Ginger and Fred Review
Fellini's Ginger and Fred brings the director's two leading actors together for the first time in a film about the modern world of show business, television. Giulietta Masina plays the ageing Amelia, a grandmother tempted to retread the dance steps of her youth by the invitation of the goggle box and the chance to meet again her dance partner, Pippo, played by Marcelo Mastrioanni. The old tap dancing partnership are invited back to the spotlight in Rome after 30 years; they discover that the world of performance has changed and that they are merely just another act on a gaudy variety show, an entree to an ageing admiral's medals. Pippo's heart was broken when Amelia left to marry and he has endured nervous breakdown and become an alcoholic. Amelia has always wondered what became of him. When they re-unite they find the world around them is one of lookalikes, grotesques, human interest stories, transvestites, and drug addicts. But when they dance, they get all they hoped for.
Throughout Fellini's career his films were obsessed with the world of performers and the dazzling effect of fame. Fellini's films are often cautionary in this interest but they enjoy the magic of performance and the dreamlike power it has. From The White Sheik and the title character's romantic dallying, on to Variety Lights and its ramshackle theatre troupe, on to La Strada and its strongman through to any number of performing characters in all of Fellini's films, artists and their world obsesses the director and his characters. This world of performace is simultaneously attractive and cruel with romantic rejection, personal ruin, and madness and death occurring to those who wander into it in the films mentioned above. Despite these unhappy fates, Fellini is always able to show the draw of performance and again, in Ginger and Fred he succeeds in mixing the pain of artists with the drive they feel to do it. There is one moment where a ramshackle Pippo and an ageing Amelia, disappointed by their treatment and afraid of failure, see each other dressed as Fred and Ginger and the magic is plainly obvious and their transformation is complete.
Similarly, when the two of them dance there is a pathetic beauty in their efforts as if their very dignity depends on getting through this. Amelia comes to the TV show expecting fanfare and recognition and is soon put off by the breakneck speed of television. She becomes quickly disillusioned at the credentials of her fellow performers, some of whom have found fame through infamy such as the transvestite or the armed robber, and some simply look a little like someone - in this case Fellini has fun with Proust and Kafka lookalikes. Amelia's safe bourgeois existence is shocked by this world and the performer's treatment as Hitchcockian cattle by their temporary employers. Pippo pretends he is above it all and that he has only come for money or rebellion, but like her he has come for the adulation he has missed for so long. Fellini himself has lots of fun showing the presence of TV as all pervasive, people are obsessed by it and drawn to it and it does not care about them as long as it has their interest. Wherever we go, bars, hotel rooms and even coaches, TV is there telling people what they need and what they should know. Fellini delights at the idiocy of TV adverts in making them larger than life or lampooning them through humourous juxtaposition - on the show we are presented with a Senator who has been on hunger strike only for the image of the frail politician to be interrupted by a enormous bowl of pasta and a huge fork held by a comedy chef. The satire of Ginger and Fred is gentle and TV is allowed to do some good in the end, but any good it does is not intentional and the film has no pat happy ending as our two dancers go back to their lives knowing their chance to dance will never come again.
In Fellini's film, TV is the upstart younger brother that reminds the great filmmaker that he has gotten old. Obnoxious new romantic pop music blares out of it and trashy scifi is lapped up by the audience, and it lines people up in a queue to exploit sympathy for them regardless of skills. His presentation is not because TV is crueller than the film and theatre vignettes that Fellini did before, it is merely the modern expression of those same worlds of performers, the medium and their audience. The glamour which trapped the performers and hangers on in the theatre and film has merely extended itself to people's living rooms and the places they frequent. In a sense, the world of show and make believe has become even more of a challenge to the supposed real world and nowhere is this better shown than in the bizarre sausage and lentil advertising drive at the train station which opens the film to find the passengers in the shadow of a huge roasted pig.
Fellini notes the modern world and it's effect on those used to the past but he is not a biting critic as he recognises how his film making has been part of the same phenonemon. His eye is not unlike that of Almodovar for grotesques and the left-field, but, unlike Pedro, Fellini objectifies such images rather than wholly immersing us in them. The glamour and draw of these worlds proves momentary, and for the performers the temporary performance shows up how ordinary the rest of the world is and how their previous influence is much more open to challenge from the macabre and the infamous. Ginger and Fred is oddly prescient in terms of a TV culture where people become famous for being famous, rather than for their ability to do or perform. It is also a film about getting old and having to leave the spotlight and as such can be seen as a fine testament to the late Fellini.
A slight improvement on the previous R2 release which Noel reviewed here in terms of treatment of the main feature. The presentation is anamorphic but matted into 1.78:1 rather than the OAR of 1.66:1. The transfer seems a tad dark to me and the picture is a little grainy but the look of the disc is as good as the recent Criterion Amarcord for colours, detail and contrast. I did not notice any problems with the print used here and looking at stills from the previous R2 release the image looks better to my eye.
I do have some criticisms of the sound which is mono 1.0 and contains some distortion in the high treble range and particularly with Masina's voice at the beginning of the feature. It also seems to my non-Italian speaking eye that there are marginal synching issues again at the beginning of the feature. My major issue though is the subtitles which could be generously be described as sparing and only concern themselves with major dialogue and leave some peripheral dialogue unexplained. The quality of grammar and clarity of reading are indeed good, but I feel there simply should be more of them!
As this is a budget release, there is only one extra which is the US theatrical trailer and it is the kind which hammers home how the film will be good for people's souls complete with raspy narration explaining any difficult images. The menus are static affairs which you have seen on any number of budget discs.
I really enjoyed this late film of Fellini but know it is rather less ambitious than some of the films I mention above, still such a comparison would be difficult for any film maker whose previous films were some of the greatest in cinema. This R1 disc is an improvement on the previous Infinity release but it could be improved upon in time in terms of aspect ratio, extras, subtitles or sound. This is a minor Fellini but a rather good film and I think world cinema buffs would want a copy.