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MGM Studios DVD presents
"I was a cockroach, now I'm a king. That's life."
DVD Review(with apologies to the late Mike Royko, Mel Brooks, and to any sensitive readers, who might well be advised to skip to the technical material...)
I roused myself from the sofa after viewing Federico Fellini's 1968 Fellini Satyricon to find my cousin "Fats" Dobson shaking his head in bewilderment.
"Fats? I didn't know you were here."
"It's Thursday movie night, right?"
"So, was that a movie?"
"What was it about?"
"Well, what did you think it was about?"
"A couple of Italian lechers spend two hours fighting over some girlie-boy."
"I wouldn't call Encolpio, as portrayed by Martin Potter, a lecher - he was a student and a teacher. As was Hiram Keller's Ascilto."
"And that's s'posed to be better? If either one o' those weirdos touched my kids, I'd tear 'em a new..."
"It's a reference to the classical idea that the highest love is that between a man and a boy. Max Born plays Gitone as a beautiful, intelligent boy, very feminine in his appearance and much desired by potential mentors. That whole idea isn't exactly in vogue anymore, but..."
"That explains why everyone keeps jumpin' around like a bunch o' Kansas City..."
"No, no, no. It's a decadent society, where sexuality is ambivalent and open to any form of pleasure."
"Like the seventies?"
"Hm. So that's why they had all those funky colors in the movie?"
"I think those had more to do with the director's affinity for the grotesque. He tried to find unusual, odd-looking people for his films, and here he uses color and costuming to exaggerate that effect in a highly theatrical way. The film's visuals are very carefully, beautifully constructed."
"Oh. So why didn't that big-ass gladiator take the wimpy blonde guy out? He was, like, cryin' and stuff. He coulda just killed him and gotten the movie over with in time for Survivor."
"It was a prank. Ascilto set Encolpio up to be humiliated so he could enjoy the look on his face."
"Did he break his d**k too? So those babes with the metal bras couldn't turn him on, and he had to go do that tall chick who was shootin' fire out from between her legs? And then she was, like, a dead chick? And then she turned into a fat chick? And what's with the homo... uh, hermo..."
"Hermaphrodite. A demi-god that died under Encolpio's care, causing the gods to strike him impotent, so he undertook a hero's journey to find the witch, whose various forms symbolize..."
"I dunno, I had a hard time keepin' track of what the hell was goin' on. It was like that Count Chocula flick you made me watch last year, except without the BJs. And what's up with that ending?"
"Petronius' Satyricon dates from the time of Nero, and survives only in fragments. The filmmakers were trying to capture that unknowable, episodic quality of the original work in this admittedly free adaptation. It's intended to be a comedy about mortality and morality, love and lechery, gods and gutters..."
"Yeah, well, I just thought it sucked. They shoulda got a director who knew how to make a real movie."
"Ye gods, man! Have you absolutely no interest in Fellini?"
"Hey man, I'm all for it. But the wife, she ain't into that."
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: MGM presents Fellini Satyricon in its original Panavision 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a fairly solid anamorphic transfer. The source print suffers from some splices and jumps here and there, and shadow detail is occasionally murky, but colors are rich and bright, and Fellini's painterly compositions come through very nicely indeed. The MPEG-2 compression has some difficulty handling grain noise in the background of several scenes, and the film has a slightly soft look throughout. Still, it's a nice transfer overall, and much better than many older foreign films have been accorded on DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Fellini Satyricon is presented in its original Italian monophonic audio format, as well as an English mono dub, both encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 format for ProLogic-decoding to the center speaker. Oddly, both soundtracks suffer from a "dubbed" character, apparently because the film was shot largely without sound and looped after the fact in its original Italian, with little care given to exact synchronization. Neither track is particularly dynamic, but the English audio seems thinner in musical passages, as though it's a generation or two removed from the Italian master.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: 01h:25m:19s
Extras Review: There's little to see here - a mere 16 picture-menu chapter stops, optional English subtitles, and the film's theatrical trailer. The theatrical trailer is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic format, looking very much like the feature; it's in decent condition, and its well-executed rapid-fire approach predates MTV by a good decade. To MGM's credit, the film defaults to its proper presentation, in Italian with English subtitles, and the subtitles can be switched off to allow text-free enjoyment of Fellini's outrageous imagery. Unfortunately, the player-generated subtitles are problematic, frequently descending outside of the 2.35:1 frame, and the translation is very spotty, completely ignoring many lines uttered by minor characters.
Note from MGM: "In regards to the subtitles in FELLINI SATYRICON: the reason some of the remarks by incidental characters aren't subtitled is because they are foreigners speaking a language the lead characters don't understand. Therefore, not subtitling those bits of dialogue reflects Fellini's intentions."
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsFellini Satyricon is a beautiful, garish, literate, maddeningly self-indulgent movie, half mess, half masterpiece under the direction of the great Federico Fellini. MGM's DVD features a decent transfer, but the uninitiated may want to rent this one first.
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