The folks at Criterion continue their quest to make every one of Fellini’s heirs millionaires with their release of I Vitelloni, the famed director’s second solo effort. This semi-autobiographical tale follows the lives of a group of young men who are on the verge of growing up and making something of their lives, but haven’t quite gotten there yet. Part American Pie, part About a Boy, and all Fellini, this film is an important addition to any foreign film collection.
The film garnered …ritical acclaim upon its release, and even earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. I was personally surprised about how universal and timeless the themes of the film were. Many modern films deal with the same issues of escape from a small town and becoming something grand. Especially surprising were the comparisons that can easily be drawn with modern gangster movies and television shows such as The Soprano’s. The interaction between the friends in this film is uncannily similar to scenes of Tony Soprano and his crew sitting outside Satriale’s Pork Store.
Much like The Catcher in the Rye, I Vitelloni should be essential viewing for every young man who is in college, and not sure where to go next. These themes are timeless, as is the film.
Naturally, this film is presented with its original Italian Mono soundtrack (with optional English subtitles). The good news is, it probably sounds better now than it did when it was new, thanks to a trip to the re-mastering studio. Classic films really aren’t supposed to sound this clear, are they? No static, pops or hiss is present on this transparent track, leaving only dialog, ambient noise, and the score for the viewer to take in. I was also pleased that with a few exceptions, the score doesn’t attempt to do more than a single speaker can bear. Often times, films of this age experience threshold problems with an overly-ambitious score, but that is not the case here.
Now, don’t get me wrong… the film still has a 1950’s soundtrack, meaning that the dialog is occasionally out of sync, and the dynamic range is nothing special. I’m just saying that as far as that kind of thing goes, this is one of the better classic soundtracks that I have heard.
The video quality is a bit more hit and miss than the audio. The good news is, the picture is very clear, and amazingly grain-free. The film has a lot of depth for black & white, as a real sense of space is conveyed in the camera work. A wide range of grays are present throughout the film, and even the slightest detail can be seen clearly.
Fellini’s camera work is also noteworthy on this disc. While not as wildly innovative as some of his later work, it is still quite unique for the time. Most American films employed a static camera, where the action had to come to it. In this film, however, the camera moves into the scenes and goes to find the action where it is. In this way, these camera shots are much more involving than many films of the day.
While extra features are obviously important to a Criterion disc, the film is always the most essential element. The studio would rather put out a great film with no special features, than not make it available at all. Luckily, they were able to put together a few quality extras for this title, including a collection of stills, posters and other memorabilia. Also included on the disc is the theatrical trailer from the original release of the film. I am always pleased to see quality trailers where appropriate, and this one looks as great as the film itself.
Criterion goes above and beyond the call on this disc, however, with the inclusion of a documentary on the making of the film. This featurette runs a little over a half-hour in length, and features newly-conducted interviews with some of the actors from the film, as well as with the Associate Director and other notable figures. Topics discussed include Fellini’s vision for the film, filming, casting, anecdotes from the shoot and more. This extra, also in Italian with English subtitles, is an excellent example of why Criterion discs are so well respected among DVD collectors and film buffs worldwide.
Finally, there is a brief, yet informative essay included in paper form inside the case, that provides some context on the film’s place in Fellini’s catalog of cinema.
Criterion does their usual superb job with this release. A completely re-mastered picture and soundtrack makes this classic film easy to watch, and a bevy of extras provides some excellent background for the uninformed viewer. If you are a fan of foreign film, or would like to see one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite directors in top form, you really can’t miss with The Criterion Collection’s excellent release of I Vitollini.
Special Features List
- The Making of I Vitelloni: an exclusive documentary on the making of the film
- Collection of stills, posters, and memorabilia
- Original theatrical trailer
- Essay by Grammy Award-winning writer Tom Piazza