Orchestra Rehearsal Review

The various members of an orchestra gather in a 13th century church, a distinguished place which has the tombs of popes and bishops buried within it, now turned into an auditorium on account of its acoustics. The orchestra are gathered together for a rehearsal, during which they are being filmed and interviewed for a television documentary. There is however some disagreement, not only among the musicians themselves, but between them and the conductor, and a dispute with their Trade Union about whether they are getting paid for their work. There are moreover greater rumblings outside the building that seem to pose an even greater threat to the unity of their work.

Fellini’s voice can be heard from behind the camera as the documentary filmmaker, who steps in now and again to ask questions from the individual members of the orchestra. Being a Fellini film, they are as varied a group of characters as the instruments they play, and each of them talks about the particular qualities that characterise the instrument, its tone, its qualities and temperament and how it ought to be used. Unsurprisingly, each person believes that their instrument is the most important one in the orchestra.

The analogy of Orchestra Rehearsal (Prova d’Orchestra) is consequently a simple one – as beautiful as a solo instrument is and as fine as an individual voice is, acting in concert and in harmony, individuals working together under strong leadership can achieve something greater. It can however also be a destructive force, but even though there is dispute and disagreement, the dialogue of working with another person under the direction of a person of vision allows those temperaments to be channelled towards positive ends. There is a very vague and unspecific political message in all this, but one suspects that the main interest of the subject for Fellini is in corresponding analogy of the director as the guiding force behind the creation of great work of art. This is very much a Fellinian theme, the director capturing the variety and the joyous pulse of life throughout his filmmaking career and having a particular affinity for expressing that vibrancy through the music of il maestro Nino Rota.

Consequently one would expect something more from the combination of Fellini and Rota on such a subject than is offered in this brief film. The documentary-like post-modern treatment moreover is one that I like in Fellini’s later work, abandoning narrative plot and breaking down the barriers between reality and fiction by having Fellini clearly ‘orchestrate’ the proceeding - as he does in Intervista, Roma, and in the work-in-progress films È Il Casanova Di Fellini? and Block-Notes Di Una Regista. Unfortunately, and despite the natural affinity that the primary use of Nino Rota’s music should afford the subject, there is nothing original or revelatory in the ideas expressed here in Orchestra Rehearsal.

Music is expressed in terms of colouration, each person being an instrument to be refined and developed in concert with other people, the eccentricity of artistic temperament, under the intrusive eye of the public (here a TV documentary maker) needs to be harnessed by a unifying force that imposes discipline. The endeavour of creating art is compared consequently to a sacred mass or a rite and has the quality of soothing the heart of the savage beast. There are flourishes of Fellini’s greatness here and, as is common in those later Fellini films, he relies on a show-stopping finale that justifies the banality and almost self-parody of what has preceded it. Those moments, as you might expect, are when Nino Rota’s music speaks for itself, which is only in a few brief moments during the film and during the raucous finale. It’s fabulous, but barely justifies the lack of imagination elsewhere in the film.

Orchestra Rehearsal is released in the UK by Infinity Arthouse as a two disc set. Disc 1 is dual-layer, disc 2 is single layer. The DVD is region-free and is in PAL format.

After their initial releases of the late-period Fellini films Ginger And Fred and And The Ship Sails On, I don’t think anyone had any high hopes for this release of Orchestra Rehearsal. Once again the transfer is non-anamorphic, and at 1.75:1, it's hardly at the correct aspect ratio either. Like those previous Infinity releases, the actual quality of the print is however not bad and it keeps the film on the right side of watchable. There are few marks on the print, tones and colour are reasonably good and the image is reasonably well defined. None of these qualities are perfect however. Although it looks fine when the documentary camera spotlight is turned on (and the film is beautifully photographed in this respect as ever by Giuseppe Rotunno), the faint brownish tint to the print is rather more problematic in the darker scenes, when it looks rather flat and murky in blacks and shadows. The image is not the sharpest, and the softness is particularly evident in camera movements. There seems to be a short jump or skip in the film coming up to the 58 minute mark. In an improvement over the earlier releases the feature this time shares a dual-layer disc with some of the extras and is consequently much more stable and generally free from any macro-blocking or compression artefacts.

The original Italian soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, but it has no great tone or definition and is actually quite rough in places. As you might expect, there are the usual issues of post-synchronised dubbing, with the tone of voices being noticeably manipulated and variable within a single monologue – with Fellini no doubt re-dubbing his own voice over the actors on occasion. Synchronisation is always an issue in this kind of practice, but the actual soundtrack is additionally out of sync with the image on this transfer. While you don’t necessarily expect lip movements to match spoken words, you do at least expect claps, slaps, baton taps and the playing of musical instruments to match movements, and they are clearly and consistently a beat out throughout the whole film.

English subtitles are provided and manage to capture fairly well the tone and meaning of the dialogue, translating as much of it as possible. Their primary difficulty is keeping up with the exchanges, and although they don’t seem perfectly timed, they do manage this fairly well. The font is white, appropriately sized and optional. It largely keeps within the 1.85:1 frame, but occasionally strays outside, so may not be capable of being zoomed to fit widescreen setups.

Spread over the two discs in this set are five episodes of the 2003 Italian television series ‘La Felliniana’ (the other four parts of the nine-part series are on the Infinity releases of Ginger And Fred and And The Ship Sails On.

La Felliniana: Chapter 1 – “Polvere di Rimimi” (30:11)
The first part of the documentary looks at Fellini’s background and childhood in Rimini, speaking to friends and family through new interviews and archive footage from old documentaries. The primary film reference for this chapter is Fellini’s Amarcord.

La Felliniana: Chapter 2 – “Quel Treno per Roma” (24:26)
The second part of the documentary series looks at the real-life inspiration for I Vitelloni (referred to throughout the series in the English subtitles as ‘The Young And The Passionate’), the dream of escape and looking for truth in memories of a world that is long gone.

La Felliniana: Chapter 3 – “Federico in Città” (32:38)
Part three continues with Fellini’s arrival in Rome at the age of 19, quickly finding fame as a cartoonist for a satirical magazine. A good account of the post-war period and the rise of Cinecittà and Italian cinema is given here, along with the influences and assistance Fellini would receive, notably from Rossellini, in almost stumbling into film directing.

La Felliniana: Chapter 5 – “La Linea d’Ombra” (34:34)
The sense of the period that Fellini tapped into so brilliantly in La Dolce Vita is well captured in the fifth episode of the series, which examines the rise in Fellini’s fame and popularity and the enormous event and scandal that greeted the film’s release, looking at some of the myths surrounding it.

La Felliniana: Chapter 6 – “Tirate sul Regista” (32:26)
This episode is an intriguing look at the diverse critical response to Fellini’s work from critics, the public and the church, the political context of his films, as well as Fellini’s obfuscation and myth making about his life and films.

Orchestra Rehearsal is a rather slight Fellini film from late in the director’s career, clocking in at under 70 minutes and being rather lightweight in its treatment of material and characters that Fellini usually revels in. Infinity Arthouse have boosted the film’s release on DVD with a number of substantial extra features on the director, but the quality of the transfer itself is unfortunately, like their earlier Fellini releases, somewhat below par.

5 out of 10
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5 out of 10
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Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:53:18

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