8½ AKA 8 1/2 AKA Federico Fellini's 8½ AKA Eight and a Half AKA Otto e mezzo (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Cult Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (2nd April 2020).
The Film

Fellini's most acclaimed work, 8½ won two Oscars® including Best Foreign Film. Fellini is unanimously voted by film critics - and notably, by filmmakers - as one of the greatest directors of all time. And Fellini's 8½ is revered as the most important European film ever made and film buffs ultimate film of all time!

MARCELLO MASTROIANNI is Fellini's alter ego, Guido, a successful filmmaker who, embarking on his next film, discovers he has a complete director s block : he has no story to tell! Harassed by his producers, his mistress (SANDRA MILO) and his wife (ANOUK AIMEE) while struggling to find the inspiration for his film, he increasingly retreats in dreamy recollections of his life and lovers, until fantasy - personified by the heavenly beautiful CLAUDIA CARDINALE - his memories and reality merge in the director's mind and on screen - in an astonishing, masterful spectacle which culminates in an electrifying triumph of optimism.

As Guido, Fellini's alter-ego says at the end of 8½: Life is a party, let's live it together .

Video

A cast-iron classic of world cinema and there's not much more I can add to that assessment but to say it's unmissable and every film buff ought to have a copy in their library. Visually it's a sumptuous film shot spherically in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio in wonderful inky monochrome on 35mm film using Arriflex II C cameras. It has a naturally vivid look with Fellini and his cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo giving it a high contrast ratio.

This is where this new transfer from Cult Films goes wrong.

Firstly, lets focus on the positives; the gamma is perfectly balanced with the B&W image harvest delivering a wonderfully pure monochromatic image and perfect grey scale. The restoration has eliminated any kind of print damage with nary a speckle to be had and there's no signs of age related chemical damage or anything else amiss.

On the face of it, detail seems very strong and black levels are deep and rich. Shadow detail is present but this leads to the negative. There are instances of crush at times and the whole thing seems to have been contrast boosted. The opening dream sequence has always been very contrasty but there are far too many blown out highlights; in both close-ups of Mastroianni; his forehead detail is lost. This makes for an arresting visual presentation but like Nouveaux Pictures initial BD of Argento's Suspiria (1977) it's too arresting and contrasty.

I last had the film in my collection with the Criterion collection DVD from the early 2000s so had to consult both my inestimably experienced colleague Eric Cotinas of this Parish and online reviews of other discs to provide context for the other HD versions out there. I thought that perhaps I might be dealing with an upscale as others have alleged that some of Cult Film's Fellini releases have been thus. I don't think that's the case here, but I stand to be corrected.

It looks very like Cult Films are using the same master as the German BD release, whereas the Criterion looks to be far more balanced contrast wise; maintaining the aesthetic but not compromising detail in highlights and gleaming whites. At least to my eyes, what I'm seeing on my 55" 4K TV looks like the screenshots from that disc. This isn't a problem that runs throughout the film in every shot; it mainly affects the opening dream and other brightly lit exteriors. Interiors are more layered and satisfactory.

Film grain seems to also be virtually non existent. Either heavy digital tinkering like DNR has been over used or the encode isn't up to the task; I favour both. There's no real texture to the image and if I roughen it by maximising the sharpness, to accentuate any flaws, it takes on a strange, almost paisley like appearance. It reminds me in that state of the initial UK Studio Canal BD of Don't Look Now (1973) which on the face of it, on a correctly calibrated display, looked pristine and punchy - regular viewers and casual purchasers will love it - but those sensitive to image manipulation and those who have bigger displays or projectors, will not be happy.

When viewed from a distance of approximately ten feet on my 55" 4K display, with all artificial settings switched off and the image properly calibrated using my trusty Joe Kane setup disc, the image looks a peach, is eminently watchable ... like it is like a modern film shot yesterday and this just ain't right.

The day before I viewed the Arrow Academy BD of Salvatore Giuliano (1962) on the same set up, from the same distance. Now, these are two different films, both shot in B&W, both in 1.85:1 and within a year of each other and in the same country. The Arrow disc had a very active grain field and was beautifully encoded. Contrast was superbly done, layered, great black levels, no crush to speak off. But it looked like an Italian film in B&W / 1.85:1 from the early '60s ought to.

As I said, casual purchasers will be delighted, but connoisseurs will find it no more than acceptable. With that in mind, I think C+ will do. If you're casual, raise that to B, a connoisseur down to D+.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.85:1 / 138:09

Audio

Italian LPCM 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English (optional)

Audio is however, perfect for what it is and can't be bettered. Crystal clear, no distortions, dialogue is clear and audible, music never interfere. An excellent mono track from the era. Top marks.

Subtitles are present and essential obviously although I did oick up in the odd spelling error so I'll dock the rating from A+ to A because in a foreign language film sold to English speaking territories QC (quality control) ought to have picked up on that.

Extras

"A Charming Spirit with Sandra Milo" 2019 featurette (38:39)

Comprehensive interview with the veteran actress.

"An Interview with Lina Wertmüller: An Extremely Beautiful View" 2019 featurette (16:09)

Another thorough piece with colleague and fellow director Wertmüller.

"The Last Sequence" 2003 documentary (50:24)

Vintage documentary that thoroughly dissects a deleted major sequence from the film.

"Fellini Tribute" scrolling text screen (1:16)

Text recounting Fellini's response to his Academy award.

Startup Trailers:
- La Dolce Vita (1:16)
- Juliet of the Spirits (1:23)
- I Vitelloni (1:13)


A nice collection of trailers for other Cult Films releases.

Packaging

Standard black Blu-ray case.

Overall

On the surface of it, the image seems superb but is compromised in various ways (see above), but sound is as good as can be shy of a 5.1 boost using the original sound stems. Extras and juicy and choice. I'd say, splurge if you're so inclined or this is an absolute favourite on importing the US Criterion disc.

The Film: A+ Video: C+ Audio: A- Extras: B+ Overall: B-

 


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