Sunday, October 14, 2012

New York Film Festival: Fellini-Satyricon

I've begun to dread the words "a brilliant new restoration," or "a brilliant new 35 millimeter print," when it comes as part of the presentation from Richard Peña, the outgoing head of the selection committee at the New York Film Festival.  Usually, the results are dreadful.  It happened a few years ago when with these usual accolades he introduced a dreadful print of Josef von Sternberg's Underworld, and last night was another disappointment as the N.Y. Film Festival chef himself announced another Peña special: a "brilliant new restoration" of the 1971 classic Fellini-Satyricon, Federico Fellini's imaginative, daring, surprising and exasperating adaption of the ancient Roman classic by Petronius.  I imagine that next to the crumbling negative from which the Italian restorers worked, this presentation is indeed brilliant.  But comparing it to other results that are being achieved around the world in an effort to save our film history, this restoration leaves a lot to be desired.

Overall, as with this year's 8K Lawrence of Arabia restoration, the film looked dark in many key places.  The first reel, in particular, that introduces the Encolpio, Ascilto, Gitone love triangle, and takes place at night, looked dreary, as did the scene with the clown Vernacchio.  In addition, very little restoration was done on the sound.  It would have been helpful if the restorers would have expanded the audio spectrum.  Instead, the film sounded monaural, with the voices sounding particularly flat.  Nino Rota's moonscape music, which is a mixture of modern and ancient sounds, suffers the most as a result of the inadequate soundtrack.

Petronius's book survives only in fragments, and Fellini's episodic approach, one of the director's trademarks, echoes this brilliantly.  Ultimately, the greatest aspect of this work is the director's uncanny ability to create an ancient world that never quite existed the way he shows it to us.

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