I Clowns


I Clowns

[aka: The Clowns]

Written by Federico Fellini & Bernardo Zapponi

Produced Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI)

Directed by Federico Fellini




Federico Fellini

Ricardo Billi

Tino Scotti


Dante Maggio

Galliano Sbarra

Anita Ekberg



Theatrical: Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI)

Video: Raro Video USA



Aspect Ratio: 1.30:1

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 50 GB

Feature size: 21.3 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (ca. 25 Mbps)

Runtime: 92 minutes

Chapters: 19

Region: 0 / NTSC



Italian/French DTS-HD MA 5.1

Italian/French DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono



English & none



Un Agenzia Matriomonale - a short film directed by Federico Fellini (16:35)
Fellini's Circus - visual essay by Adriano Apra (42:18)
48-page booklet with notes and illustrations by Federico Fellini



Slim Digipak in slipcase with 50-pg booklet

Release Date: October 18, 2011


The aptly named Raro Video is hit American shores this past February 22 with a restored version of Fellini's The Clowns, one of the director's final masterpieces - the first time ever in the US on DVD. The extras included a rare and exclusive short film by Fellini, a video essay on the genesis of the film and a 48-page booklet with exclusive Fellini drawings. Hard-to-find, this 1970 film melds memoir and documentary into a circus of fiction and reality where Fellini delights in the role of ringmaster. The carnival-sounding score composed by Nino Rota, and an appearance by Anita Ekberg (star of Fellini's 1960's masterpiece La Dolce Vita), enhances the Fellini-esque experience.


For their first foray into high definition video, Raro Video USA returned to their catalogue of recent releases with a completely reconsidered image and audio for Fellini’s I Clowns.  This announcement turns out to be something of an understatement as the image is now so good as to qualify for the highly resolved with honest to god color Blu-ray badge of approval, which could hardly have been possible from merely transferring the existing dupe at 1080p.  All of Raro’s decisions in these areas are correct, with the possible, but understandable inclusion of a 5.1 mix for a movie recorded only in mono.  We can be thankful that Raro provided the original - and in an uncompressed format at that.



The Movie: 7

Made for both Italian television and movie distribution (thus the open matte choice for the present edition) with the help of RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana. O.R.T.F. Bavaria Film & Compagnia Leone Cinematografica (especially the former), Fellini draws on one the first-person autobiographical method he had perfected in 8½ and would do so again in Amacord.  


That familiar caped schoolboy makes his appearance in the opening scene as we find him, waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of the raising of the big tent just outside his home, and soon in the audience as he enjoys the low humor of the many clowns and daring tiger-through-a-hoop-of-fire and knife throwing acts.  From here Fellini segues into his movie proper.  It is the director himself who appears, though never in a studied close-up, as the filmmaker who wants to revisit the world of clowns, as he remembers them, as they are today (in 1970) and through the reminiscences of retired clowns of yesteryear.



The names may mean little to us forty years later and thousands of miles to the left, but in Italy, they would have a special resonance: The Circus of Liana, Rinaldo & Nandino Orfei, Augusto, Captain Houcke, Charlie Rivel, The Fratillinis, Loriot, Bario and Rhum, with chapters devoted to classic white and sad clowns.  We can see clearly how the world of the circus makes its way into many a Fellini film - with the help, of course, of his alter-ego, the composer Nina Rota.  I Clowns is a special breed of documentary where his film crew are really actors, some of whom we recall from other Fellini films, and who also act parts in his documentary while some anonymous crew films them, as in a mirror with infinite regression - thus memory.



Image: 8/9

For the DVD, I made these notes regarding the image quality: While we should be grateful to Raro Video for a watchable edition of Fellini’s movie, its pervasive increase in contrast and black level with its resultant black crush, is even more egregious than the completely unnecessary edge enhancement that makes crops up in many frames.  Faces have a pasty look suggestive of DNR - as further evidence, the image is surprisingly noise-free.  Color is nice.


For the Blu-ray, we get to start all over by trashing everything about the DVD.  Perhaps the first thing that leaps of the screen, even before we are aware of the staggering improvement in resolution, reduction of video noise and the absence of edge enhancement, is the tonal scale - no longer composed of mere blacks and intense primaries.  The contrast now has the look of a real movie. The difference is greater than Disney’s two Pinocchios: the wooden puppet and the real boy. But that’s only because Disney had to have an engaging character for all but the final scene.  In “real life” so to speak, the difference would have been very much like what we have here: the DVD – a lifeless two dimensional copy of the real thing; and the Blu-ray, while not the real thing, is at least the real movie.












Audio & Music: 5/8

The exaggerated treble observed on Raro’s DVD is, thankfully, reduced to more comfortable, albeit not entirely wholesome levels.  While not entirely natural and fluid sounding, there is some relief here as well as greater nuance.  It must be the case that the audio track was not only given the lossless, uncompressed treatment, but was rebalanced as well. 


My only complaint, if complaint it is, is the inclusion of a 5.1 mix, clearly a concession to those mindless, yet vocal bloggers who feel cheated when a high definition video is not “expanded” “redesigned” or “bumped” to a surroundscape even if the original design and elements neither called for it nor have the capacity to become one without significant losses and/or laughable consequences.  In this case, both.  Happily, Raro offers the original mono in a decently balanced DTS-HD MA mix.  I would have thought that Dolby TrueHD or LPCM would have been more suitable, but I am content with things as they are.


(see my comments about the DVD here.)



Extras: 9

There are three extra features, all good, one of them brilliant.  “Un Agenzia Matriomonale” is the sixteen-minute segment of the 1953 movie “L’Amore in Citta” directed by Fellini.  Other segments (in a style predictive of “Paris je t’aime” and New York, I Love You) were handled by one soon to be famous director, Michelangelo Antonioni, and others who, for one reason or other have slipped into obscurity: Dino Risi, Alberto Lattuada, Carlo Lizzani, Francesco Maselli, and Cesare Zavattini. The “visual essay” by Adriano Apra, titled “Fellini's Circus,” examines how clowns and other circus motifs work their way into Fellini films. 


Third, and most impressive, is a lovely, well-produced 48-page booklet with notes and illustrations by Federico Fellini, the bulk of the which comprises an essay titled “A Journey Into the Shadow - Reflections and Original Drawings on the Making of The Clowns by Federico Fellini”.  It comes with a clever bookmark.



Recommendation: 9

In other respects, expect for a more slender Blu-ray case, the new release is identical to Raro’s DVD from only eight months ago.  If the Blu-ray weren’t so very much better I would be honking my horn in protest for the double-dip, something Raro surely would have known was coming then.  As it is, a scowl is deserved at the very least.  Fortunately Amazon’s price at this moment takes some of the sting out it.  To be kind, Raro’s DVD might best be thought of as an experiment to test the waters of their market. And to the extent this might be true I am happy to serve as guinea pig.  But let’s not make this a habit, eh.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

November 12, 2011

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