Dolce Vita (or the lack there of).
1960 Fellini Interview-
Marcello Mastroianni at Cannes-
Discussion with Rinaldo Gelend-
Footage with the last surviving La Dolce Vita screenwriter, Tullio Pinelli.
Donald Sutherland on Fellini- a few very short comments which certainly do not bring any additional appreciation to what has already been said about Fellini.
With a film as important as La Dolce Vita there will certainly be a number of releases, re-releases, and quite frankly many will find it annoying that the distributors "did not get it right" the first time. Well, with this new Deluxe edition of La Dolce Vita Koch Lorber comes close to having the complete package but still a few inches short from reaching the status this film deserves.
I think that certainly if one looks at what is currently available on the market, both at home and overseas, there isn't a deserving release that does La Dolce Vita justice. For the record I followed Mr. Hinsley's suggestion to check the audio synch problem that he pointed out to me on the Medusa disc and such indeed exists (there is hardly a 2 sec interval however and I don't see other problems as he claims). I also understand that the master provided to Koch Lorber had some inherited issues. In fact I believe that this is where the "banding" issue comes from. With other words I was hoping that this Deluxe edition would address the concerns of many that already own the initial Koch release. It does not!!
I am also willing to accept that perhaps (for now) Koch Lorber have done everything they could to provide a deserving edition of La Dolce Vita. This is indeed a very, very impressive package that I would have loved to add to DVDTALK's Collector Series but considering the fact that many already own the film and the transfer is still with a few minor glitches I am going to only HIGHLY RECOMMEND it to those that are yet to have this film in their libraries.