Ginger and Fred Review
Coming late in Fellini’s career and actually made for the Italian television channel RAI Uno, Ginger and Fred consequently lacks a great deal of the satirical bite the film might otherwise have had of television entertainment and media advertising. Nevertheless, there are recognisable traces of Fellini’s greatness here in his affectionate look back at the stars and entertainment of the 1940’s and in the charming performances of Fellini’s greatest stars Marcello Mastroianni and Giulietta Masina.
Masina and Mastroianni star as Amelia and Pippo, two minor celebrities who became famous in the 1940’s as impersonators of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Despite a successful 15 year professional partnership, their lives took different directions after they broke-up, Pippo particularly hitting harder times through a spell in an asylum and a dependence on alcohol. In 1985, a big prime-time variety television show, Ed Ecco a Voi - one of those seemingly endless glittery, cheesy, primetime variety shows that seem to dominate whole evenings every day of the week on Spanish, French and Italian national TV channels - reunites them for the first time in thirty years.
Ginger and Fred is lacking much in the way of a plot – the film progresses Ginger and Fred’s arrival at the hotel where they are stay the night before the live broadcast of the show, through to their appearance on the show, with only their meeting of the shows various other characters and entertainers in between. A lack of a storyline is not untypical of latter day Fellini films and isn’t necessarily a problem, particularly when there is the opportunity to parade the usual Fellini cornucopia of entertainers, artists, spiritualists and intellectuals, but disappointingly there is little here that has any of the fascination of similar line-ups in La Dolce Vita or Giulietta Degli Spiriti. Here Fellini’s obsessions of life are reduced to mere shadows – the entertainers and artists are second-rate impersonators of Clark Gable and, of course, Ginger and Fred themselves, the spiritualist is a Friar who is brought on so that they can see him levitate for entertainment, while the intellectuals are nothing more than look-alikes of Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka. Here they are bundled up with dancing dwarves, transvestites, Mafiosi and cranks who have been abducted by aliens, all grotesquely wheeled out and paraded as a freak show for the mindless masses glued to their television sets.
It is of course, Fellini’s intention to show how television has dumbed down expectations and diminished the value of real art and entertainment in modern day life, but the unfortunate thing is that he uses the vehicle of television to tell us that and in doing so dilutes his own vision and artistry (it’s ironic that the music for the film itself sounds in places like the work of a second-rate Nino Rota). The observations are banal and heavy-handed, taking swipes at easy targets of pop-promo videos and advertising posters, Fellini keeping it all controlled and together in a fairly conventional linear path, despite the obvious opportunities that are here to spin off into the unknown. It’s perhaps this rather too restrained hand of the director that prevents Ginger And Fred from achieving any of the moments of poignancy in the similarly-themed reflections in Intervista made the following year. There are similar opportunities here to reflect on the loss of fame and talent, but there is little in Ginger and Fred’s reconciliation that achieves quite the same sense of lost youth and beauty as Mastroianni’s reunion with Anita Ekberg in Intervista.
As with his reflections in Amarcord however, Fellini manages to look back on lost times and memories without any false sense of nostalgia or misplaced sentiment and, for all the ineffectual satire of television shows, the truth is that there is genuine charm in the Ginger and Fred and it’s all down to the appearance and performance of Giulietta Masina and Marcello Mastrioanni, two of Fellini’s greatest muses – well past their prime, no longer fashionable, but both born entertainers and true legends that can light up the screen with their presence. Here they give their all for an undeserving public - just like Ginger and Fred.
Ginger and Fred is released in the UK by Infinity Arthouse, a new label who seem at the moment to be specialising in releases of worthy Italian classic films – see the following DVD Times news item. Released alongside another latterday Fellini title, And The Ship Sails On, both as 2-disc editions, Ginger and Fred is in PAL format and is not region coded. Like And The Ship Sails On, while the extra features have been treated to a dual-layer DVD-9 disc, the film itself is presented merely on a DVD-5.
The picture quality on Ginger and Fred is quite good, showing few problems during normal playback, but it has a few minor issues that are certainly evident on close examination. Colours are strong, the image is sharp and clear, with few marks of any kind on the print and certainly none that cause any problems. It’s slightly on the dark side with strong contrast and has the look of a television movie. There are some issues with stepping, with diagonal lines breaking up and aliasing being visible. This is much more noticeable in a freeze-frame, as are the yellow/purplish blotches of cross-colouration in background, and some macro-blocking artefacts. The film is presented on a single-layer DVD-5 disc and 1.33:1 appears to be the correct ratio for this film. The extra features are given over to a DVD-9 dual-layer second disc, which neverthless doesn't do much for the quality. It would most certainly have been preferable to present the feature on the dual-layer disc and distribute the extra features better.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and obviously the film makes no great demands with its soundtrack. Generally it is quite adequate, with reasonable dynamic range and no particular issues with noise or distortion.
English subtitles are provided and are optional, in a clear white font, translating the film quite well, including lots of incidental dialogue that tends to get left untranslated in Fellini films. It doesn’t go as far as translating the slogans on advertising posters seen frequently in passing, but their messages are rather heavy-handed and obvious and translating them would only overstate them further than necessary.
There is nothing in the extra features relating specifically to Ginger and Fred, but Infinity have gathered a few interesting and features related to Fellini and Mastroianni here on disc 2. Two episodes are included from the 2003 Italian television series La Felliniana (another two can be found on the Infinity release of And The Ship Sails On, the remaining five on the release of Orchestra Rehearsal). They are not shown in order and the ones included here seem to be the last two of a 9 episode series. Despite being presented on a dual-layer disc, the Mastroianni film is non-anamorphic and shows quite a bit of compression artefact blocking.
La Felliniana: Epilogo - “Passarella Finale” (29:50) has the various contributors, friends and crew who worked with Fellini choose their favourite scene from his films. Fellini’s own choice is from Amarcord.
La Felliniana: Chapter 8 - “Silenzio” (32:41) rather hurriedly skips through Fellini’s later films from I Clowns through to La Voce della Luna, with brief anecdotes about each and some behind the scenes footage of the director, leading up to Fellini’s death in 1993, not long after receiving his 5th Academy Award Oscar.
Marcello Mastroianni: A Self Portrait (1:31:55) is actually the feature documentary by Anna Maria Tatò Marcello Mastroianni: Mi Ricordo, Sì Io Mi Ricordo (“I Remember, Yes, I Remember”) – a beautifully made film, photographed by Giuseppe Rotunno, shot in Portugal during the filming of Manoel di Oliviera’s Voyage To The Beginning Of The World, featuring Mastroianni reflecting on his life as an actor. The film was made in 1996 and Mastroianni would die 2 months after the scene at the end here, showing the actor celebrating his 72nd birthday. IMDB lists the running time of this film as 198 minutes, so it appears here in a much edited down form. It is marvellous nonetheless.
Ginger and Fred is a rather tame and watered-down Fellini, a made-for-television Fellini-lite, that feels heavy-handed and misplaced as a satire of television entertainment, lacking the freewheeling inspiration of many of his finer moments – but there are some fine moments here nonetheless, and Ginger and Fred at the very least boasts two wonderful performances by two magnificent actors, Giulietta Masina and Marcello Mastroianni, who give the material a rare quality and dignity well beyond its worth. Infinity present the film no more than adequately in terms of A/V presentation, but support the film with some extensive and rare extra features.