• Orchestra Rehearsal

    Orchestral Rehearsal
    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: February 13, 2018
    Director: Federico Fellini
    Cast: Balduin Baas, Clara Colosimo, Elizabeth Labi, Ronaldo Bonacchi, Ferdinando Villella, Franco Javarone
    Year: 1978
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    The Movie:

    Having dominated world cinema in the 1970’s with visually extravagant, intensely personal masterworks of film like Satyricon, Roma, and Amarcord, Federico Fellini decided to bring his final project of the decade to Italian television. Orchestral Rehearsal is simultaneously a trenchant social satire and a celebration of collaborative art, both of which are often a little too on the nose in the matter of their observations. Although it doesn’t stand the test of time as well as the filmmaker’s beloved celluloid classics, it’s not without its share of ambition and oddball charm and remains worthwhile viewing for Fellini fans looking to catch up on his less celebrated films.

    A television crew has arrived at a medieval Roman church that has been converted into an auditorium to film a documentary about the orchestra that will be rehearsing there for an upcoming opera. The tyrannical conductor (Balduin Baas) speaks German-accented Italian and is constantly criticizing the musicians under his direction. Comprised of older veterans and younger players, the orchestra is a vivid melting pot of entrenched elitists and hungry revolutionaries who begin to clash the moment they assemble for their rehearsal. Interviews with each musician conducted by the documentary team reveal their mutual and conflicting artistic philosophies. Union representatives are always present to ensure – to the conductor’s great consternation – that their rules are enforced, and the orchestra receives fair treatment and mandatory breaks.

    As the day slowly goes on, the melting pot threatens to boil over when the musicians decide they have finally had enough of the conductor’s abusive tendencies and the less-than-adequate conditions inside the old church and radical actions are taken. Just when it appears that the rehearsal is preparing to completely break down into violent anarchy, something both painfully predictable and magically unexpected occurs to end the film on a high note…. that is, until the music hall Hitler inevitably finds something to complain about.

    Even when he wasn’t operating at the peak of his creative powers, Fellini could make a film unique and a delight to watch, even if the end result was destined to be somewhat forgettable. Orchestral Rehearsal is a fine example of good lesser Fellini, as it packs most of the filmmaker’s passions and obsessions – art, music, politics, and allegory – into a tight 70-minute running time. But Fellini, who co-wrote the script with his frequent collaborator Brunello Rondi, knows he’s covered this material before and in vastly more memorable fashion and thus fails to bring anything new, both in terms of ideas and visuals, to the proceedings. One of our greatest filmmakers, and he’s pretty much just going through the motions here.

    While Orchestral Rehearsal may look and feel like a toss-off project for Fellini, his enthusiasm for the joy of creating great art in spite of suffocating conditions imposed by authoritarian know-it-alls and trade union sticklers in very much present. The film really comes alive when it steps back and allows for the musicians, and even the conductor in a hauntingly intimate moment close to the conclusion, to express their love for the music they create individually with their instruments and together as an orchestra regardless of their class differences. The compact length of Rehearsal and the large cast ensures that character development comes in fits and starts, but the ensemble acting is solid, and no one honestly stands out for better or worse. Balduin Baas gets the showiest role of the bunch, playing the dictatorial conductor with quiet conviction even as he angrily goes on one of his critical rants when the orchestra fails to perform to his unfathomable standards.

    Without question, Fellini’s film truly shines in the areas of music and cinematography. The original compositions and classical adaptations contributed by Nino Rota, in his final collaboration with the director for whom he had worked on countless classics, give Rehearsal its beating heart and represent the greatness that humanity can achieve when it works together instead of divides into warring classes. The lack of color and imagination in the set design don’t give Fellini’s longtime director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno much room with which to craft the kind of astounding visuals he brought to Satyricon and Amarcord (not to mention non-Fellini projects like Candy, Popeye, All That Jazz, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), but his roving camera allows for both the humanity of the musicians and the decrepit beauty in the old church to organically emerge and infuses the limited sets (constructed at Rome’s fabled Cinecitta Studios) with life and presence that stick in the memory.


    As part of their Arrow Academy line, Arrow Video presents Orchestral Rehearsal in its Blu-ray premiere with a handsome 1080p high-definition sourced from a recent 2K scan and restoration from the original 35mm camera negative. Though it was shot in the 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio for Italian television airing, Arrow’s transfer is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The absence of information loss at the top and bottom of the widescreen frame and the careful attention to detail in the production design outside of the television ratio filming would indicate that Fellini and cinematographer Rotunno has composed the visuals for a theatrical exhibition, which Rehearsal received in many foreign territories (including an out-of-competition screening at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival).

    The transfer is crisp and deprived of noticeable print damage. Grain content is minimal and consistent from beginning to end, keeping the picture lively and authentic. Colors are represented well here though they don’t pop as much as you’d find in one of Fellini’s better-known features since the church interiors and character clothing mostly come in lighter shades of brown and gray until the finale when anarchy begins to reign among the musicians. Certainly not the most visually enthralling of the filmmaker’s works, but I can’t imagine Orchestral Rehearsal looking any better than it does here given its budget, design, and television origins.

    Italy’s national television network RAI co-produced the film and handled the restoration of both the picture and sound. The Italian PCM 1.0 mono track does its job by keeping the dialogue audible and uncluttered and giving the most presence and depth to the orchestra’s performances. Although the audio can often sound tinny due to the dialogue being recorded in post-production (as it went in Italy at the time, with most of the cast being dubbed over by uncredited voice actors), the lack of distortion is welcome and overall volume is maintained at an ideal level. Optional English subtitles have also been provided.

    Since this is one of Fellini’s more obscure features, I didn’t expect the extras produced by Arrow for this release to be overflowing, but what we do get is worth watching for the true cinephiles. First up is “Richard Dyer on Nino Rota and Orchestral Rehearsal” (21 minutes), in which the film scholar discusses the famed composer’s iconic collaborations with Fellini, who respected Rota so much they rarely conflicted, and their final work together. “Orchestrating Discord” (23 minutes) is a visual essay by Fellini biographer John Baxter detailing the director’s iconic cinematic career and the creation of Orchestral Rehearsal. Finally, “Felliniana Collection” presents a still gallery of lobby cards, foreign theatrical posters and programs, and soundtrack album covers related to the film from the personal collection of Don Young.

    Arrow’s customary collector’s booklet (this one containing a new essay about Orchestral Rehearsal by arts critic and audiovisual essayist Adrian Martin, a reprint of a feature on the film and interview with Fellini by Tony Mitchell from the winter 1978/79 issue of Sight & Sound, and full color still images) and reversible cover art sleeve featuring two original poster art designs with your choice of the English and Italian titles completes the extras selection.

    The Final Word:

    Orchestra Rehearsal might be one of Federico Fellini’s least compelling achievements as a filmmaker, but its hearty and heady brew of music, politics, and sledge hammer satire often results in irresistible moments of pure cinematic magic that are hard to ignore. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray presentation of the film comes recommended to lovers of the director’s unmistakable catalog for its outstanding restored picture and informative supplements.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!