first saw Fellini Satyricon four or
five years after its initial release in the USA (1970; originally released in
Italy in 1969) on my college campus. It wasn’t a very good print and all I
remember was that the film was weird, confusing, and not as good as some other
Fellini pictures I had seen. Over forty years later, I sat down to view the new
Criterion Blu-ray release, and... wow.
I couldn’t believe it was the same movie I’d seen as a freshman in college. For
one thing, I’m older and more appreciative of what Fellini did with his films, Satyricon notwithstanding. Secondly,
Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography
Giuseppe Rotunno, is absolutely gorgeous. The colors are vivid and the focus is
sharp. The new subtitles are readable and clear. It is an entirely different
film from what I remembered.
Fellini Satyricon is loosely adapted
from an ancient satirical “novel” by Petronius, and we learn from the extra
documentary interviews with classicists Luca Canalli (a consultant on the film)
and Joanna Paul, that only fragments of Petronius’ work survived. Roughly three
“chapters” of the original novel is all Fellini had to work with, and therefore
he fashioned the film as if we are looking only at scraps of a story. This is
why the film seems to cut inexplicably from one situation to the middle of
another. The final tableau of ancient ruins, upon which the main characters are
frescoed, sums up the this theme very well—the picture consists of glimpses into Petronius’ tale of three
students/vagabonds/thieves who travel through a bizarre and barbaric universe
that is ancient Rome. Once this concept is understood, then the film makes a
lot more sense.
Fellini chose to envision this special world within the sensibilities of 1969;
therefore, the picture is incredibly psychedelic. This is ancient Rome on an acid
trip. The grotesquery on display is meant to shock, of course, but it’s also
strangely beautiful. The colors of the settings, costumes, flesh, and blood
assault the senses, rendering the audience into a state of hallucinatory
hypnosis. This is Fellini’s most imaginative and mesmerizing film. Oddly, the
only Oscar nomination it received in 1970 was for Best Director; it most
definitely should have been honored in the technical and design categories.
episodic story is told in vignettes as Encolpius (Martin Potter), Ascyltus
(Hiram Keller), and Giton (Max Born)—three Adonis-like bi-sexual
lovers/friends—move from one fantastic set piece to another, the most
fascinating being the feast/party of a rich man where decadence and debauchery
abounds. For 1969, this was powerful, out-of-the-box stuff.
extras on the disc include a fascinating hour-long vintage documentary, Ciao, Federico!, shot on the set during
the making of the film. Audio commentary of the film itself features an
adaptation of Eileen Lanouette Hughes’ memoir On the Set of ‘Fellini Satyricon’—a Behind the Scenes Diary.
There’s a new interview with Giuseppe Rotunno, archival interviews with
Fellini, and a new interview with still photographer Mary Ellen Mark. Felliniana is a presentation of numerous
Satyricon ephemera. The booklet
contains an essay by Michael Wood.
any Fellini film deserved “the Criterion treatment,” it is Fellini Satyricon. Do yourself a favor and pick up this magnificent
edition and behold its wonders. You’ll never think of ancient Rome in the same