Ginger & Fred Federico Fellini

Ginger & Fred (1986) was one of Federico Fellini’s last films and was his last project with long-time collaborators Marcello Mastroianni and Giulietta Masina, who was also married to Fellini for over 50 years. It is the sweet story of Pippo (Mastroianni) and Amelia (Masina), a former tap-dancing duo famous in the ’40s and ’50s for their Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers act who have been persuaded to reunite for a live television special. This slight, almost sentimental plot is the framework for a rich film in which Italian television in all its absurdity and excess is explored by one of Italian cinema’s greatest artists. Televisions are on everywhere in this film and Fellini makes them appear clearer, brighter and louder than the world viewing them. Even in the cramped minivan sent to pick up the guests of the show (which looks more like a paddy wagon) a small TV is showing a puppet version of the Divine Comedy, with Dante saying the opening lines: "Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark/For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” In the poem, Dante takes us on a tour of hell, and so does Fellini in the film: the show Pippo and Amelia are appearing on is a Christmas special but its guests range from the miraculous (a flying monk) to the profane (the inventor of edible underwear), the exploited (midget flamenco dancers) and the grotesque (an 18-teated cow). The smarmy host and vapid, fantastically costumed models wandering inexplicably around the set, and constant, absurd ads for pasta sauce and sausages complete the picture of a hellish carnival of commerce, a world of surreality television that seems all the more familiar 21 years after this film was made. My only complaint: no extras aside from the North American trailer. (Warner)