Ginger and Fred
Ginger e Fred
***/**** Image A Sound A
starring Marcello Mastroianni, Giulietta Masina, Franco Fabrizi, Friedrich von Ledebur
screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra and Tullio Pinelli
directed by Federico Fellini
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover The idea of Fellini criticizing television for its vulgarity--as he does in Ginger and Fred--is indeed a bit rich: Federico Fellini complaining of vulgarity is rather like Roberto Rossellini complaining of neo-realism. But beneath the surface of this admittedly shallow lament lies the movie's real theme, which is the displacement of artists once their chosen form is rendered obsolete. It's not too hard to see Fellini himself, high-modernist art director that he was, in his music-hall dancer protagonists, who by 1985 have been completely snowed under by seismic shifts in technology and, by extension, entertainment. Slight as the film may be, you can't help feeling a twinge of regret for not only its leads, but also the increasingly-forgotten filmmaker who pulls their strings.
Those leads are Amelia (Giuletta Masina) and Pippo (Marcello Mastroianni), who in the 1930s had a Fred and Ginger knockoff act. They haven't spoken since breaking up in 1940--but by some strange serendipity, an immensely lowbrow variety program called "We Are Proud to Present" has tapped them to dance on its Christmas show. Unfortunately, the pair's appeals to elegance and taste are largely crowded out by the rest of the day's guests: a transvestite who grants prisoners connubial visits; a group of dancing dwarves; a convicted Mafioso; and, worst of all, a parade of celebrity look-alikes who cheapen the image of the originals. Thus our heroes become ever more lonely and fragile as they stand alone amidst TV crassness and their own inability to fight off being relegated to novelty status.
I suppose this is where the film's biggest weakness comes in: Fellini's demonization of the very reason people go to his movies. Like the ancient Rome of Satyricon and the modern Rome of Roma, Ginger and Fred's vision of TV culture is set up as acid condemnation when in fact it's what we paid to see. And the manifesto against television pretty much stops at everyone's vague sense that they ought to be doing something else even as they're glued to an episode of "Hart to Hart". One is less impressed with the juicy "Felliniesque" imagery than by the winding, uninterrupted journey of the show's guests first from train station to hotel, then from the hotel to the enormous, grossly modern studio. As Amelia and Pippo are caught in a flood of freaks, one feels their pain of being trapped in a world they never made.
Although we more enjoy than decry the grinning, sequin-jacketed host of "We Are Proud to Present" (Franco Fabrizi), there's no denying that the heroes' sense of the parade going by is piquant and bittersweet. The interplay of the smart, practical Amelia and the somewhat fading sensibility of Pippo (masterfully achieved by Masina and Mastroianni) is the picture's main event--and as these two fret over rehearsal time and wonder what exactly they're doing there, one infers that this is Fellini speaking of his own itinerant position in the cinema of the 1980s. That this would be his last big international export before his death in the early-'90s makes the film prophetic: it's about having the limelight torn away from you and grappling with your inevitably insulting place in the new world order. Whatever the film's faults, Ginger and Fred is actually a lot more cogent (if a lot less immediately gratifying) than the average Fellini.
Warner brings Ginger and Fred to DVD in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer just vivid enough to capture the bursting Eighties colours, but also sharp enough to render the teeming humanity and crowded mise-en-scène. The video presentation is crisp and clean and does the tactile surfaces justice, while the Dolby 1.0 mono sound is equally fine, great for the big juicy sound of the dubbed voices as they cackle and gurgle forth from your centre speaker. The only extra: the film's theatrical trailer.
127 minutes; PG-13; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); Italian DD 1.0; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Warner