Criterion’s 2-disc edition is loaded with a few hours’ worth of material spread over both discs, offering some terrific insight and history into the film.
First up on the first disc is a hit or miss audio commentary by critic and Fellini friend Gideon Bachmann, and NYU professor Antonio Monda, with excerpts from an audio essay by Bachmann (if I understand correctly) read by actress Tanya Zaicon. It’s a decent scholarly track, with all participants recorded separately, but it’s bizarre set up can drag it a bit. The essay Zaicon reads from has some great insights and notes about the film, giving a great analysis of the many layers, but Zaicon’s reading really hampers it. Monda offers some more insight but I never found much of his material altogether that engaging because it also has a too “prepped” feel. Bachmann’s actual contribution may have been my favourite since it’s looser and freer and he also has more to say about Fellini himself, offering actual stories about the man. It has it’s up and downs but I recommend it, especially for newcomers to the film.
The set also comes with an introduction by Terry Gilliam, part of a short-lived series Criterion called “The Janus Films Introduction Series” that is found on a few early DVD releases. At 7-and-a-half minutes Gilliam talks about how it captures the art of making films, and even offers some insight into it and specific sequences that have influenced him (like the opening dream sequence and the Saraghina bit.) He’s very energetic as usual but cohesive and is obviously very passionate about the film and Fellini’s work in general.
Closing of the first disc is the film’s American theatrical trailer.
The remaining supplements are found on the second dual-layer disc.
First up on the disc is Fellini: A Director’s Notebook, a rather good “documentary” directed by Fellini for NBC in 1969. In it he reflects on his work (finished, unfinished, upcoming,) the nature of filmmaking, sneaks in possible influences and looks at the people that interest him. It’s very “Felliniesque” and despite the rather poor condition of the print (colours look a bit off and some sequences are hard to see) it is still a rather cool feature. Also included as a sub feature is a Fellini letter, which is a letter to Peter Goldfarb, covering his intentions for this program (his idea of what film is.) It’s a great read and a very nice inclusion from Criterion.
Nino Rota: Between Cinema and Concert is a 47-minute documentary on the life and career of Rota, gathering interviews with those that knew him. It looks at his career in music and film, and focuses on select scores, including ones for The Godfather, The Leopard, and, of course, 8 ½ and Fellini’s other films. Other than ones presented from 8 ½ all film clips are replaced by stills (even for The Leopard despite Criterion having released that film, showing they didn’t come back to correct this.) Certainly worth watching, and filled with some great excerpts from Rota’s music.
Criterion then includes a few interviews. First is a great, rather personal interview with Sandra Milo, who of course not only worked on a couple of Fellini’s films by was also his mistress. She’s quite forthcoming and honest, talking about her personal and working relationship with him, not really holding back. She recalls everything fondly and is quite a lively charmer throughout the interview.
The next interview is with filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, who worked on the set of 8 ½. She recalls the chaos of the experience (Fellini was obviously unsure of what kind of film he was making) and Fellini’s effect on others, further pushing their creativity. Compared to the Milo interview it’s a little dryer (Wertmüller is nowhere near as bubbly of course) but it’s a nice insightful one.
A little different is the interview with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who talks about the lighting and photography in the film, despite having nothing to do with the film. He talks about the look of the film and black and white photography in general, concentrates heavily on the lighting and of course praises cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo, creating yet another insightful addition to the supplements.
The supplements then conclude with two still galleries: One features a small selection of photos by Gideon Bachmann, and another lengthier one featuring general production photos (with a good number of interesting notes.)
Criterion then includes one of their lovely booklets containing a handful of articles. I, Fellini presents an excerpt from a series of interviews with Fellini performed by Charlotte Chandler, this segment of course focusing on 8 ½ and his uncertainty about the film. An essay by Tullio Kezich recalls the odd journey of the film, while Alexander Sesonske writes about how the film is about itself, and then the booklet concludes with another excerpt from the interview with Chandler, with Fellini talking about his feelings on making films. It’s an excellent collection of material and offers great further insight into the film.
The commentary is okay, somewhat disappointing, but the remaining supplements, which together cover the film extensively, make up for whatever the track is lacking. 8/10